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The two elderly ladies beamed with pride as the new preacher in the small Southern town lashed out mercilessly against adultery. Their joy visibly increased as he targeted alcohol and inched even higher as he blasted gambling.

Then he denounced “tale-bearing,” vicious unsubstantiated rumor-mongering about friends and neighbors. Their smiles vanished. One of those women leaned over to her friend and whispered, “Now he’s quit preaching and gone to meddlin’!”

There may be a frightening lesson for Republicans coiled up in that little parable. Benghazi? By all means. Let them have it. The abuses of the IRS? Bang on! Speak louder. Now, about the more-recently revealed data-mining of the NSA (National Security Agency)? Not so fast. This may be a trap waiting to reverse recent Republican gains and neutralize the swamps of scandal swallowing Democratic fortunes as we watch. Neither Democrats nor anybody else are smart enough to set and bait this kind of trap. Luck has to blow it into Democratic hands, and it might well be doing so.

What’s clear is the dramatic shifting of positions from the expected. Al Gore and Sen. Rand Paul are joined in denunciation of what’s going on inside the NSA. In favor of NSA’s “data-mining” program is the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Michigan’s Mike Rogers, Republican! Also unbothered by NSA’s data-mining program is columnist Charles Krauthammer, who’s so vibrantly brilliant he should be forbidden to think during take-offs and landings.

Friends of the NSA program – again, not necessarily friends of the Obama administration – point out that the program is credited with busting a terrorist attack in the embryo stage. Those opponents of the administration who just don’t want the scandal-train to stop or slow down explain their present rejection of a program initiated under George W. Bush as something like “It was OK the way Bush ran it, but not under Obama’s band of buccaneers!”

My worst day in the Army was when I learned I was assigned not to a shooting war in Korea, but to a desk job just south of Washington, D.C. in an unheard-of organization called the NSA, National Security Agency. The demographic news that there were eight single women for every single man in Washington did nothing to cheer me up. Young, unmarried and patriotic for good reasons, I actually wanted to fight for America.

I got the identical briefing Obama gave the nation last Friday, but back before Obama was born. Instead of “data-mining,” the instructor called it “traffic analysis.” Our first day of “class” at NSA featured the instructor holding aloft a newly arrived letter from the morning mail. “What can we tell about this letter without opening it?” he asked. “Well,” he continue, “we know who it’s to. We know who it’s from. We know when it was mailed.” That was back in the days when postmarks were legible. His point was, we can get a lot of valuable information from the enemy even if we don’t know his language or his code.

It got interesting. Even without “opening the envelope” we could tell who was boss by who initiated radio traffic and who responded, and we could tell when something big was going on or about to go on when the pattern was broken. “Pattern” was the big word. By studying the pattern of enemy communications, we could discern as much or more than we could if we’d broken the code and had the text there before us.

At the time all NSA cared about were shipments of war goods from the Soviet Union to their ally North Korea. But we gained new respect for “unopened mail.”

NSA grew. An American submarine at great peril succeeded in slapping a “wire-tap” upon a Soviet communications cable under a Far Eastern ocean. That heroic triumph equaled our breaking of the German and Japanese codes during World War II. As technology unfolded, NSA was there.

My hope is that the Republicans will be smart enough and deft enough to let this “scandal” slide back into a foggy sea. Agencies, like individuals, have likeability “ratings.” The IRS is at the bottom of everything. Kick ‘em again; they’re still wiggling. The Veterans Administration is almost as ill-regarded. The FBI, however, is liked and admired. To a lesser extent so is the CIA.

Be careful. The NSA is popular and likely to get more so.

I’ve long argued that “We Shall Overcome” is all wrong. America survives because “They Shall Overreach”!

Be assured, you younger ones, you mightier-of-arm and hotter-of-head, that I understand how much fun it is to pile on and beat them up over all their inexcusable scandals.

I understand how emotionally satisfying it is to smash your knee into the groin of those who have done so much so egregiously to transmogrify America into a different and much less desirable country. But I urge you not to cancel out their overreaching with our own. Let me help you pierce the secret code. It’s the same, year by year, war by war.

It says, “Don’t pull the wrong sow by the ear!”

Sound off on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

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