by Jules Witcover
We now know more than ever before that American society leaks like a sieve. Supposedly secret information pours out from government, from its hired contractors, from
The current frenzy over an insider whistleblower's revelations of the scope of U.S. intelligence gathering has both jolted and titillated the American public. It's happened despite official assurances that only the frequency and course of electronic communications are being tracked, not the content.
The sense pervades that we're going through a reprise and updating of George Orwell's "1984" in which Big Brother may actually be watching you. The secret-keepers defend their actions in the name of national security amid warnings of the leakers that the sky is falling.
The president somewhat petulantly noted that adequate public safeguards exist in the Foreign Intelligence Security Act and its special court that screens and blesses wireless spying it finds to be in the national interest. He insists that all members of
The whole furor comes on the heels of the leaked or otherwise disclosed snooping by
President Obama deplores all of them, thus allying himself with the same congressional Republicans who have been beating his brains out politically ever since he entered the Oval Office. At the same time, he raises the hackles of Democratic liberals who canonize the leakers as self-sacrificing patriots.
Meanwhile, the public chooses up sides on who is a hero and who is a traitor, and whether these newspapers have been willing accomplices in a national-security breech or staunch defenders of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. In any event, the confessed leaker, former CIA employee
In all this, obvious questions need honest answers from the Obama administration on some critical matters: How much is all this secret electronic sleuthing costing the American taxpayer, for what return? Has the runaway practice of using outside contractors gotten way out of hand, vastly complicating the task of screening them for their own reliability and trustworthiness to be involved in such super-secret stuff? Where does Obama come down on the civil liberties aspect of the debate?
He already has been accused in the national-security area of being no more than a willing enabler of the policies of his predecessor in pursuing
In all, Obama finds himself consumed once more by a divisive and distracting debate. It compounds his efforts to pivot to his original agenda of economic repair at home and a more dependable path of multilateral response to world crises abroad. On both fronts, circumstances as well as partisan political opposition appear unwilling to give him breathing room.
In his fifth year in the presidency, the only Rose Garden promised him is the one outside his