The American Bear


Wiretapping run amok | David Sirota

If there was an ongoing contest in the art of self-contradicting newspeak, a quote from a U.S. military official during the Vietnam War would be the reigning, iconic victor for most of the modern era. In describing the decision to ignore the prospect of civilian casualties and shell a town, that unnamed official famously told Peter Arnett of the Associated Press that “it became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

Epitomizing the futility, immorality and nihilism of that era-defining war, that line has achieved true aphorism status — employed most often to describe every political endeavor that is, well, futile, immoral and nihilistic.

But now, ever so quietly, the Vietnam quote has suddenly been dethroned by an equally oxymoronic line — one that perfectly summarizes the zeitgeist of the post-9/11 era. As Wired’s Spencer Ackerman reports:

The surveillance experts at the National Security Agency won’t tell two powerful United States Senators how many Americans have had their communications picked up by the agency as part of its sweeping new counterterrorism powers. The reason: it would violate your privacy to say so.

That claim comes in a short letter sent Monday to civil libertarian Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall…In a letter acquired by Danger Room, McCullough told the senators that the NSA inspector general “and NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons,” McCullough wrote.

While the line’s bureaucratic lingo doesn’t roll off the tongue like its Vietnam-era predecessor, it does equal it for sheer audacity. Yes, those actively violating Americans’ privacy claim their stonewalling is all about trying to protect Americans’ privacy.