NSA's intelligence gathering is not very smart
It’s hardly a secret that nations gather intelligence on each other. That’s true of friends and adversaries. No matter how close nations are, they have competing interests. Even intelligence gathered among friends is useful in developing strategies in key areas.
But intelligence gathering takes various forms. It can involve combing through official testimony, picking up gossip at cocktail parties and, it seems, listening to the cellphone conversations of other world leaders.
European nations are in an uproar over reports that the U.S. National Security Agency monitored the cellphone conversations of various leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It seems that Merkel’s cellphone was tapped for years, until the activity was halted earlier this year.
The embarrassing revelations are among the leaks from Edward Snowden, a former employee of an NSA contractor now living in Russia. Information that Snowden obtained from the U.S. government has been seeping out, revealing a vast intelligence gathering system by the NSA that gobbles up data from cellphones, email accounts and other sources.
Despite the NSA's repeated assurances of privacy, Americans simply do not know how extensive its data mining efforts are. Every time we turn around, we learn its reach is far broader than was let on previously.
Some NSA defenders argue that spying among countries is to be expected. But what would be their reaction if a European ally was caught tapping the phones of President Obama and congressional leaders?
Espionage is a reality, but a risk/benefit assessment of monitoring the cellphone of Germany’s chancellor would suggest that it’s something to avoid. After all, we doubt that Merkel is part of a terrorist cell.
Does the protection of America’s security demand that her conversations be monitored? Anyone who answers "yes" should consider what’s happening now. As a result, European nations are debating a suspension of intelligence agreements with the United States. They worry that the NSA is seeking economic data to give America a trade advantage, using claims of anti-terror concerns as a cover.
So tapping phones may backfire badly on the United States. In terms of intelligence gathering, that can’t be very smart.
Anti-tobacco laws are just blowing smoke
The Joplin, Mo., Globe
The New York City Council voted overwhelmingly this week to bar smokers younger than 21 from buying cigarettes, other tobacco products and even electronic-vapor smokes in the Big Apple.
A councilman quoted by The Associated Press said he believes this will save many lives, and other parts of the country are looking at similar laws to set higher age minimums for tobacco sales.
Efforts to deter young people from smoking are commendable, but this law will do little to solve the problem of nicotine addiction among youth. According to the American Lung Association, most smokers try their first cigarette around age 11. Seventy percent of adult smokers started before they turned 18, and many were addicted by age 14.
If America wants to keep children and teenagers from smoking, current laws must be enforced, and those who sell to minors must be prosecuted.
In addition, aggressive education must start at early ages. Money is available for that through the 1998 settlement of lawsuits against tobacco companies. The problem is many states are not living up to their end of the deal.
According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, states will collect $24.7 billion from tobacco settlement money and taxes. They will spend only 1.8 percent of it on prevention aimed at keeping children from smoking.
Just as legislators fail to spend the settlement money appropriately, they now offer laws that are not aimed at solving the problem of tobacco addiction before it starts. Our children are paying for this indifference.