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We Live Under a Total Surveillance State in America -- Can We Prevent It from Evolving into a Full-Blown Police State? 5

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If 95% of what is classified would not help our enemies, why does it remain classified? Part of the answer is that if it was revealed it would embarrass Executive Branch officials, and/or reveal waste, fraud, abuse and illegal acts that could lead to calls to cut their budgets, their dismissal, and/or prosecution.

As Dana Priest and Bill Arkin also note in Top Secret America, a top-secret classification is a "passport to prosperity for life." It provides well-paying jobs and its holders are far less likely to face unemployment than those in the private sector.

Ellsberg also tellingly explores the psychological dimensions of the classification system:

"I suggest that there are psycho-social aspects (that) apply to 'secret societies' ranging from the Mafia or associations like the Masons to the CIA. It is a mark of worth, of membership in a valued group, possession of a valuable identity. It is a sign of being trusted by other members of the prestigious group: a token of being perceived by them as trustworthy, worthy of membership, of being 'one of them,' a 'brother' or 'member of the family.' Not only the membership in the group, but the specific acceptance of one's loyalty -- to the group, to its purposes, to the other members, and its secrets-- conveys and expresses a new, prestigious status, a positive identity, a source of self-respect and pride and a basis for the respect and deference of others."

 While members of the Executive Branch thus have powerful practical, material and psychological motivations for hiding vast amounts of information from the American people that have nothing to do with national security, the American people have a correspondingly strong interest in preventing them from doing so any longer.

Ellsberg ends his article with a list of steps needed to curb Executive abuses of the classification system. They include: reducing the number of documents that are classified by over 90%, and keeping those that remain classified for no more than three years; at most administrative penalties not criminal prosecutions for leaks not involving communications intelligence, nuclear weapons data and identities of clandestine agents, and not even administrative sanctions for Executive Branch whistleblowers giving information to appropriate Members of Congress; effective whistleblower protection to all federal employees; vastly beefed up Freedom of Information Act processes; limiting the "States Secret privilege" allowing Executive officials to withhold information from even the judiciary; including in all secrecy agreements a clause that states that nothing in the agreement permits them give false or misleading testimony to Congress or the Judiciary; required briefing of all federal employees, military officers and members of Congress that the Oath of Office they all take to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States" requires them to disobey illegal orders.

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Conclusion: A Non-Violent Call to Arms

The unprecedented coalition of liberals/progressives and conservatives/Tea Partiers which on  July 24  almost passed a bill forbidding NSA spying on innocent Americans has offered the only hope that the U.S. Executive Branch's danger to democracy can be challenged.

Executive power is so great that a major moral and political struggle will be necessary to bring it under meaningful democratic control. Only a major "Coalition for Freedom" inside Congress and on the streets of America can prevent it from choking off what remains of democracy. Is democracy worth fighting for? Only if millions of us decide it is, will America become a functioning democracy.

Reprinted from alternet.org

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Fred Branfman's writing has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Harper's, and many other publications. He is the author of Voices From the Plain of Jars

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