In its response to Edward Snowden’s revelations about the nature and extent of NSA spying on Americans, the Obama administration has by this time gone through all the stages of grief: denial, reluctant acknowledgment, and – finally – acceptance of the reality that the jig is up.
Initially, we were told that this is really not anything new, and that we should all just move along. When that didn’t work, we were told that, yes, these programs are potentially intrusive, but we needn’t worry – since it’s all "legal," our government is on the job, and "oversight" of the process is firmly in place. When this was exposed by Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian team as a palpable falsehood, the President himself went out to sell the Kool-Aid, assuring us that, although he is satisfied the NSA isn’t doing anything untoward, he understands why someone would assume so – and vaguely promised to put "reforms" in place.
To recap: whenever government officials have tried to reassure the public everything is right with the Fourth Amendment, claiming critics are simply exaggerating, they have been shown to be liars.
Their campaign of deception is underscored by recent revelations about the NSA funneling "intelligence" gathered from spying on Americans to two of the federal government’s most repressive agencies: the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Methinks there are some other NSA whistleblowers who haven’t "come out," so to speak, or else Greenwald and the Guardian are generously sharing material given to them by Snowden with other news outlets, because Reuters came out with the DEA-NSA connection, citing documents which show:
"A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.
"Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges."
You didn’t really think information gleaned from your emails and your telephone calls was compartmentalized, did you? Did you imagine these power-hungry control freaks would keep juicy tidbits scooped up in their data dragnet strictly for "national security" purposes? C’mon!
While new details of Data-gate are coming out all the time, the NSA-DEA funnel is easily the most shocking (so far, at least). That’s because the faking of the evidence trail in drug cases potentially puts hundreds if not thousands of cases "won" by federal prosecutors in question – not to mention upcoming cases which could involve similar practices. Information obtained under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) "shall not be used in any criminal proceeding, including grand jury proceedings and warrant affidavits, without the express written approval of the Attorney General of the United States" – and it says so right there in the legal boilerplate included in the FBI’s 2004 memo launching an investigation into Antiwar.com, myself, and our webmaster Eric Garris.
That the feds would have such reckless disregard for the rule of law doesn’t shock this hardcore libertarian – but I’ll bet every lawyer in the country is angered beyond words, and if they aren’t they should be disbarred. If this doesn’t convince your typical bourgeois law and order conservative that the Regime has run amok, and has to be radically reined in, then perhaps the exposure of the NSA-IRS connection will do the trick:
"Details of a US Drug Enforcement Administration program that feeds tips to federal agents and then instructs them to alter the investigative trail were published in a manual used by agents of the Internal Revenue Service for two years.
"… A 350-word entry in the Internal Revenue Manual instructed agents of the US tax agency to omit any reference to tips supplied by the DEA’s Special Operations Division, especially from affidavits, court proceedings or investigative files. The entry was published and posted online in 2005 and 2006, and was removed in early 2007."
Reuters goes on to note: "The IRS is among two dozen arms of the government working with the Special Operations Division, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency." Government sneaks share their information: wasn’t that the whole point of the post-9/11 "reform" of the intelligence agencies? The noose is tightening around our necks, and it’s been so effective because they’ve been doing it in the dark – so that by the time we realize what’s happening, it’s too late. Snowden foiled their plans, however, and the ongoing flood of revelations is overwhelming the Regimists in government and the media (or do I repeat myself?) and energizing a grassroots pushback.
Just imagine what the IRS could do with information supplied by the XKeyscorers’ at the NSA! This puts the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups in an entirely new light. For that matter, imagine what the Justice Department could do with it: surely the temptation to read lawyer-client emails, and/or eavesdrop on privileged conversations, has presented itself to government prosecutors. How many have succumbed?
That depends on how long this has been going on, and what the real extent of it is. Which brings it all back home….
Lately I’ve been delving back into the details of the FBI’s memo launching a criminal investigation of myself, our webmaster, and Antiwar.com on the grounds that we are possibly "agents of a foreign power." First thing to note is the date: April 30, 2004. What else happened right around that time? As the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman wrote in the course of reporting the latest NSA revelations:
"On March 12, 2004, acting attorney general James B. Comey and the Justice Department’s top leadership reached the brink of resignation over electronic surveillance orders that they believed to be illegal.
"President George W. Bush backed down, halting secret foreign intelligence-gathering operations that had crossed into domestic terrain. That morning marked the beginning of the end of STELLARWIND, the cover name for a set of four surveillance programs that brought Americans and American territory within the domain of the National Security Agency for the first time in decades. It was also a prelude to new legal structures that allowed Bush and then President Obama to reproduce each of those programs and expand their reach.
