At any rate, secrecy promotes compliance only as long as it can be maintained, which is to say that the current political freak-out is the result of years of secrecy. If the government had been forthright about what it was doing–without, of course, revealing operational details that would make it possible for terrorists to defeat the surveillance–the political debate over it would have come earlier and been more measured.
Just how unmeasured it has become is shown by two articles in hard-left publications: one by Tim Shorrock for The Nation and one by Corey Robin for Salon. Both, incredibly, resort to red-baiting. Shorrock’s is titled “A Modern-Day Stasi State,” referring to the East German domestic-intelligence network whose operations were dramatized in the 2006 thriller “The Lives of Others.”
“We can only assume,” Shorrock writes, that “tens of thousands of Americans working for private intelligence contractors have access to the personal information of millions of their fellow citizens, including their phone and e-mail communications as well Internet chats on Yahoo, Google and other ISPs.” If that assumption is true, the “the term Stasi . . . doesn’t sound like an exaggeration. Except this is state surveillance plus capitalism: spying for profit.”
But wait. No one, including the putative whistleblower, Edward Snowden, has offered any evidence of abuse. The government does have the ability to listen in on phone calls, but only with a judicial warrant. Whereas the purpose of the Stasi was to suppress dissent, there is no evidence that the NSA–in contrast, by the way, with the Internal Revenue Service, which Shorrock never mentions–has deviated from its core mission, which is to gather intelligence on foreign enemies.