Barack Obama: The Surveillance President

May 22, 2011 | By | 9 Replies More

Glenn Greenwald points to three extraordinary events this week that earn Barack Obama the title of Surveillance President. These events dovetail with the President’s previous conduct aimed at furthering government secrecy at the expense of an informed citizenry. These events also need to be seen in the context of Obama’s War on whistleblowers, as reported by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker.  “[T]he Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. . . . [I]t has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined.”  But that is just the beginning.  Here’s one more excerpt from The New Yorker:

Jack Balkin, a liberal law professor at Yale, agrees that the increase in leak prosecutions is part of a larger transformation. “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state,” he says. In his view, zealous leak prosecutions are consonant with other political shifts since 9/11: the emergence of a vast new security bureaucracy, in which at least two and a half million people hold confidential, secret, or top-secret clearances; huge expenditures on electronic monitoring, along with a reinterpretation of the law in order to sanction it; and corporate partnerships with the government that have transformed the counterterrorism industry into a powerful lobbying force. Obama, Balkin says, has “systematically adopted policies consistent with the second term of the Bush Administration.”

Image by Kgtoh at Dreamstime (with permission)

But back to the three recent events:

1. Top congressional leaders agreed Thursday to a four-year extension of the Patriot Act;

2. The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual’s Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation; and

3. The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation alleges in a lawsuit filed Thursday that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel violated federal open-records laws by refusing to release its legal opinion that concludes that the FBI may obtain telephone records of international calls made from the U.S. without any formal legal process, a watchdog group asserts.

Welcome to the United States of Surveillance.



Category: Censorship, Orwellian, Privacy, Propaganda, Secrecy, Whistle-blowers

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (9)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    The New Yorker article I cited is a must-read, excellent reporting and a tragic story that is unfolding. The victim, Thomas Drake, is a hero and the villain is the United States of America. It's ghastly what our government claims to do in our name.

    Where are the libertarians and traditional conservatives outraged by the shredding of the U.S. Constitution?

    I've written to Barack Obama to put an end to this prosecution. I don't expect results or a response.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Rand Paul gets it. Why aren't the Democrats speaking out?

  3. Erika Price says:

    What's most shocking to me about this is the virtual silence of civil-libertarian liberal activists, who fought similar policies doggedly during the Bush administration. I'm not surprised to see most Democrats ignore or support these actions– even if I am dismayed at their lack of ideological integrity– but I am sorely disappointed in the hard-left liberal voters who are now keeping relatively mum. Do we have no cultural space for an Obama voter to disagree loudly with Obama? I blame the false dichotomy of the two-party system, as I am wont to frequently do. Perhaps if we didn't see politics in blue vs red, it would be possible for liberals and Democrats to speak out when one of 'their own' stomps on their ideals.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Erika: I think you nailed it. Monied two-party politics blinds us to problems and/or makes us disingenuous when "our own" politicians are culpable. It's the other side of the coin, wherein the pimples of the out-group party (from our perspective) look like mountains.

  4. Tim Hogan says:

    The gun folks get it, why don't the Democrats?

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    And now we're hearing, from two members of Congress, about a "secret Patriot Act":

    "Congress is set to reauthorize three controversial provisions of the surveillance law as early as Thursday. Wyden (D-Oregon) says that powers they grant the government on their face, the government applies a far broader legal interpretation — an interpretation that the government has conveniently classified, so it cannot be publicly assessed or challenged. But one prominent Patriot-watcher asserts that the secret interpretation empowers the government to deploy ”dragnets” for massive amounts of information on private citizens; the government portrays its data-collection efforts much differently."

  6. Pete Vander Meulen says:

    Internet routing protocols ignore or marginalize borders. Data can travel across the globe, bounce from country to country on available equipment before moving elsewhere, then on to its destination. Traversing political boundaries is done without intent but with regulatory permission, through contracts or treaties. Domestic as a term for data surveillance then ceases to exist. All is international. All falls within the purview of the Act. Fighting the geographic boundary battle seems futile.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Here is a 2010 NYT article detailing, to that point, Barack Obama's war on whistle-blowers.

    And here is a Huffpo article by Rory O'Connor detailing how the war against whistleblowers is spilling over into a war against the press.
    O'Conner ends his article with this passage:

    "Citizens as well as journalists need to stand up for Risen and against the sleazy, Bush-like tactics of the Obamacrats and the burgeoning national security state. Otherwise, if you don't speak out when they come, first for the whistleblowers, and then for the journalists, when they come for you, there will be no one left to speak out…"

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    In what amounts to a fight over who gets to write the history of the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath, the Central Intelligence Agency is demanding extensive cuts from the memoir of a former F.B.I. agent who spent years near the center of the battle against Al Qaeda.

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