Commentary 13 Jun 2013 03:17 pm
Dear National Security Agency data sifter:
I’m sorry you were assigned my phone to monitor. I recognize that I never call anybody interesting, certainly nobody who could be perceived as a security threat. You would, I am sure, prefer to be bird dogging a Saudi prince or some surly, domestic terrorist, but you must be too low on the pecking order for such important folks. Maybe if you work really hard and do a good job spying on honest American citizens, you will be promoted to hard-core criminal types soon.
Anyway, Joe — you don’t mind if I call you Joe, do you? — you probably spend most of your time in a darkened, windowless room, waiting for government supercomputers to red flag any suspicious phone activity. You’ll be waiting a long time for anything like that to happen with my phone. Mostly, I call my wife and daughter, sometimes just to say hello, but sometimes to ask if I can bring home anything important. Not things like acetone, fertilizer and hydrogen peroxide, which can be used to make explosives, but things like milk, eggs and bread, which can be used to make French toast.
(I hope it’s OK to eat French toast. I know there was a time when we didn’t like the French, so we started calling French fries freedom fries, but eating “freedom toast” just sounds too weird. If I should stop eating French toast, please send me a message via a wiretap on my phone. Thanks.)
Confession: One time I did call the Aryan Brotherhood, but that was only to ask if they had Prince Albert in a can. Sorry, I live in a small town, and it gets boring on weekends.
Oh, and I call the library occasionally to see if books I requested have arrived, but I don’t do that so much anymore because the nice librarians generally send me email or text-message notifications. I read only wholesome American literature and never anything that’s been banned or suppressed.
Maybe if I selected some spicier materials, like “Lolita” or “Tropic of Cancer,” you would be able to read along with me while you’re hacking into my tablet or home computer. That would help the time pass faster there in Maryland, wouldn’t it?
Many times, I must admit, I read the old-fashioned way, by holding a book in front of my face and moving my eyes back and forth across the pages, which I turn by hand. This makes it much more difficult to keep tabs on me (always out of concern for my own well-being, right?), but I’m sure you have a satellite somewhere that you can direct toward my house to ensure I’ve not been absorbing seditious materials.
Boy, this NSA/phone records scandal has certainly been blown out of proportion, hasn’t it? I’m surprised at how many Republicans — the same ones who were gaga for Dubbaya back in the day — are gleefully spinning this surveillance into an attack on the current president, when it really dates back to the Bush-era Patriot Act, passed in those scary days after 9/11 when we came to the consensus that almost anything that could be done should be done to stop future attacks.
And who’s to say this surveillance hasn’t been successful? We’re told it’s foiled terrorist plots already, although we can’t know which ones because — surprise! — that’s classified information.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?, eh, Joe?
Regardless, I’ll bet this scandal is fairly short in duration and that you and your NSA co-workers will soon sink back into anonymity. After all, most Americans have believed for years that the government is spying on them, and many believe that constitutional protections can be circumvented by people with power, money or both. Where’s the controversy?
So you won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, which is a great comfort to me and my family, even if it means that you — or whoever replaces you as you climb the ladder of success at Fort Meade — will continue to be bored by my phone calls to local pizza shops and dog groomers.
And in case I don’t get to talk to you before, Joe, have a happy Fourth of July. Be sure to get out of that dark room, watch some fireworks and celebrate the many opportunities we enjoy in this, the land of the free.
Originally published June 13, 2013, in The Alliance Review.