The bombshell dropped by Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian has exploded any pretenses to being the linchpin of American liberalism Barack Obama may have retained until this point. In a story that broke yesterday [Wednesday, June 5], Greenwald revealed that the US government has been spying not just on targeted alleged “terrorists,” but on each and every one of us:
“The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.
“The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.
“The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.”
Just to be clear: at the instigation of the Obama administration, a secret court issued a secret order that a top-secret program to spy on all Americans is legal, necessary, and will continue indefinitely.
Some of this isn’t new: we’ve known since 2006 that the government was collecting such data, and that it wasn’t limited to Verizon: what we didn’t know is that the Obama administration has continued this practice, in secret, in spite of the President’s explicit opposition to such a massive violation of privacy when he was in campaign mode. Defenders of the program – such as Senators Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss – claim this doesn’t authorize the government to monitor the content of calls, but then again how do we know that? Like any ordinary burglary, or similarly shameful act, it’s all being done in the dark.
Verizon and other carriers are forbidden by law from revealing the court order. A secret court, such as the FISA court – under which this order was issued – isn’t really a court in the Western sense: it is a star chamber affair, a formality that rubber-stamps whatever our rulers desire at the moment.
Given this new information, what I would like to know is this: in what sense is the United States a “free” country, let alone the leader of the “Free World”? Sure, we have elections: so does Iran. Yes, we have a “free” press, but what happens when sources are afraid of talking to reporters? With a massive database that may even be tracking our location – yes, they have the technology to do it – America’s political class is making itself invulnerable to any challenge.
The Greenwald revelations describe the continuing practice of what is called “link” analysis: the authorities identify a suspect and then tap into their database to link him or her up to other suspects. They then – in theory – go back to the FISA “court” and get authorization to gain access to “content,” i.e. permission to eavesdrop. A broader practice is “data-mining,” which supposedly gives officials an overview of “terrorist” social networks. And while the actual usefulness of data-mining as an instrument of law enforcement is dubious, imagine what Stalin could have done with such a “tool”! Not to mention Richard Nixon.
Oh, but we’re the Good Guys: we would never do anything like track our political opponents and use the information we have on file to target them with state repression. Right?
So this administration’s progressive amen corner would have us believe. Like any religious belief, however, it is impervious to challenge, since it is an article of faith. The Greenwald revelations debunk this dogma, and that indeed is what Glenn has been doing for his entire career as a journalist and public figure – challenging “liberal” shibboleths and exposing the hypocrisy of self-styled “progressives” who look the other way as their hero shreds the Constitution, conducts a ruthless and cowardly drone war, and extends the shroud of secrecy that envelopes his disgraceful record in the name of “national security.”
One interesting aspect of the 2006 coverage of this issue is the fact that one carrier, Qwest, refused to cooperate with the government. What happened to the Qwest executives who defied the Bush administration may be hugely instructive: targeted by the Justice Department for the non-crime of “insider trading,” they were pursued relentlessly. Some were convicted: others fought and won. I wonder if the heroic stand taken by Qwest had anything to do with the government’s vindictive crusade to jail them?
Oh, but that was the Bush administration – I can hear the Amen Corner now, almost as if Rachel Maddow and/or Chris Hayes are whispering in my ear. We would never use the enormous power of the State to go after our political opponents. That this doesn’t apply to the Tea Partyers who were indeed targeted by Obama’s IRS on orders from the top is one of the Obama cult’s recent talking points. Oh, it was all about going after Karl Rove and his big money 501(c)4 outfits which were skirting the intent of election laws and engaging in political speech. Yet the IRS didn’t go after Rove, naturally – instead, they went after the Tea Partyers and the pro-lifers, i.e. the ideologically motivated further right groups Rove says he wants to get rid of, and that the Obamaites could probably do without.
The upshot of all this is it looks like the old Bush administration era “Total Information Awareness” program is alive and kicking. Although Congress passed legislation abolishing the program in 2003, the government simply changed its name to Terrorist Information Awareness and kept doing what it was doing – keeping tabs on all Americans. The Bush administration claimed this was being done only with overseas calls, but that turned out to be a lie – and now the lie is the law, with the Obama regime claiming it’s all legal under section 215 of the Patriot Act, and under the provisions of FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, under which the FISA “courts” and the whole apparatus of our emerging police state has been legalized.
It all comes back to our foreign policy of global intervention and our continuing and relentless “war on terrorism.” What we are experiencing, as we sink into the morass of democratic despotism, is the domestic “blowback.” The terrorist networks that pulled off the 9/11 attacks were established during the cold war era with the invaluable assistance of the US and Saudi Arabia, in the name of fighting communism in Afghanistan. This symbiotic relationship has continued even after 9/11, albeit in a different form. Every drone strike that takes out innocents and violates the sovereignty of other nations swells these networks with new recruits. As Michael Scheuer points out in his invaluable book, Imperial Hubris, Uncle Sam is the best friend Al Qaeda ever had – a point the Obamaites may be in the process of confirming beyond a reasonable doubt, as the “let’s help the Syrian rebels” movement gains new momentum within the administration.
Imperialism is the fuel that keeps the machinery of domestic repression running and it is operating just as early critics of the Empire, such as John T. Flynn, said it would. Writing during the darkest days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s reign, Flynn said “All that is needed to set us definitely on the road to a Fascist society is war. It will of course be a modified form of Fascism at first,” clothed in the fabulous raiment of “patriotism” and necessity. While FDR did his best to target his political enemies using the vast powers at his command, he didn’t have the Patriot Act and Total Information Awareness at his disposal. The monster State Flynn and others of the Old Right saw arising from the ashes of the war took half a century and more to reveal its full malevolence, but with the marriage of technology and overweening statism, we are seeing the worst imaginings of the dystopian writers coming true.
In this dark time, liberty has few defenders, at least in the Congress of the United States. But one of them is Sen. Rand Paul, who has introduced legislation – the Fourth Amendment Restoration Act of 2013 – which would block our rapid progress down the road to a police state. In response to the Greenwald revelations, the Senator averred:
“The revelation that the NSA has secretly seized the call records of millions of Americans, without probable cause, represents an outrageous abuse of power and a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. I have long argued that Congress must do more to restrict the Executive’s expansive law enforcement powers to seize private records of law-abiding Americans that are held by a third-party. When the Senate rushed through a last-minute extension of the FISA Amendments Act late last year, I insisted on a vote on my amendment (SA 3436) to require stronger protections on business records and prohibiting the kind of data-mining this case has revealed. Just last month, I introduced S.1037, the Fourth Amendment Preservation and Protection Act, which would provide exactly the kind of protections that, if enacted, could have prevented these abuses and stopped these increasingly frequent violations of every American’s constitutional rights.
“The bill restores our Constitutional rights and declares that the Fourth Amendment shall not be construed to allow any agency of the United States government to search the phone records of Americans without a warrant based on probable cause.”
You’ll note when the Senator introduced his bill – well before the Guardian published its blockbuster story. This is what political leadership is all about: seeing the problem well before it is all too apparent.
On Twitter, the other day, I wondered why Americans aren’t out in the streets protesting this outrageous violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution, but perhaps that energy is better utilized in calling your representatives in Congress and urging them to back the restoration of the Fourth Amendment. So far, the emerging police state in America has met with little opposition, least of all from our clueless legislators: these latest revelations may signal the beginning of a real fightback.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).