Stephen Colbert found himself agreeing with President Barack Obama on Tuesday in welcoming a discussion over the National Security Agency’s (NSA) gathering of phone and internet usage records — in fact, he said, it was well worth having that discussion when it was reported in May 2006.
“Folks, the fact is, we had this debate,” Colbert said. “And we surrendered our rights back when we were properly in the grip of fear. I know it won’t be easy, but we’ve gotta dig down deep and somehow find the courage to stay scared shitless.”
The matter returned to the headlines after a series of articles by the Guardian detailing the agency’s use of programs like “Boundless Informant” and PRISM, and “back door” access to companies like Google, Facebook, Skype and the somewhat more obscure PalTalk.
“Liberals ask if we’re trading freedom for security,” Colbert explained. “Conservatives ask if we’re showing our hand to the terrorists. But the Guardian asks the most important question of all: ‘Could the Guardian win a Pulitzer for Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations?’
Snowden, the former NSA contractor who provided the newspaper with the information for its reports, vanished from the Hong Kong hotel in which he was staying.
“This secret program’s name, PRISM, is an acronym for Planning tool for Resource Integration, Synchronization and Management,” Colbert said. “Incidentally, for revealing PRISM, Snowden may soon be in PRISON, which stands for Probably Regretting Identifying Self On National TV.”
But, Colbert said, there was one thing he did not like about the NSA’s activities coming to light under Obama’s watch
– that it’s garnering the president praise from conservatives like former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who told Fox News that it made him think this was really George W. Bush’s fourth term.
“George W. Bush is my hero. He is my role model. He is my designated driver,” Colbert railed. “[Obama] is just imitating Bush and thinks it’ll make me like him. Well, I don’t care how many ballgames you take me to, or how many Yemeni citizens you blow up, you’re not my real president. You’re just some guy named Barry.”
After taking a second to “go to his room,” Colbert assured his viewers that they had plenty of options if they wanted to avoid government surveillance.
“Just don’t text, tweet, make phone calls, or use PalTalk — even though I know that’s a sacrifice,” he said. “Instead, if you absolutely positively need to get a message to a friend, just do what our grandparents did and use a carrier chicken.”
After trying to convince his own chicken to deliver a message to his friend “Lou Dog,” Colbert butted heads with New Republic legal affairs editor Jeffrey Rosen, over the implications of the program.
“What’s wrong with getting together, as they say, the haystack of information so that they can then find the needle in it?” Colbert asked Rosen. “Are you anti-haystack or pro-needle?”
“I’m pro-Fourth Amendment,” replied Rosen, head of the National Constitution Center. “And the Fourth Amendment says you cannot have general searches of information on an ongoing daily basis without particular information that it’s linked to a particular crime.”
“But we are generally under attack,” Colbert countered. “We are generally under threat. I’ve gotta say, there was the attack on 9-11, there’s the attack on Fort Hood, there’s the attack on Boston. Those are spread out all over the country. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, it’s gonna be in Dade County.’”
Watch Colbert defend the NSA, aired Tuesday on Comedy Central, below.
And watch the interview between Colbert and Rosen below.