An odd thing is happening in the world’s self-declared pinnacle of democracy. No one — except a handful of elected officials and an army of contractors — is allowed to know how America’s surveillance leviathan works.
For the last two years, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) have tried to describe to the American public the sweeping surveillance the National Security Agency conducts inside and outside the United States. But secrecy rules block them from airing the simplest details.
Over the last few days, President Barack Obama and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, have both said they welcome a national debate about the surveillance programs. But the president and senator have not used their power to declassify information that would make that debate possible.
“I flew over the World Trade Center going to Senator Lautenberg’s funeral,” Feinstein said this Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” referring to New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg. “And I thought of those bodies jumping out of that building hitting the canopy. Part of our obligation is keeping America safe.”