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How Secrecy Stops Debate on Secrecy

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And let's be clear here, it's not just Verizon. Verizon happens to be the one company from which we've gotten the leaked document. Right? All of the telecom companies are up to their necks in this. I mean, to our knowledge, there is one company that has resisted a national security letter, separate tool, same kind of abuse. No one knows who it is, because if they reveal themselves, they would be prosecuted. There's a lot of speculation that it's Credo Mobile, what used to be Working Assets. But neither the company nor anyone else can confirm that.

So it's not just Verizon, it's pretty much the entire industry, is in bed with the FBI and the NSA. And remember in 2008 when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended, these are the 2008 FISA amendments one of the central issues then "Would Telecom companies get immunity?" And Congress, at the time, gave corporations a massive subsidy in the form of a legal amnesty for all of their abuses against the American public. Just the light ... the tiniest bit of which we've seen in this document, disclosed to Glenn Greenwald.

You also asked what may be coming next, and what we're paying attention to. You know, at the very least the Senate and House, intelligence and judiciary committees should all conduct investigations. We've seen that the intelligence committees are basically captured by the agencies, and we can't expect meaningful review from them. The judiciary committees are nominally more independent. Even if they don't have oversight over the NSA, they do have oversight over the FBI. And they certainly have oversight of any government agency that systematically violates the constitutional rights of the American people. And there must be wide-ranging, long overdue, furious, fact based -- not just legal analysis -- investigations by these committees.

In addition, there has to be some long overdue transparency at the FISA court. You know, the latest issue with secret courts was Senator Feinstein, to her vast discredit, suggesting more secret courts, particularly to evaluate the uses of drones to kill Americans abroad. But we see confirmed by this document, that secret courts aren't actually a check and balance on Executive abuses. They are political rubber stamp.

And so, reform to that process, to bring those court opinions into the public would be nice to see. I don't have any hope of that happening. I would, quite frankly, like to see some people get fired from the NSA and the FBI. And the statutes empowering those agencies to be revisited. Every time Congress gets to look at this stuff, you know, the Patriot Act, and then re-authorize, and extended at least three times since the Obama administration came into office. The last time Congress looked at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it extended it for five years.

Now there has got to be some meaningful process on these bills, instead of just Congress, like the FISA court, rubber-stamping them. Right? Nobody wants to actually force the government to justify these surveillance measures because the intelligence officials say "They're necessary to protect the country against terrorism..."

We don't need these kinds of measures. They don't actually help provide security and they do, in fact, lay waste to the constitutional rights that have long made our country great. ... I mean the reason we have transparency at the root of democratic accountability, the reason that democracy and transparency are so tied together, is because secret government is inevitably a pathway to oppression. And the more secrecy that emerges in the counter-terrorism regime, the greater, and greater risk we have of slipping into an authoritarian situation.

And the fact of the matter is that none of this should surprise us. President Eisenhower warned of this, 60 years ago. Right? I mean, this is what a military-industrial complex looks like. And we're seeing it now turn its fangs on the American people. The Defense Department has already, for instance, tortured people around the world; the CIA as well. And, you know, what is the result of that? Changes to the law to give the agencies the authority to hide evidence of their criminal trail.

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When the NSA started violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to spy on Americans in the years following 9/11, what happened? Congress bent over backwards to change the law, to give the agency the opportunity to continue those abuses. And the idea that we're going to change the law to accommodate the agencies, instead of reining in the government programs to comply with the law " that's a fundamental issue here, that we, unfortunately, see reoccur.

And I do think that what's at stake here is, quite literally, whether we will live in a free country or not. And we can think we live in a free country, but when the Associated Press is essentially invaded in the dead of night by the Justice Department and its sources identified through covert espionage tactics, essentially, we're not free. When we see millions of Americans monitored by our own government, using our own taxpayer dollars without any individualized suspicion required by the Constitution. We're not free when we see activists groups infiltrated by the FBI, and local police, around the country. We're not free.

And we can sing all the anthems at baseball games that we want. But the idea that America leads the free world ... I think it's getting harder and harder to sustain. Even the claim that we are part of the free world, I think, is a stretch, and this document that was released to the U.K. Guardian, again, is just the initial case in point. And, unfortunately, I think there's a lot more there, to be found, should we ever have an opportunity to examine the rest of the iceberg.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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