Politics & Policy

Ron Paul Reacts to the NSA

The former congressman is not shocked.

Like most people, former representative Ron Paul (R., Texas) learned the details of the federal government’s far-reaching surveillance program when he read about it over the weekend. But as someone who has spent the last several decades warning of government’s encroachment on civil liberties, he wasn’t exactly shocked by the revelations.

“The thought of our government doing this wasn’t a bit of a surprise,” he tells National Review Online. “I assumed they had been doing it. They’ve had the authority to do it. I said that’s what the Patriot Act would end up doing.”


At the very least, the official documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a former intelligence officer and Ron Paul donor, offered “credible evidence” that confirmed Paul’s suspicions. “I didn’t know the details before,” he says. “My immediate reaction was, you know, we’re supposed to be shocked by this?” 

Surely Paul must feel vindicated, after years of having his concerns largely dismissed by politicians in both parties. Right?

Not exactly. 

“I never think in terms of vindication — ‘yeah, see, I told you so’ — that doesn’t go over very well anyway,” he says. In fact, it “saddens” him, to some degree, to have his concerns validated by such troubling news.

“Vindication? I think somebody else can use that term, but I don’t,” he adds. 

It would be counterproductive, Paul says, for him and other full-fledged civil libertarians to play a prominent role in the national conversation that is likely to emerge in the wake of the revelations.

“I think individuals like myself are the worst ones to be out front right now and saying ‘Alright go do this and this; I told you this would happen,’” he says. “It has to be other individuals saying ‘You know, I was mistaken, I’m going to change my ways, and do something differently.’” 

He’s concerned about the fate of Snowden, who was last seen in Hong Kong after fleeing the country several weeks ago, and worries that the 29-year-old whistleblower might come to be viewed as a “traitor” for his actions. “If you have a large government, or an empire, a dictatorial government, if you tell the truth, it’s treason, and that has to be reversed,” he says. “I’m concerned about whether the publicity is so strong that the people who are sympathetic will have to be silenced because they find out people are starting to believe, ‘Oh, he’s a communist defector and that’s why he’s in China.’” 

Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), among others, did not respond favorably to the leak. “I view Mr. Snowden’s actions not as one of patriotism but potentially a felony,” Graham said via Twitter on Monday. John Yoo, former legal adviser to President George W. Bush, wrote that Snowden “should go to jail, as quickly and for as long as possible.” The Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation.

However, Snowden has his fair share of defenders. An online petition asking President Obama to pardon Snowden has accumulated more than 26,000 signatures since Sunday. Paul is supportive. “I mean, it’s early, but from everything I’ve heard, I’d say it’s a great idea,” he says. “The question is really, who are the criminals? The people who destroy our Constitution, or the people who tell us the truth about the individuals who are destroying our Constitution?”

Paul seems cautiously optimistic that the American people are “waking up” to the dangers of big government. And just like concern over the military’s drone program — spearheaded by his son, Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) — was able to galvanize Americans of all political stripes, the public backlash over the government’s surveillance regime could spur politicians of both parties to action.

“It adds momentum, but whether or not this will be the beginning of wisdom is another question,” he says. “I think a large majority of the America people are saying Obama has gone too far, but it’s a bipartisan deal. Obama didn’t invent this, he just made it worse.”

They could start by repealing “bad laws,” like the Patriot Act, but that will hardly suffice. “Ultimately the restraints have to come from people of character who just refuse to go along with these programs,” he says. “You’ve got to change people’s minds. You don’t have to change the majority [in Congress], you have to change people who write in magazines, and get on the Internet and on T.V. Prevailing attitudes are important.”

He realizes that many politicians, and perhaps a sizable portion of the American public, don’t share his views, and are (at best) indifferent to the notion of a government that can track nearly all forms of communication. 

“[Lindsey Graham] doesn’t feel like he’s undermining anything, he thinks this is the proper position,” Paul says. “Some people think governments are there to make us perfectly safe, and others believe that governments are there to protect our liberties. Governments can’t make us safe. If they have that job of making us perfectly safe and secure, you end up with very little freedom.”

“Time will tell” which view wins out, he adds. “But no harm can come from knowing the truth.”

— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.

Andrew Stiles — Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

Most Popular

White House

The Trivialization of Impeachment

We have a serious governance problem. Our system is based on separation of powers, because liberty depends on preventing any component of the state from accumulating too much authority -- that’s how tyrants are born. For the system to work, the components have to be able to check each other: The federal and ... Read More

‘Texodus’ Bodes Badly for Republicans

‘I am a classically trained engineer," says Representative Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, "and I firmly believe in regression to the mean." Applying a concept from statistics to the randomness of today's politics is problematic. In any case, Hurd, 42, is not waiting for the regression of our politics from the ... Read More

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More

Not Less Religion, Just Different Religion

The Pew Poll tells us that society is secularizing -- particularly among the young -- and who can deny it? That is one reason that the free expression of religion is under such intense pressure in the West. But it seems to me that we aren't really becoming less religious. Rather, many are merely changing that ... Read More

In Defense of Tulsi

Some years ago, a liberal-minded friend of mine complained during lunch that Fox News was “stealing” his elderly parents. “They should be enjoying retirement,” he said, noting that they live in a modest but comfortable style with attentive children and grandchildren to enjoy. “But instead,” he sighed, ... Read More