The FBI memo was written two weeks after Cromey’s rebellion, when the dung was hitting the fan over the extent to which the Bush administration’s "Stellarwind" program was violating the clear intent of the law. What this means is that, all the while they were spying on Antiwar.com, and its key personnel, the feds were utilizing methods that even top officials in the Justice Department considered illegal. As Gellman puts it:
"The legal challenge for the NSA was that its practice of collecting high volumes of data from digital links did not seem to meet even the relatively low requirements of Bush’s authorization, which allowed collection of Internet metadata ‘for communications with at least one communicant outside the United States or for which no communicant was known to be a citizen of the United States,’ the NSA inspector general’s report said."
With the NSA sweeping up our emails, and the FBI having full access, the author of the FBI memo had an unlimited amount of information about myself and Garris at his fingertips: and, as you can see in the memo, they searched every database on hand, and then some. By this time, however, with Cromey and top lawyers at the Justice Department threatening to quit and go public, the FBI’s pit bulls were straining at the leash, looking for a way to connect Antiwar.com, myself, and Garris, to "terrorists" operating overseas. And they did so by digging into their files and looking for something – anything! – to link us to foreign persons involved in terrorist activity. What they came up with was this:
"File 17A-LA-234485 serial 55, dated 11/10/2003 indicated that on 10/27/2003, a special agent reviewed the computer hard drives of [several words redacted]. The review of two hard drives revealed visits to many websites between 07/25/2002 and 06/15/2003. One of the websites listed was antiwar.com."
From internal evidence, these files probably relate to a terrorism case originating in Pakistan, having to do with Al Qaeda: so because someone in that country went to our web site, that in and of itself was considered sufficient to unleash the investigative wrath of the Surveillance State on Antiwar.com. From that point in time, what Snowden described as within the power and "legal" authority of the NSA was no doubt done – to me:
"I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the President, if I had a personal e-mail."
This administration doesn’t want you to believe that. The President said the other day that there is already enough "oversight" in place – and, by the way, just in case there isn’t he was just going to institute a few "reforms" right before Snowden shined a light on what had been going on the dark. What a coincidence!
Under George W. Bush, the government was spying on us with "Stellarwind" to such an extent that not even the career bureaucrats in the Justice Department could swallow such blatant illegality. When the Obama administration inherited this emerging police state apparatus, instead of dismantling it – like they promised – they "legalized" it, formalized it, and extended it to include previously unclaimed territory.
That’s where we are today. Which raises the question: where will we be tomorrow? If we let this stand, the answer is – more than halfway down the slippery slope to a de facto police state.
For me, this whole issue is colored by my own peculiar relationship to the Surveillance State – which, if we are to believe the FBI memo, is more intimate than I’d like it to be. The very existence of this memo debunks the assurances of our "progressive" administration that there’s nothing to worry about, and that we should all just trust the government – because if we here at Antiwar.com are targets, then all bets are off. If a small nonprofit organization engaged in the exercise of its First Amendment rights is fair game for the Surveillance State, then who is exempt from being watched, data-mined, and eavesdropped on?
Our rulers – and the War Party, standing behind them – know who their enemies are, and they are right to put us in that category. None of what we’ve so far discovered about their campaign against us is in any way surprising. It’s only natural that the same people who are murdering innocents abroad would seek, with the same lack of regard for legality (let alone morality), to destroy their enemies on the home front. However, in our case – and who knows how many others? – they seem to have seriously overreached. And, because they haven’t yet completely abolished the rule of law in this country, we will pursue them relentlessly, in the courts and in the court of public opinion. While we can’t make any predictions about the former, as far as the latter is concerned we are certain to win.
All of which goes to underscore the point that, in this moment of crisis, this tipping point between the relative freedom of the past and the nightmare of the future, Antiwar.com matters. It’s continued existence is essential – but the simple fact of the matter is that we can’t continue without your help.
The US government clearly engaged in an attempt to frame us up and shut us down – but we caught them red-handed, and we’re fighting back. But we can’t win that fight – or, for that matter, survive for as long as a single week – without your financial support.
If you’ve been to the front page you’ll see that our Autumn fundraising campaign is in full swing. Now I know I say this every fundraiser, but this time it has added resonance: this is the most important fundraising campaign in our entire existence – because Antiwar.com has never been more relevant to the ongoing battle for peace and freedom.
So please – yes, I fully realize these are hard times financially for many people, but this is important: we can’t let the recession accomplish what the FBI could not. We need your help and we need it as soon as possible – make your tax-deductible contribution to Antiwar.com right now.
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).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.