- - Monday, January 20, 2014

What could be easier than promising reform to a top-secret program nobody is supposed to know about? President Obama says he’ll rein in the National Security Agency (NSA) and its domestic spying program now that nearly everybody is outraged. He can promise everything, and nobody will ever know whether he changes anything. Even the rulings of the court with oversight are part of the game.

Like three-card monte, the game is rigged, and the dealer walks away with the money. It’s a scam assisted by a shill planted in the crowd, who pretends to pick the right card and wins the money. This convinces gullible rubes around the table, and they think they can win, too. Once the real game is played, the rube walks away without his shirt (and sometimes his shoes and pants).

Mr. Obama has dealt his NSA “reform” card to the table, claiming it will significantly change the way the spy agency does business. The shills — influential members of Congress and supporters of the spying agency — insist the reforms are significant, trying to persuade the public to take the bait. But something far more valuable than money, the constitutional rights of every American, is at stake, and this is no game.

The ability to pry into the private communications of any American at any time for any reason makes the political establishment happy and feel secure. The White House, many members of Congress and the intelligence services want the domestic snoopery to continue. They just don’t want the blame for it.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, one of staunchest defenders of the surveillance state, offers one of the oldest legislative tricks on the congressional midway. She introduced a bill to “reform” the agency, but all it does is codify and legalize the constitutionally questionable program the agency has been operating without authorization and oversight.

Mr. Obama is shuffling the cards like a true and highly skilled sharp. His most highly touted “change” would prohibit the government from directly holding the personal information of Americans. The data would be “outsourced” to a crony company that would deal it back to the government whenever the government wants it. Such sleight of hand thrills the shills.

Washington is incapable of reforming itself, and several of the states are attempting substantial reform. State legislators have been introducing bills that would at least slow the snoopery.

Utah legislators are considering starving the NSA’s enormous data-storage warehouse near the Great Salt Lake of water and electricity. Legislators in California, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma are mulling legislation to deny aiding state-funded public resources to the NSA or any other federal agency involved in warrantless spying. The Tenth Amendment Center says the states can do this under the anti-commandeering doctrine, a legal principle that prevents the federal government from requiring, or “commandeering,” the states to carry out acts. It’s an interesting idea, and worth trying. Throwing a three-card monte game off the midway is always a good thing to do.