"The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive branch will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it." -- New York Times editorial board
"Everyone everywhere now understands how bad things have gotten -- and they're talking about it. They have the power to decide for themselves whether they are willing to sacrifice their privacy to the surveillance state." -- Edward Snowden, alleged source of NSA leaks
is a deep and abiding sense of unease permeating American society. From the IRS
targeting politically conservative groups to the Department of Justice
targeting journalists for surveillance, from the revelation that the National
Security Agency (NSA) is tracking the telephone calls of most Americans to the public
spectacle of whistleblower Bradley Manning's trial, in recent weeks there has
been no shortage of evidence that the new "normal" in the United States is not
friendly to freedom.
America we learned about in school, the one celebrated in songs and poems, the
one to which our ancestors flocked in hopes of starting a new life based upon
promises of wealth and liberty, is getting harder to find with every passing
day. As I document in my new book, A
Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (available at
Amazon.com), the American ideal of freedom and civic involvement is being
replaced by a technocratic nightmare in which government bureaucrats and their
allies in the corporate sector rig the rules of society in order to protect the
power and privilege of a select few politicians and businessmen. All the while,
the majority of the American people are kept in check via debt, imprisonment,
and a vast surveillance network which keeps us monitored, controlled, and
marching in lock step with the government's dictates.
of this sounds fantastical, it's only because people haven't been paying close
enough attention. Why, in the past week alone, the government has doubled down
on its attacks on individual liberty, government transparency, the rule of law,
and basic human decency.
Wednesday, June 5, it was revealed that the NSA has been systematically
collecting information on all telephone calls placed in the United States via
the Verizon network. Based upon a top-secret order handed down by the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) in April 2013, Verizon has been forced
to hand over its records to the NSA on an "ongoing, daily basis." While the
government insists that the content of telephone conversations are not
recorded, they acknowledge that telephone numbers, location data, call
duration, and other unique identifiers are sent to the NSA for analysis. The
NSA collects information on about 3 billion phone calls per day.
following the revelation of the secret court order allowing the NSA to record
the telephone activities of Verizon customers, The Washington Post released a top-secret document outlining a
project code-named PRISM, which involves the NSA and FBI "tapping directly into
the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio
and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that
enable analysts to track foreign targets." These companies include Microsoft,
Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple.
was born at the tail end of President Bush's disastrous program of warrantless
surveillance. It depends in part on legislation passed by Congress in 2007 and
2008, the Protect America Act and FISA Amendments Act, which provide immunity
to private companies that voluntarily cooperate with government efforts to
collect private data on users. Government officials are increasingly relying
upon PRISM for data collection as the program has become the "most prolific
contributor to the President's Daily Brief" and nearly one in seven
intelligence reports rely primarily on information extracted via the program.
shocking to some, these revelations are par for the course for our out-of-control
government. Relying on secret orders handed down from government officials and
the courts and emboldened by members of Congress with little concern for
protecting the rights of the citizenry, government agents are now able to flout
all safeguards to privacy while still claiming that they are technically acting
within the bounds of the law.
no trifling matter. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) have warned
that Americans are the subject of a surveillance program that knows no bounds. As Udall has warned, "there
is nothing to prohibit the intelligence community from searching through a pile
of communications, which may have been incidentally or accidentally collected
without a warrant, to deliberately search for the phone calls or e-mails of
specific Americans." For his part, Wyden has asked NSA staff to disclose the
number of Americans whose communications have been collected, but NSA officials
continue to stonewall, even going so far as to suggest that estimating the
number of Americans whose communications have been collected would violate
their privacy rights.
damage-control mode, the government wants us to believe that the surveillance
is primarily directed at communications coming from foreign sources and that
"reasonable procedures [are] in place to minimize collection of "U.S. persons'
data without a warrant." However, as we are learning, the government rarely
tells the truth.
typical fashion, intelligence officials spent the week attacking journalists
for reporting on the NSA's secret surveillance programs, with Director of
National Intelligence James Clapper calling the leaks "reprehensible" and
vowing to prosecute whomever chose to leak the information. On Sunday, former
CIA employee and NSA contractor Edward Snowden came forward as the source of
the NSA leaks. Speaking from Hong Kong, Snowden insisted that the information
needed to be seen by the American public, in part to "send a message to
government that people will not be intimidated."
actions speak to the need for greater citizen action and transparency in
government, two qualities sorely lacking in America today. Typical of Beltway
politics, however, rather than holding the government accountable for its
systematic and illegal surveillance of American citizens, they're looking to
shoot the messenger. Indeed, the heads of both the House and Senate
Intelligence committees, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Senator Diane Feinstein
(D-CA), have already come out in favor of Snowden's prosecution.
par for the course for the Obama administration, which has relentlessly pursued
whistleblowers intent on exposing government crimes. Just ask Bradley Manning,
whose court martial is underway. The government plans to call over 140
witnesses to the stand in an attempt to prove that Manning knowingly "aided the
enemy" when he released hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables outlining
various government and military abuses to Wikileaks.
government's case succeeds, not only will Manning face life imprisonment, but whistleblowers
and journalists alike who dare to hold a mirror to the bloated face of American
government will find themselves targeted for censure and prosecution by
government agents. Yet as veteran journalist Walter Lippmann once declared,
"There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame
we should all be doing our part to shame this particular devil.