The surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma that has been aired only abstractly in public. There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages — and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address.
Among the most valuable contents — which The Post will not describe in detail, to avoid interfering with ongoing operations — are fresh revelations about a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks.The Washington Post has long been closer to the intelligence industry than any other newspaper in the country so it is perhaps not surprising that an unprecedented assault on the Constitution is described as "a policy dilemma." But obeying the Constitution is not a policy dilemma; it's the law. And when one of the most followed newspapers in the country shows such indifference to the nation's historic principles, it may in fact be far more dangerous than "a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali."
Months of tracking communications across more than 50 alias accounts, the files show, led directly to the 2011 capture in Abbottabad of Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a Pakistan-based bomb builder, and Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali. At the request of CIA officials, The Post is withholding other examples that officials said would compromise ongoing operations.
In any case, the argument the Post uses is the same that has maintained dictatorships throughout history. After all, Hitler was protecting the purportedly endangered people of Germany.
True, freedom entails some risks. But the record shows that democratically run countries are far less violent and less hazardous to their citizens than ones that purport to defend their citizens by removing their freedoms.
Furthermore, the NSA invasion of privacy began well before 9/11 and since that time the US government has not done a single thing of any significance to make it less likely that someone somewhere might wish to bomb us. Our policy is based on that of the castle and the moat. It didn't work in the Middle Ages and it won't work now.