How Edward Snowden's victory hampers intelligence gathering

Those who have problems with this kind of activity are, at best, operating under a very naïve view of the way the world works, and at worst cynically exploiting the naïve for the purpose of evening the scales between America and its rivals and enemies… enemies who in this day and age can also be ordinary citizens first, not government officials. All the President has done by announcing restrictions on the intelligence community overseas is make war more likely, not less, by curbing the advantages that ordinarily preclude those outcomes.

In the absence of robust and intrusive intelligence capabilities, military force expands as a policy option. If you can’t surveil citizens of other nations and place data worms in their equipment to prevent their nuclear programs from working, you have to bomb them from the air instead, or worse, put boots on the ground. If you can’t be sure of their WMD capabilities, you have to take the Dick Cheney approach and assume the worst.

Today was a victory for Snowden and his allies, but not the kind of victory civil libertarians should hope for. The restrictions on spying on American citizens announced by the president seem mostly like window dressing, adding a few hoops and a mess of paperwork to slow down the process without achieving fundamental change. But if the restrictions on spying overseas are real, and not just lip service, they represent a marked degradation of the ability of America’s intelligence community to do the job they’ve been tasked with from the beginning.