We should congratulate President Obama and his National Security Agency director, Gen. Keith Alexander, for defending the NSA and the other intelligence agencies that have been working to protect us from another major terrorist attack.
There are those on the left and the right who, for various reasons, believe that the data gathering pursued by American intelligence agencies is part of a grand and inappropriate conspiracy aimed at invading the privacy of our citizens.
The threats to our nation these days do not come so much from nation states or other easily identifiable, homogenous political organisms. They emanate from disparate groups of religious fundamentalists who do not gather under any given flag but rather under a cause of righteous purity. That being so, it is naive and dangerous to disarm our most effective means of combating the threat: our ability to gather intelligence.
There is, of course, the potential for this intelligence collection to exceed the bounds of justifiable action. It could become invasive or even threatening to our freedoms. But that has not occurred in the instances that have recently come to light.
The correct process has been pursued, consistent with the rules set out by Congress and subject to a judicial review procedure. While that procedure may be secretive, much like a grand jury, it still provides appropriate safeguards to our constitutional structure.
The president came into office with an avowed skepticism regarding the efforts by the intelligence community to protect us through aggressive use of information-gathering. But, revealingly, he has over time come not only to support those efforts, but to embrace them.
The shift in his position is understandable. There is very limited tolerance for the “rose-colored glasses” view of the world once one becomes president and has the actual responsibility for the safety of the nation placed in one’s lap.
It is easy for an editorial writer, academic or even a member of Congress to assert outrage at what they perceive as the excesses of the intelligence initiatives. These folks will never be called to account. If they are wrong, they will simply move on to blame someone else.
The president does not have this luxury. If he is wrong, Americans will be harmed and quite possibly killed.
Subject to the restrictions of the Constitution and the rules set up by the nation’s elected representatives, it is totally reasonable that the intelligence community should be encouraged to pursue all avenues in order to gain information about those who intend to attack us.
The president’s oath of office requires no less — and anything short of it would be an abrogation of responsibility.
It would be nice if the world was, as so many of us would like it to be, a place of harmony and tolerance. But it is not, has never been, and probably will never be like that.
Islamist fundamentalists really do not wish to co-exist with Western culture. It is their intention to attack us — today, tomorrow and beyond. Our best defense is to find them and stop them before they can succeed. Our strongest weapon in this effort is our ability to aggressively and comprehensively mine data in a world that is predominately digital and electronic.
This is our advantage in this fight.
As long as it is done within the law, it should be supported. The people who do this work should be admired and thanked — starting with Obama.
Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. He is the CEO of SIFMA, a financial industry lobbying group.