What’s A Little Eavesdropping Among Patriots?

May 12, 2006 | By | 3 Replies More

Bush declares that the government is not reading (listening) to the content of the phone messages being tapped by our security apparatus.  He’s probably trying to figure out why people are so upset.  After all, he’s trying to protect us from terrorists.

Oddly, I believe him when he says this.  I believe, at least, that he believes it.  But that old saw, the path to hell is paved with good intentions, comes repeatedly to mind.

He seems not to “get” the idea of precedence.  Maybe he personally would not abuse his authority by creating and tracking an enemies list like Nixon had, but what about the next president?  Bush’s entire posture since he was elected has been to take back what he perceives as legitimate executive authority, stripped in the wake of Watergate.  He hasn’t let anyone or anything stop him.  He’s been very successful at this so far.

So the next one in the White House gets to look at all this restored authority and comes to the conclusion that this is a good opportunity to rid the country of–

An invasive press.  You want to know a reporter’s sources for a particularly stinging article?  Look at his/her phone records and just start tracking down those people.  No, you don’t have to listen to content, all you need are the names.

How about a grassroots movement for an opposing political view?  Call lists that fan out from the spokespeople or movement organizers.  A few visits by the FBI, a couple of tax audits…

Lobbyists should be wary of this.  As should the politicians they lobby.

Back in the hairy days of HUAC, the thing that got people in deepest do-do with the committee was a refusal to name names.  We forget what a chill that sent through the country.  We forget that people lost jobs, spouses, their lives over that bit of invasiveness.

But they were trying to protect us from (gasp) COMMUNISTS!

The question that needs to be asked–seriously–smacks of a kind of libertarian posturing, but it is the question.  How much personal freedom are we willing to give up for a sense of security? 

And it would be just a sense, not actual security.  Because the government can’t promise the real thing in this instance, certainly not the way they’re going about it.


The terrorists hate us.  They admit it.  They hate us for our freedom, because the way we exercise it looks decadent and evil to them.  And they don’t want their young people infected by it.  So maybe Bush Inc. thinks that the best way to protect us is to take away all those expressions of freedom the terrorists hate so much. 

I wonder what a Christian D’or  burkha would look like?

Nah.  They aren’t that clever.

Are they?

A student of my acquaintance recently told me that he had a solution to the whole issue of spying by our own security agencies.  He simply did nothing which he was ashamed of.  When I told him that neither did most of the victims of HUAC, he didn’t get it. 

“What’s culpable is a matter of legal definition.  Maybe you’re not ashamed of what you do.  But if the law changes to make what you do a crime, you’ll find yourself hiding that activity.  Or ending up in jail.”

“That can’t happen here.”

Ah.  Where’s that Sinclair Lewis novel?


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About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (3)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    Indeed, it has been happening here, and for quite a few years. The Bush Administration has gotten a whole LOT of mileage out of the old refrain of "protecting America from terrorists." Meanwhile, many Americans seem willing to blindly rubber stamp anything and everything under that refrain.

    The problem with doing so isn't merely that Americans are failing to provide adequate oversight over what their government is doing. The problem is also that there is no way to tell if the Bush Administration actual IS protecting America from terrorists. They have (very deliberately) provided no metrics by which America might measure their progress in the so-called "war on terror." It's all about avoiding accountability and responsibility. Bush just pushes the "protecting America from terrorists" button, and Americans say, "OK, here are my civil liberties — take whatever you want." It should disgust anyone who truly loves America.

    Bush has three more years in office. Any guesses about how many more "secret" schemes and illegal scams the Bush Administration is pulling and hasn't yet revealed?

  2. Jason Rayl says:

    The problem is, of course, that there may be no good metrics on how well we're "protected." You see the same thing in instances of public health–as long as nothing happens, we assume it's working. But perversely if nothing happens people begin to wonder why we're spending the money on a system "we don't need." Drop the system, and BANG! It's a problem.

    My question about liberties is quite literal–are you (or anyone) willing to risk the possibility of a building falling on your head–or your friends and loved ones–in order to have the Bill of Rights in all its wonderful ramifications. Not that this is the actual trade-off–but this is the choice people need to understand before taking away from or giving to the government any more.

  3. Vix says:

    One of the problems with civil rights is there was never any admendment for right of privacy (unfortunatly). If I remember my US Govt. class, these are "unspoken admendments." They arn't on paper but people are expected to adhere to them as if they were.

    That aside, I don't believe many Americans understand the totality of their decision to give up rights. I'm convinced that people see rights as something they have always had and will continue to have even if the administration is saying they are taking them away. People believe it'll never effect them. Its a slow boiling frog in the pot. I don't think it'll hit home to people what has happened until it starts to hit people close to them or people they feel connected to.

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