August 19 Update: If you want to know where all of this spying and lying is leading, you can find no better example than the British government’s detention of David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner. Greenwald is the journalist who has been most aggressively exposing the surveillance practices of the U.S. government and its allies.
Greenwald, who is gay, hasn’t been charged with any crime by the British government. But it doesn’t like what he’s writing and has now chosen to go after his partner. Miranda was held and questioned by the British government for nine hours under a British anti-terrorism statute before finally being released after all of his electronic equipment, including his laptop computer and cellphone, was confiscated. You can read more here.
This incredible but legal abuse of power by the British government and its intelligence apparatus had nothing to do with terrorism. It was clearly designed to send an intimating message to Greenwald and other journalists. The message being sent is a simple one: we can do anything we want at any time and there is nothing that you can do to stop us from doing it. Indeed, we don’t even have to explain to anyone what we did or why we did it or when we might do it again.
We have the power and we will use it however we choose if you annoy us with your troublesome stories; and don’t think your family and loved ones are off limits either. If you’re not willing to play ball and conform, they’re fair game as well.
This is the British government, of course, not ours, but it illustrates what is coming to the United States, which received advance word of Miranda’s planned detention and may have also received copies of everything the British seized from him. The British may be further along in their repression of fundamental human rights. But America is not all that far behind.
First, governments will do whatever they can to intimidate and silence the journalists; because once the journalists are silenced or too intimidated to aggressively take on the tough stories, everyone else will understand they are powerless to resist the new totalitarians who control the machinery of government and who claim to be acting for our benefit when it’s perfectly apparent they’re only interested in holding on to power for themselves.
It’s chilling, but that’s where we’re headed if people like Bush and Obama and the intelligence apparatchiks in the United States and the United Kingdom are not defanged and sooner rather than later. The hour is late and the survival of government of the people, by the people, for the people, can no longer be taken for granted. Indeed, the likelihood is that terrorism is the final rubric under which liberty will be gradually limited and then finally strangled.
It should make you wonder who the real terrorists are.
So now we know. As the Washington Post documents here, the National Security Agency has repeatedly violated “privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.”
Moreover, the Chief Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret court that Obama says is providing critical oversight of the Government’s vast spying programs, now says that the Court has to trust the government to report when it improperly spies on Americans because it has little or no independent capacity to do so.
You can read more of what the Chief Judge has to say here, but as the Post notes: “The court’s description of its practical limitations contrasts with repeated assurances from the Obama administration and intelligence agency leaders that the court provides central checks and balances on the government’s broad spying efforts.”
And there may be more to come. For one thing, the information discussed in the Post story is concerned solely with violations that occurred at the NSA’s headquarters in Maryland. “Three government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, said the number [of violations] would be substantially higher if it included other NSA operating units and regional collection centers.”
Moreover, “we believe Americans should know” that the report of violations “is just the tip of a larger iceberg,” Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mark Udall (D-Colorado) said in a statement issued after the Post first broke the story.
“In particular, we believe the public deserves to know more about the violations of the secret court orders that have authorized the bulk collection of Americans’ phone and email records under the USA PATRIOT Act,” the two added. “The public should also be told more about why the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has said that the executive branch’s implementation of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has circumvented the spirit of the law, particularly since the executive branch has declined to address this concern.”
There is simply no way Obama can pretend he didn’t know all of this when he tried to reassure the American people that the NSA was only collecting metadata, not actually listening to phone calls or reading e-mails. Of course, for Obama and his cronies none of this is probably a lie.
These were “mistakes” after all, at least mostly mistakes; except for the ones that weren’t mistakes. And it was the NSA itself that uncovered these “mistakes” and reported them to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court; except for the ones it didn’t report to the Court. In short, the system worked; except when it didn’t.
“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
The question is no longer whether Obama and his cronies are telling us the truth. They haven’t been. And that raises a question. How would we know if they were telling us the truth if they decided to come clean? They’re not putting the information out we would need to decide. The information we’re getting is coming out in fits and starts and putting it all together remains difficult.
Richard Nixon was famously not a crook so I guess Obama can deny he’s lied to the American people. But the thing is, he has; and even “if he’s not lying,” as David Sirota says, “then something is still very, very wrong.