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Smells Really Bad

Here’s a letter to WTOP Radio:

Perhaps NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander is correct that, as you report, “that once-secret surveillance programs disrupted dozens of terrorist attacks” (“Programs disrupted dozens of attacks,” June 12).

Of course, we can never know.  That’s in the nature of secret government programs.  We are assured – of course! – by high officials that their secretive uses of snooping powers will yield benefits and not be abused.  “Trust us,” they insist.

But no sensible and self-respecting people fall for such assurances, even when there is yet no evidence that such snooping has produced material harm.  As Edmund Burke said in Parliament in 1775 about America: “In other countries, the people, more simple, and of a less mercurial cast, judge of an ill principle in government only by an actual grievance; here they anticipate the evil, and judge of the pressure of the grievance by the badness of the principle.  They augur misgovernment at a distance; and sniff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.”*

The principle of the NSA’s program is bad indeed, and its smell is rancid.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030