Over the last three years the almost unbelievable level of communications interception by the NSA has been revealed largely through the Snowden leaks. They have revealed many threats to the principles of limited government, notably in domestic eavesdropping and in collusion with other domestic policing agencies (see DEA and “parallel construction”). While these are grave matters that have gotten ahead of the law’s ability to regulate and present novel and particularly frightening invasions of privacy and deserve to have a national conversation exploring them, not all of the activities of the NSA are illegitimate.
Spying on foreign leaders, especially those of our allies, has been excoriated in our press and in foreign countries. But this is truly an activity within the scope of the NSA’s mission. While it can be argued that it is foolish and a waste of resources, I believe it is legitimate as long as the information is not passed to private companies for commercial gain. The myth of a brotherhood of nations is a dangerous fairy tale. The US has strong allies, but even those allies don’t have interests that strictly align with ours all the time. While foreign policy should not be conducted in a completely ruthless and amoral manner, it should be conducted with a level of self-interest. Spying is therefore a critical task that every nation which is capable engages in, even on their allies.