In 1990, I was fired for being a whistle-blower by the Missouri Attorney General, who subsequently spent time in prison. Therefore, the topic of this post is an issue that speaks loudly to me. If you believe in participatory democracy, it should speak loudly to you too.
If you are wondering why there is very little investigative journalism anymore, the attached article lays out one of the big reasons. If you were a whistle-blower trying to get important information to the public regarding government corruption or wrongdoing, you can now be easily identified by government spying without any need for a search warrant and without probably cause, at the un-monitored and unlimited discretion of “law enforcement” agencies including the NSA and the FBI that have repeatedly trampled on your constitutional rights.
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Excellent discussion here, Amy Goodman interviewing Julian Assange of Wikileaks. This addresses an issue that repeatedly occurs to me: Unless we can know what the spy agencies are actually doing, how can we know that any legislative enactments are having any effect at all? Even if Congress passed a law stating that the NSA should cease collecting any information about any person in the absence of probable cause and a warrant, how could we possibly know that the NSA is obeying that law. Even if the NSA is sued, how do we know that the NSA would honestly comply with subpoenas or discovery?
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
AMY GOODMAN: Before we get to Germany and what you’ve revealed there, I want to stay with the U.S. for a minute, because President Obama famously said that the debate over privacy and surveillance would have been had without Edward Snowden. Can you respond to that?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Oh, I think it’s obvious to everyone that that is false. How can you have a debate with secret interpretations of the law? How can you debate them? They’re secret. Similarly, what are the actual actions that are occurring, not just in policy, but what is actually happening? What are these bureaucracies actually doing? If you don’t know, how can you possibly have the debate? Information is classified, no debate is possible.
Brilliant framing of a complex topic by John Oliver. Why should people care about NSA spying on American citizens? This video combines interviews with people on the street with an in-person discussion between John Oliver and Edward Snowden in Russian. The reframing: dick pics.
William Binney, one of the highest-level whistleblowers to ever emerge from the NSA:
“At least 80% of fibre-optic cables globally go via the US”, Binney said. “This is no accident and allows the US to view all communication coming in. At least 80% of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US. The NSA lies about what it stores.”
This is an excerpt from the U.K. Guardian.
I’m still waiting to hear outrage from so-called liberal democrats. All I hear is murmurred “concern” and an unwillingness to speak out. In short, the Dems and the Repubs are aligned on this issue, and this really disappoints me.
This is a plot of the NSA programs revealed in the past year according to whether they are bulk or targeted, and whether the targets of surveillance are foreign or domestic. Most of the programs fall squarely into the agency’s stated mission of foreign surveillance, but some – particularly those that are both domestic and broad-sweeping – are more controversial.
Here’s a well written article by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic. Of course, it’s tongue in cheek.
But listen to the serious argument by an attorney who represented Homeland Security, and a response by Freedom of Press Foundation:
“You can’t debate our intelligence capabilities and how to control them in the public without disclosing all of the things that you’re discussing to the very people you’re trying to gather intelligence about,” he said. “Your targets are listening to the debates.” In fact, he continued, they’re listening particularly closely. For that reason, publicly debating intelligence techniques, targets and limits is foolish. As soon as targets figure out the limits of what authorities can touch, they’ll change their tactics accordingly. In his view, limits should be set in secret. A class of overseers with security clearances can make the necessary judgment calls.
Trevor Timm, co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, attempted to defend normal democratic debate. “What separates us from countries like Russia and China is that we can have these types of debates with an informed public that are completely aware of what types of surveillance are available to governments and what the legal standards are,” he argued. “We’re not specifically debating who the NSA is going to spy on, but whole surveillance regimes. If we didn’t debate that in this country, the Fourth Amendment would be classified. But it’s not.”
Hypocrisy is not a beautiful thing, though sometimes it is a tiny bit gratifying. Rolling Stone reports. My favorite is #8:
8. The CIA was so angered by the Senate having its hands on the Panetta Review that it spied on the work of its Senate overseers.
[O]n January 15, 2014, CIA Director [John] Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and Vice Chairman Chambliss that without prior notification or approval, CIA personnel had conducted a “search” – that was John Brennan’s word – of the committee computers at the offsite facility. This search involved not only a search of documents provided to the committee by the CIA, but also a search of the “stand alone” and “walled-off” committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications.
According to Brennan, the computer search was conducted in response to indications that some members of the committee staff might already have had access to the Internal Panetta Review. The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the Internal Review, or how we obtained it.
Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computers.
Chris Hedges explains that U.S. citizens now live in a “dual state”:
We live in what the German political scientist Ernst Fraenkel called “the dual state.” Totalitarian states are always dual states. In the dual state civil liberties are abolished in the name of national security. The political sphere becomes a vacuum “as far as the law is concerned,” Fraenkel wrote. There is no legal check on power. Official bodies operate with impunity outside the law. In the dual state the government can convict citizens on secret evidence in secret courts. It can strip citizens of due process and detain, torture or assassinate them, serving as judge, jury and executioner. It rules according to its own arbitrary whims and prerogatives. The outward forms of democratic participation—voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation—are hollow, political stagecraft. Fraenkel called those who wield this unchecked power over the citizenry “the prerogative state.” The masses in a totalitarian structure live in what Fraenkel termed “the normative state.” The normative state, he said, is defenseless against the abuses of the prerogative state. Citizens are subjected to draconian laws and regulations, as well as arbitrary searches and arrests. The police and internal security are omnipotent. The internal workings of power are secret. Free expression and opposition political activity are pushed to the fringes of society or shut down. Those who challenge the abuses of power by the prerogative state, those who, like Snowden, expose the crimes carried out by government, are made into criminals. Totalitarian states always invert the moral order. It is the wicked who rule. It is the just who are damned.
The fact that we feel free does not mean that we are free:
Societies that once had democratic traditions, or periods when openness was possible, are often seduced into totalitarian systems because those who rule continue to pay outward fealty to the ideals, practices and forms of the old systems. This was true when the Emperor Augustus dismantled the Roman Republic. It was true when Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized control of the autonomous soviets and ruthlessly centralized power. It was true following the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi fascism. Thomas Paine described despotic government as a fungus growing out of a corrupt civil society. And this is what has happened to us. No one who lives under constant surveillance, who is subject to detention anywhere at any time, whose conversations, messages, meetings, proclivities and habits are recorded, stored and analyzed, can be described as free. The relationship between the U.S. government and the U.S. citizen is now one of master and slave. Yet the prerogative state assures us that our rights are sacred, that it abides by the will of the people and the consent of the governed.