Carter’s qualms: A former president mistrusts the NSA

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In an interview Sunday with NBC News, former President Jimmy Carter gave voice to anxieties that many Americans have about the wide net for information being cast by U.S. intelligence agencies more than a decade after the trauma of 9/​11.

Mr. Carter told correspondent Andrea Mitchell on “Meet the Press” that he suspects that his email is being monitored by the National Security Agency and that he uses the U.S. Postal Service whenever he wants to communicate sensitive matters with world leaders.

The rationale for surveillance “has been extremely liberalized and, I think, abused by our own intelligence agencies,” Mr. Carter said. He added that he types his letters and takes them to the post office personally to mail them.

Mr. Carter’s caution has caused a stir because he isn’t a crazy conspiracy theorist. The NSA answered to Mr. Carter when he was in the White House, which makes his suspicion all the more extraordinary. If a former president feels this way, can anyone blame other Americans for being just a wee bit concerned about their intelligence services?

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander pushed back Tuesday against Mr. Carter’s fears. He said the NSA was not reading people’s private communications and he encouraged the former president to go back to using email. “The reality is, we don't do that. And if we did, it would be illegal and we'd be ... held accountable and responsible,” he said.

It isn’t likely Mr. Carter will heed Mr. Alexander’s advice any time soon. There have been too many revelations about the extent of snooping and the indiscriminate hoarding of personal communications data.

Meanwhile, the NSA and the Obama administration have no one but themselves to blame for the fact that even a former U.S. president doesn’t trust them. They should imagine how the rest of America feels.


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