All-powerful NSA


A clamor is growing for the Obama Administration either to grant clemency to Edward Snowden, or to reduce substantially the charges against him, so that he can return to the United States to face justice.

Mr. Snowden’s advocates argue that the former National Security Agency contractor, who leaked thousands of documents about America’s clandestine operations around the world, is a whistle-blower, not the traitor his critics claim.

Since last year, Mr. Snowden, who now lives in Russia, has been the source of blockbuster revelations about extensive intelligence gathering by the NSA at home and abroad. Because of his leaks, Americans know more about the government’s indiscriminate collection of data from phones and email, both domestically and internationally.

Much of this information has been gathered through legally questionable means. This has opened the Obama Administration to heavy criticism from civil libertarians and its political base of liberals and moderates.

Major telecommunications companies and Internet and social-media giants have been pressed by the NSA for unrestricted access to their customer bases. America’s European and South American allies, from prime ministers to average citizens, have also had their phones and emails monitored by the NSA.

The agency ostensibly sought information that could prevent the next terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The NSA, it appears, is not a particularly big respecter of privacy if it believes its snooping will keep the country safe.

So news from the latest Snowden leak — that the NSA wants to build a super-computer capable of breaking every kind of encryption — isn’t shocking, but is still disturbing given the NSA’s track record. If the NSA succeeds, there will be no security lock on information that the agency can’t pick.

According to Mr. Snowden’s leak, the NSA is no closer to success in building this “cryptologically useful Quantum computer” than the European Union or Switzerland is. But it is making major strides toward that goal every year.

One thing is certain: It would be foolhardy to believe that another super-weapon in the NSA’s arsenal would make it more mindful of Americans’ constitutional protections.