Libertarian Kool-Aid: A Jihad On the NSA

As wise men have noted, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Many Americans who follow current events are alarmed about revelations concerning NSA surveillance activities, and there is an ongoing national debate (which often strongly confirms the old aphorism that politics makes for strange bedfellows) about those activities. So far, so good.

(I’ve discussed the NSA issue in more depth here–and noted a far greater intrusion by the DEA here.)

While I understand the reasonable concerns expressed about some NSA activities and the Congressional oversight thereof, I frankly have no time to entertain the naive prattling of those who would abolish the agency and its functions entirely.

As aggressive an adherent as I am to the Tenth Amendment, I also understand that the primary purpose of the Federal Government is national defense.

All of which is to say that the following has to be about the most stupid thing I have seen come down the pike from “our side” in a long, long time:

The National Security Agency’s headquarters in Ft. Meade, Md., will go dark if a cohort of Maryland lawmakers has its way.

Eight Republicans in the 141-member Maryland House of Delegates introduced legislation Thursday that would deny the electronic spy agency “material support, participation or assistance in any form” from the state, its political subdivisions or companies with state contracts.

The bill would deprive NSA facilities water and electricity carried over public utilities, ban the use of NSA-derived evidence in state courts and prevent state universities from partnering with the NSA on research.

State or local officials ignoring the NSA sanctions would be fired, local governments refusing to comply would lose state grant funds and companies would be forever barred from state contracts.

The bill was filed as emergency legislation and requires support of three-fifths of delegates to pass. It was referred to the chamber’s judiciary committee.

NSA facilities in Maryland use a massive amount of water and electricity, the supply of which might be jeopardized by the legislation….

The legislative wave is spearheaded by the Tenth Amendment Center, which along with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee launched the OffNow coalition last year seeking to cut off water to the NSA’s just-built Utah Data Center.

Legislation hasn’t yet been introduced in Utah, but lawmakers in Arizona, California, Tennessee, Washington and other states have filed bills based on model legislation from the Tenth Amendment Center….

Shame on the Tenth Amendment Center for promulgating such an asinine piece of legislation. It makes serious arguments for adherence to the Tenth Amendment that much more difficult. (And I seriously doubt its Constitutionality, as well.)

Once again I am struck by the “so close, yet so far away” element of some extreme strains of libertarian thought (the People For A Perfect World mindset with an odd temperamental affinity to the hard-Left, even as it poses as the polar office of the latter); suffice it to say that it represents a self-evidently anti-conservative impulse in American politics–even as it attempts to claim the mantle of true conservatism.

(Of course the libertarian responses to this post will accuse me of being a statist, a neo-con, a ProgLite, a tool of Fox News and the GOP and all the rest. Whatever. Knock yourselves out. It’s a dumb piece of legislation, and I would expect nothing less than dumb ad hominem from those who support it.)

Addendum: “Let’s Agree To Disagree” by Buck Owens came up in the evening’s music rotation. Heh.

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One Response to Libertarian Kool-Aid: A Jihad On the NSA

  1. Jack Parker says:

    First, I agree that shutting down the NSA entirely is not only sheer fantasy, but also undesirable. The signals intelligence (SIGINT*), electronic intelligence (ELINT*), communications intelligence (COMINT*), and code-breaking functions that it serves–once provided entirely by the military–are vital to the national security of the United States. They are arguably more vital than at any other time in our history.

    In our decades-long struggle with various European powers, human intelligence (HUMINT*) was more readily available. Americans, British, or other Europeans could be trained readily enough to infiltrate the Stasi, the KGB, the GRU. Also, because the East-West rivalry was one of political and economic ideology–not religious zealotry, like our enemies of today–and the divide between prosperity and despair was so stark, it was relatively easy to find some official in their ranks who was underappreciated, underpaid, under-sexed, or just plain fed up. Not so today. People seduced by Al Qaida are a very particular breed–true believers. They don’t do what they do for money, power, political or economic ideology, or national allegiance. They believe they are taking their marching orders straight from the all-powerful creator of the universe. It is difficult to tempt someone who is not interested in earthly reward, but rather a spiritual one on the afterlife. It is similarly difficult to infiltrate someone into their ranks, as there are precious few candidates. This leaves us depending mostly on the Israelis for human assets. All of this means that it is vitally important that we can hear their calls, read their emails, track their finances, and generally follow their digital trail.

    I am as shocked (but not surprised) as the next libertarian about the abuses at the NSA. They clearly have been operating with little or nothing in the way of either internal or external oversight or control. For an agency with NSA’s power and responsibilities, that is inexcusable. But dismantling the apparatus altogether is not the answer. Like I said, they perform a vital function. What they need is to be overhauled and restructured head-to-toe, and have restrictions and oversight regarding what they are and are not allowed to do, and which personnel have access to what information. Heads need to roll and asses need to fry.

    Legislation like that proposed above is pointless. First, it won’t change anything about the agency that needs changing. It won’t make them alter their behavior. I’m not sure what the point of this strangulation-by-public-utility is contrived to achieve. At best, they’ll relocate their facilities to some other state. Is that the idea? Or is it just a ‘fuck you’ statement? What would that accomplish? What does victory look like in this scenario? I’m honestly stumped.

    Second, I seriously doubt that it will get that far. I have not researched this, so I’m just speculating, but I cannot possibly believe that such a move would be legal. I have to believe that there are some eminent domain issues at work here. I seriously doubt that a state or municipality could legally shut off water or power supply to a military base, or a branch office of the FBI. I’d be interested to learn more if you come across some information about the legal standing.

    (*Yes, I’ve read a shitload of Tom Clancy.)

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