A major strike in America by a jihadist terrorist group in 2012 would have done little damage to America, but it could have posed a serious problem for Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. For the president the war on terror is what the Vietnam War was to Lyndon Johnson: a vast, tragic distraction in which he must be seen to be winning, lest the domestic agenda he really cares about (health-care, financial reform, climate-change mitigation, immigration reform, gun control, inequality) be derailed. It’s no surprise that he has given the surveillance state whatever it says it needs to prevent a major terrorist attack.
For Mr Obama, this is a no-win situation. The only thing worse than missing a terrorist attack because an NSA surveillance programme had been blocked would be having the NSA leak that the terrorist attack was missed because you blocked their surveillance programme. Now, having given the NSA what it said it needed to prevent any nasty surprises, he finds himself dealing with a different nasty surprise: the leak of the NSA programmes themselves.