It's official. The United States government's main vehicle for the bulk capture of telephonic and electronic communication metadata, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, expired at midnight May 31, 2015 thanks to Senator Rand Paul (R, KY). Paul's tactics in the United States Senate forced the expiration. This is a major victory for all those whose phone calls, emails, and other electronic communication can be intercepted by a vast array of National Security Agency computer systems and software; just about anybody in the United States.
When Paul announced his intention to force expiration of Section 215, he promised a no compromise effort that would achieve the state goal. Leaders in both parties opposed this effort. Three Republican presidential candidates support extending Section 215: Jeb Bush and Senators Lindsay Graham (R, SC) and Marco Rubio (R, FL). Candidate, Senator Ted Cruz, (R, TX) sided with Paul on the issue. Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton supported an alternative to the expired provisions while Senator Bernie Sanders, (I, VT) supported Paul's efforts.
President Barack Obama and his CIA Director John Brennan hauled out the heavy artillery against Paul. On May 29, Obama said:
"I don't want us to be in a situation in which, for a certain period of time, those authorities go away, and suddenly we're dark, and heaven forbid we've got a problem where we could've prevented a terrorist attack or could've apprehended someone who was engaged in dangerous activity but we didn't do so simply because of inaction of the Senate."
Brennan struck a more ominous note on May 31 when he invoked the all seeing eye of terrorists plotting against the nation: "I think terrorist elements have watched very carefully what has happened here in the United States."
If Brennan is correct, then his observation contradicts both his warnings and those of the president. Anyone watching Senator Paul in his Sunday remarks on the Senate floor heard him state clearly that the expiration of Section 215 was just one step in the process of regaining citizen rights under the Constitution. Paul pointed out what others have noted, namely that there remain more intrusive, likely unconstitutional invasions of privacy that need to be eliminated. Paul was clear that the forced expiration of Section 215 is just the beginning.
Section 214 of the Patriot Act, for example, and Presidential Order12,333 allow for similar activities and can be implemented immediately or through a rubber stamp by the opaque Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington, DC used as legal cover for government intrusion.
The rationale for the Patriot Act was the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. In the wake of the deaths and destruction, the Bush administration and its Democratic Party enablers legalized vast surveillance and the evisceration of constitutional rights based on a simple argument. If only our rulers had the right intelligence gathering toils, the attacks could have been prevented. Therefore, they argued, to protect us in the future, the country must adopt measures alien to our legal and political traditions stretching back to the Magna Carta.
This was a huge lie. Plans to hijack commercial airplanes and crash them into government and commercial buildings across the country were intercepted in the 1990's by U.S. intelligence (See Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11, 2004). The outline of the attack was known. Four of the supposed hijackers were under government surveillance as of 2000, including Mohamed Atta. With proper cooperation between government agencies, the plan of attack and alleged attackers would have been known and likely prevented. This was all done without the Patriot Act or anything like it.
Senator Rand Paul deserves high praise for a commitment to the U.S. Constitution, intellectual honesty, and courage in the face of huge opposition. This was done in the tradition a bipartisan constitutionalist movement including Representatives John Conyers (D, MI), Justin Amash (R, MI), Keith Ellison, (D, MI) and others with the courage to tell the truth to the people they serve and act on that truth.Creative Commons 3.0
(Article changed on May 31, 2015 at 23:03)