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Blagg: Intelligence gathering

The recent fuss over NSA phone and email intercepts — elected representatives from both sides of the aisle and both houses of Congress have been standing up and expressing their indignation and horror that our government is spying on both our allies and us — is actually pretty funny.

That is, if it’s not a sad commentary on the state of our democracy.

After all, what is the single largest failing of this country’s government over the past century?

Lack of intelligence data about what our enemies — and others — were doing.

Pearl Harbor. The Nazi death camps. The fall of the Soviet Union. The Beirut barracks truck bomb. The invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. Oklahoma City. The Arab Spring. Multiple attacks on our embassies, including the debacle at Benghazi.

And, of course, 9/11.

All were failures by American intelligence agencies to detect trends and plans that directly affected us.

In retrospect, of course, the signs were there.

American analysts knew the Japanese were planning something in 1941. Staffers in their embassy in Washington had been sent home, the fleet was out, industries were gearing up for war, messages between Tokyo and Washington had become increasingly belligerent ... and both sides knew that the key to any future expansion or invasion around the Pacific was the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Intercepted coded messages had indicated that Pearl Harbor might be a target ... but Washington did not make that clear to Army and Naval commanders there and we paid a high price for their lack of decision.

Again and again, American lives have been lost because our intelligence agencies have lacked sufficient information.

But now we find that in fact the NSA, the CIA and other departments have been laboring mightily to gather and analyze millions of messages and phone calls, trying to detect plots against us by our new enemies — the world’s terrorists.

So, rather than compliment them for their hard work to protect us, we’re bashing them for daring to note that I talk to my wife every night that she’s on the road, and that we sent each other little emails during the day, with interesting facts we’ve seen.

Or that my uncle forwards silly Internet pieces to me from Albuquerque about once a week or that I have a particular interest in old aircraft, and like to call up YouTube videos of old newsreel footage of them.

So what?

I couldn’t care less if the NSA thrashes my call or email logs, providing they are being vigilant in their effort to head off more bombs or awful attacks on our nation.

But Congress, which was aware of this effort all along, is suddenly trying to limit that effort.

I don’t think that’s going to be successful — I certainly hope not — because the stakes are too high.

I certainly wouldn’t want to be the senator or congressman who wrote a bill that handcuffed our intelligence agencies, only to find that the limitation led to another 9/11-type disaster.

Yes, there needs to be a court that scrutinizes those efforts and it should have the power to say “no” to any excesses. And all parties should be kept from infringing on our constitutional rights the way the Bush White House did after 9/11.

But the only way — the ONLY WAY — we have any chance to fight international terrorists and protect American lives is to gather intelligence of every kind and cast a wide net to do it.

Anything else will doom us to a repeat of that awful day in 2001 when we watched the World Trade Center towers collapse.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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