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George Bush Doesn't Trust Americans

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The Headline is Domestic Use of Spy Satellites To Widen and you’ll notice that no discussion of whether or not this is good or appropriate policy, is asked for. The President of the United States doesn’t trust his own citizens to judge his domestic spy program.

It may be excellent policy. The judicially approved wire-tap of telephones has proven to be a huge weapon for law enforcement. First, of course, we had to invent telephones. But having done that and bad guys as well as good guys having taken advantage of that mind-bending technology, sooner or later rules were put in place.

We did not, as I recall, hide either the technology or the ability to use it in law enforcement, from the crooks. We told them they could expect us (with appropriate court supervision) to tap their conversations and then we went on to do it. No one questioned actually telling Al Capone we might listen in on his conversations, because he’d avoid the net. We knew he would do his damnedest to avoid us and we knew that his knowing would make him wary and somehow law enforcement staggered along. It even got an occasional conviction, including Al, who died in prison.

We survived as a nation of laws. We made it through a cold war against some of the most powerful nations of the world, who had sworn to bury us. But we never gave up our regard for law. No president found it necessary to take them from us by signing statement or resorting to our most base fears.

We are terrified beyond all comprehension by a minority of bullying terrorists. These dark and mysterious strangers from the Muslim world seem to want to fly into our buildings—and perhaps worse. We are told we cannot allow these terrorists to know we are prepared, cannot tell them how and why and when we will use our best efforts to track them down and keep them from making victims of us. Our fears have allowed and encouraged our government to victimize us.
(Washington Post) The Bush administration has approved a plan to expand domestic access to some of the most powerful tools of 21st-century spycraft, giving law enforcement officials and others the ability to view data obtained from satellite and aircraft sensors that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers.

A program approved by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security will allow broader domestic use of secret overhead imagery beginning as early as this fall, with the expectation that state and local law enforcement officials will eventually be able to tap into technology once largely restricted to foreign surveillance.

Two dudes whose agencies didn’t even exist four years ago have decided and approved a domestic program to peek into our closet. John McConnell and Michael Chertoff are the newlyweds sharing the bed of national security and they answer only to the president. Congress got lost in the process when this whole disaster called the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2004 was eased down their compliant Republican throat by Cheney attack dog David Addington.
The supposed Democratic opposition was so afraid of its not-tough-enough shadow that it failed—and continues to fail—to provide even moderate oversight. McConnell and Chertoff are going to supervise themselves. They’re offering us ‘total assurance.’ It’s total bullshit.
Under the new program, the DHS will create a subordinate agency to be known as the National Applications Office. The new office, which has gained the backing of congressional intelligence and appropriations committees, is responsible for coordinating requests for access to intelligence by civilian agencies. Previously, an agency known as the Civilian Applications Committee facilitated access to satellite imagery for geologic study.

Oversight of the department's use of the overhead imagery data would come from officials in the Department of Homeland Security and from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and would consist of reviews by agency inspectors general, lawyers and privacy officers. "We can give total assurance" that Americans' civil liberties will be protected, Allen said. "Americans shouldn't have any concerns about it."

Ah, we're back again to 'trust me,' the favorite phrase of the least trustworthy government to come along since Nixon. Unlike wire-taps, which require a judge to approve their use, this new age stuff, which may include Predator drones flying over your particular neighborhood, will be reviewed by agency inspectors general, lawyers and privacy officers. The absence of judges, federal or otherwise, in this review process is not accidental.
Homeland Security, all 220,000 of the precious little snoops, haven't yet been able to get anything right, principally because they run for the most part on the ups and downs and ins and outs of Michael Chertoff's (and now John McConnell’s) gut.

For my part, I'm thoroughly tired of having an entire secret section of my government tell me it has the only solution to saving me, but it can't tell me how it's going to save me because telling me would compromise national security and that would keep these programs from saving me.

You and I are not terrorists, nor are we children, nor are we (yet) complete idiots. The government that no one trusts is trying to flim-flam us. The government that got elected by promising the end of flim-flam is trying their damnedest to let them.
But civil liberties groups quickly condemned the move, which Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit activist group, likened to "Big Brother in the sky." "They want to turn these enormous spy capabilities, built to be used against overseas enemies, onto Americans," Martin said. "They are laying the bricks one at a time for a police state."
It may be a good idea. It may be a necessary bulwark against those who would do us harm. But if it is, then the most value will surely come from the widest possible dissemination of our technological capabilities. We needn't disclose the infra-red engineering science behind night-flying Predator unmanned drones in order to convince terrorists that we are a particularly tough target. But it is absolutely imperative to have a national debate about what kind of surveillance we want as a nation and to have federal, state and local law overseeing the application.
We are a nation of law—at least we used to be, before this president used the signing statement as a weapon against us.
‘Trust us’ has never been a sufficient reason to accept wholesale removals of our individual rights. It's not merely my opinion that this is an untrustworthy administration. They have proven themselves in the role and are their own best shining example of why we need to question every move they make.

We are not yet Ann Coulter’s or Bill O’Reilly’s America.
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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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