October 27, 2013

David Rohde: U.S. obsession with al-Qaida hurts us more than al-Qaida itself

Making drone strikes, TSA screening and NSA surveillance more transparent will build trust at home and solidify cooperation abroad.

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In this photo from June, German Chancellor Angela Merkel uses her cellphone at the German Federal Parliament Bundestag.

The Associated Press

“The average person doesn’t understand how much intelligence-driven matching is going on and how this could be accessed for other purposes,” she said. “There’s no meaningful oversight, transparency or accountability.”

Another critic called the new TSA program “a pre-crime assessment every time you fly.”

A bipartisan proposal unveiled last month by Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Mark Udall, D-Colo., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., is a good start on curbing government surveillance abuse. The measure would end the bulk collection of American’s communications records, limit the legal authority of the government to obtain information from Google and other online service providers, and make the secret court that oversees U.S. surveillance operations far more transparent.

After months of promising change but little action, Obama should back their proposal. And he should enact Holewinski’s recommendations for making drone strikes more transparent. If there is one ideal that Obama needs to embrace it is transparency.

Terrorists know that the United States monitors phone calls and emails worldwide. They already try to act like civilians when drones are overhead. Making drone strikes, TSA screening and NSA surveillance more transparent will build trust at home and solidify counter-terrorism cooperation abroad. Transparency is a strength, not a weakness.

Maine native David Rohde is a columnist for Reuters and a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for reporting in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

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