Craig Shirley, author of Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan, is an impressive writer with a vast knowledge of Reagan’s terms as president who has nonetheless gotten a very important part of Reagan’s legacy wrong. Shirley has written about how Reagan would have reacted to the Paris massacre by enlisting today’s “Christian Russia” and “free market China” in a coalition against Islamic terrorism. Shirley is wrong on both counts. Reagan would not have been fooled by the use of the Russian Orthodox Church by the Putin regime in Russia. He would not have accepted China as a capitalist nation simply because its communist rulers use capitalism to enrich themselves. Reagan would regard both nations as adversaries, if not enemies.
There is something else seriously wrong in Craig Shirley’s article, “How Reagan Would Handle Paris.” He writes that “Reagan would have approached the fight against radical Islamic terrorism ideologically, the way he did with communism. He would break ISIS economically, employ heavy surveillance and espionage techniques and would go after all those who aid them…”
Shirley doesn’t explain what he means by “heavy surveillance,” but it is a fact that Reagan visited the headquarters of the NSA in 1986 and strongly endorsed the work of the agency that is tasked with conducting surveillance of America’s foreign enemies. I recently visited the library in the NSA’s National Cryptologic Museum to go over materials from that period, including a transcript of Reagan’s remarks. There exists a video of Reagan’s dedication of new buildings at the agency complex at Fort George H. Meade, Maryland.
I suspect he doesn’t mention the visit to NSA headquarters because Shirley is a strong critic of the NSA and a big advocate of the cause of NSA defector Edward Snowden, who lives in Russia and is being protected by Putin’s KGB. “Support for Snowden is actually consistent with the tradition of American conservatism,” Shirley has said. “I think Snowden might end up being the John Brown of the 21st century—reviled and unpopular but unleashing a debate that led to the rebirth of freedom.”
Rather than bring about more freedom, we have seen in Paris that Snowden has brought about more terrorism. Some in the media still want to debate the issue, but the evidence indicates that Snowden’s disclosures about NSA surveillance techniques have enabled the terrorists to “go dark” and communicate with each other secretly, probably through encryption apps like the one developed by the Russian inventor of Telegram, Pavel Durov.
So when Craig Shirley suggests Reagan would use “heavy surveillance” on Islamic terrorists, what exactly does he mean? The NSA is the agency which conducts that kind of heavy surveillance. The FBI is part of that surveillance domestically. But the NSA is charged with finding the foreign terrorists before they strike here.
I previously noted that what Shirley and other Snowden supporters ignore is the fact that the NSA’s surveillance activities rely mostly on Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12333 and that funding and manpower for the NSA increased dramatically under Reagan. The executive order declared that “Timely and accurate information about the activities, capabilities, plans, and intentions of foreign powers, organizations, and persons and their agents, is essential to the national security of the United States. All reasonable and lawful means must be used to ensure that the United States will receive the best intelligence available.”
Under the Constitution, the federal government is charged with protecting the national defense.
It is Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s opposition to the NSA that is causing him problems in the Republican presidential race. We previously noted that Cruz fell victim to the anti-NSA propaganda campaign when he voted with mostly left-wing Democrats to pass the so-called USA FREEDOM Act and destroy the NSA’s ability to review a government database of telephone numbers that could be linked to terrorist plots. Cruz voted for an untested alternative, a plan to keep the numbers in the hands of private telecommunications firms, which takes effect December 1st.
Another candidate, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, has attacked Cruz for that vote, accusing Cruz of having “voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence programs.” Rubio told radio host Hugh Hewitt that Cruz “was a part of that coalition that worked with the Democrats like Chuck Schumer and the ACLU to harm our intelligence programs.” Rubio also ripped the “traitor Edward Snowden,” whose disclosures prompted the changes in the law.
The controversy between the two candidates was captured in a Weekly Standard story that carried the headline, “Rubio Links Cruz to Snowden.”
It’s one thing for an author or journalist like Craig Shirley to say nice things about Snowden. But for a GOP presidential candidate to be linked to Snowden is a terrible thing. It is a major impediment to Cruz’s success in the Republican race for president.
In order to rectify the damage that has been done, Rubio has joined with Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) to introduce The Liberty Through Strength Act. It would extend the transition timeline in the USA FREEDOM Act until after January 31, 2017, and upon certification from the President that the new architecture will have no operational impacts; and make permanent the USA PATRIOT Act’s “lone wolf” and roving wiretap provisions.
Cotton says, “If we take anything from the Paris attacks, it should be that vigilance and safety go hand-in-hand. Now is not the time to sacrifice our national security for political talking points. We should allow the Intelligence Community to do their job and provide them with the tools they need to keep us safe. Passing the Liberty Through Strength Act will empower the NSA to uncover threats against the United States and our allies, help keep terrorists out of the United States, and track down those responsible in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks.”
In a Wall Street Journal column co-authored by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the case is made for the restoration of the NSA’s powers. It carries the title, “Time to Remove the Surveillance Blinders” (subscription required). One recommendation is to “Restore the metadata programs to their pre-Snowden status so they can provide a solid early-warning system based on data about who is communicating with whom (content would still be protected).”
Cruz is making headway in the race for president, but his vote to dramatically change the NSA’s metadata collection system is coming back to haunt him. He should disavow his vote to undermine the NSA and visit the NSA complex at Fort Meade to show his support for this vitally important front-line intelligence agency. That would be the Reagan-like thing to do.