Preeminent NSA expert James Bamford has written multiple books on what he calls the Shadow Agency. In Foreign Policy magazine, he condenses his voluminous knowledge into a couple thousand word warning about what’s just around the corner: a Clinton or Trump presidency that will inherit the substantial powers amassed by the world’s most powerful signals intelligence agency under the leadership of constitutional law professor Barack Obama. Among all the other important issues at stake in the upcoming election, surveillance figures prominently—if not publicly. In short, Bamford argues, thanks to technological innovations and Obama’s granting of carte blanche to the spies, the next president will have the world in her or his hands.
Read Bamford’s piece before you watch the debate tonight. While these subjects likely won’t occupy a central place in the discussion—if they’re referenced at all—they are fundamental to the questions we will hear debate about: the Black Lives Matter movement, the limits of state power, US foreign policy, trade, climate, and more. If the military knows everything, the possibility of democratic governance depends on the whims of our leaders—elected and non. As NSA whistleblower Bill Binney has said, Bush and Obama have overseen the construction of a turnkey totalitarian system. Our current leader hasn’t flipped the switch to go full throttle, but our next president might.