e-News 8/26/13

The Week Just Passed:  A “Harbinger” of Things to Come?

“UPS won't insure spouses of many employees"

“Obama, Benghazi and the Pleasures of Self-Deception”

NSA: “An Agency Correcting Itself”

“Harry Reid’s Yucca Bluff”


The Week Just Passed:  A “Harbinger” of Things to Come?

“Despite the President’s oft-stated claim that his new healthcare law will reduce premiums and allow Americans to keep their healthcare plans if they like them, word came last week that one of the biggest U.S. employers was making significant changes in this key area. 

“United Parcel Service announced this week that it plans to drop health insurance coverage for about 15,000 working spouses of white-collar employees. In a memo to workers, UPS said the coverage shift is a response to expenses from the 2010 Affordable Care Act and ‘the rising cost of health care in general.’

“Experts are asking, ‘Is this a harbinger of things to come?’ I would not be surprised because we are seeing many unintended consequences of the Obamacare – rising premiums, employees’ hours being cut, potential layoffs.

“In a weak economic recovery where job creation is lagging, this trend, if it comes to pass, would be very unwelcome.

“Creation of jobs and career opportunities must remain Congress’ top priority.  We should continue to work to expand American energy, simplify our tax code and reduce harmful regulations. That starts with lifting the most burdensome parts of Obamacare off the backs of and families and small businesses!”

Rodney Frelinghuysen

Recommended Reading: Jay Hancock, Kaiser Health Newswriting in the USA Today, “UPS won't insure spouses of many employees.”

Recommended Reading: William Luti, writing in theWall Street Journal, "Obama, Benghazi and the Pleasures of Self-Deception. Since the White House promised that war is winding down, evidence to the contrary is ignored.”

Recommended Reading: Kimberly Strassel, writing in the Wall Street Journal: “Harry Reid's Yucca Bluff, Despite the senator's obstructionism, the Nevada nuclear waste facility has a chance of going forward.”

Recommended Summer Reading: Not 'The Lives of Others'

Wall Street Journal

The latest NSA 'abuses' actually show an agency correcting itself.

The antiterror surveillance debate long ago lost any sense of proportion, but the latest leak concerning a National Security Agency audit is the most confused to date. The critics claim to have finally found evidence of government abuse, but the truth is that the evidence shows no abuse and even reveals admirable self-monitoring by the NSA.

The Washington Post's Barton Gellman rolled out another of his Edward Snowden-fed specials, in this case a May 2012 NSA oversight and compliance report. The report shows that out of the tens of millions of communications the NSA intercepts every month, the agency violated its privacy rules a mere 2,776 times in the previous 12 months. These "incidents" involved the unauthorized collection or storage of communications or departures from standard operating procedure. The auditors note that "The majority of incidents in all [legal] authorities were database query incidents due to human error."

These are failures of due diligence, such as the now-infamous analyst who in a database query typed in the Washington D.C. area code (202) for the international dialing code for Egypt (20). This is dumb but also unintentional—and hardly rises to the caricature of secret police spying on Americans as if this is East Berlin circa 1984.

Instead the report shows an agency with robust controls to follow the rules and internal self-policing to identify and correct its own mistakes. Improperly collected data or content is destroyed when uncovered. In relative terms, an error rate well under 1% is extraordinary for a large government bureaucracy and a goal that other parts of this Administration could never achieve even if they wanted to.

There has been far more lawlessness implementing the Affordable Care Act than national security surveillance, and no NSA abuses have been exposed so far that are nearly as corrupt as the Internal Revenue Service targeting domestic political opponents.

Of the 2,776 NSA incidents, some 1,904 or 68% involved wiretapping foreign targets abroad, which is the main purpose of the metadata and email surveillance programs. Most of these resulted from technological limitations: When an overseas cell phone is tracked, the NSA often can't tell if its owner has traveled from abroad onto U.S. soil where an individual warrant is required. When the NSA has no reason to believe these "roamers" planned to travel, such errors are "largely unpreventable," the report observes. Is spying on foreigners now supposed to be controversial too?

But even the domestic infractions seem inconsequential, such as call records that were legally obtained but accidentally retained past the deadline for their disposal. Others involve delays in so-called "detasking," or stopping surveillance when a warrant expires or an overseas target is learned to be an American citizen. There is no evidence that such information was misused in any other way.

Mr. Snowden handed the 13-page audit report to the Post reporter earlier this summer, part of what seems to be a leak-on-the-installment-plan strategy. But the non-bombshell loses a lot of its frisson when one learns that these top-secret NSA audits are used to generate compliance reports for congressional oversight. Dianne Feinstein notes in a statement that her Senate Intelligence Committee "has never identified an instance in which the NSA has intentionally abused its authority to conduct surveillance for inappropriate purposes." Not one.

In other words, the tally so far in this scandal is no deliberate abuse and a handful of minor mistakes in the service of—let's not forget—protecting the country from terrorist attacks. If the quality control rate is supposed to be 0%, then we are asking more than we do from any human endeavor.

But even that wouldn't appease the anti-antiterror lobby that thinks any such surveillance is by definition an "abuse," however trivial the costs and important the benefits. In this latest case they've managed to portray an agency aggressively monitoring its surveillance as a reason to shut it down. The real "incidents" that this political agenda will generate are more dead Americans.

A version of this article appeared August 19, 2013