Last week's story about NSA employees eavesdropping on Americans abroad calling home to the United States was no shock. Things like "greatest hits" of phone sex and other intimate conversations, recorded and passed around NSA offices like joke e-mails, are just the sort of abuse you'd expect when you grant ordinary people extraordinary surveillance powers with no oversight.
As is typical of these sad counterterrorism tales from the Bush years, there are lots of bad sides--and no good side. NSA employees violated the privacy of innocent Americans in humiliating ways. The entire program exists under a legal and Constitutional cloud. And no one is claiming that this surveillance led to the capture or killing of any foreign terrorists, or the prevention of a single terrorist attack.
By now, Americans should have seen enough of these failures to accept the dodge, "We'd love to tell you about the successes, but we can't." We gave up the instruments of good government, designed for both difficult and easier times, so that we could fight Al Qaeda better. Instead, we got sweaty civil servants eavesdropping on husbands and wives in their most private moments.