Tuesday, June 11, 2013

State Surveillance Erodes Many Freedoms In The U.S.; It's Inexorably Sliding Into A Totalitarian State

Human Freedoms

Forgive the provocative title; I will address that issue in a minute. First, consider this film clip taken from the American-made movie, Good Night, Good Luck (2005), it forms part of the journalistic life of Edward R. Murrow, one of America’s most known and respected journalists. Edward R. Murrow is played here by David Strathairn

It is based on one of the most famous broadcasts in defense of freedom in modern history. On March 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow, produced a half-hour See It Now special entitled “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy.” The show culminates in the final video clip on the values of dissent in a democracy. It is a direct response to the hysteria of McCarthyism, the Red Scare, and the fear of Communism of the 1950s.

Such sentiments and fears ring true today, with the fear of terrorism resulting in a climate of fear, increased paranoia (notably from the government) and the silencing of dissent. It might be far worse today than it was in the 1950s, under McCarthyism [1950-1956], since it has resisted all forms of reason and rational thought, and has lasted since the terrible events of September 2001—more than 11 years ago.

As Mr. Murrow rightly pointed out: “Dissent is not Disloyalty.” Edward R. Murrow’s defense of liberty is described below:
We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men— not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it—and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Good night, and good luck.
Similar things are taking place today; cynical men and women, not only in the U.S., but in Canada  Britain, France and Israel are exploiting the situation. Consider this: Hendrik Hertzberg writes about the length that the U.S. will go to prevent terrorist attacks—yet ignore the deaths from gun violence—in an article (“Preventive Measures”) published in The New Yorker: “In the United States since 9/11, Islamist terrorism has resulted in the deaths of thirty-seven people. During the same period, ten thousand times that many have been killed by guns wielded by their countrymen or themselves.” The only rational conclusion, then, is that American legislators are not really concerned about the value of human lives.

Forget The First Amendment

Then there is the recent announcement that the U.S. Justice Department, as CNN says, “secretly collected two months of telephone records for reporters and editors at The Associated Press,” the news agency reported.

The CNN article, by Matt Smith and Joe Johns, says:
The records included calls from several AP bureaus and the personal phone lines of several staffers, AP President Gary Pruitt wrote. Pruitt called the subpoenas a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into its reporting.
"These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know," wrote Pruitt, the news agency's CEO.
The AP reported that the government has not said why it wanted the records. But it noted that U.S. officials have said they were probing how details of a foiled bomb plot that targeted a U.S.-bound aircraft leaked in May 2012. The news agency said records from five reporters and an editor who worked on a story about the plot were among those collected.
The subpoenas were disclosed to the news agency on Friday, Pruitt wrote. In all, federal agents collected records from more than 20 lines, including personal phones and AP phone numbers in New York; Hartford, Connecticut; and Washington, he wrote.
"We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP's constitutional rights to gather and report the news," he told Holder. Pruitt demanded that the department return all records collected and destroy all copies.
The U.S. attorney's office in Washington responded that federal investigators seek phone records from news outlets only after making "every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means." It did not disclose the subject of the probe.
"We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation," it said. "Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws."
Forget About Finding Refuge In Foreign Lands

It gets worse, as more revelations come in, including this article (“U.S. secretly gathering data on foreigners abroad”) by Charles Savage, Edward Wyatt and Peter Baker from the Globe & Mail:

They write:
The federal government has been secretly gathering information on foreigners overseas for nearly six years from the nation’s largest Internet companies like Google, Facebook and, most recently, Apple, in search of national security threats, according to documents that emerged Thursday and were confirmed by a senior government official.
The disclosure of the classified program came just hours after government officials acknowledged a separate seven-year effort to sweep up records of telephone calls inside the United States. Together, the unfolding revelations opened a window into the growth of government surveillance that began under the Bush administration after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has clearly been embraced and even expanded under the Obama administration.
Government officials defended the two surveillance initiatives as authorized under law, known to Congress and necessary to guard the country against terrorist threats. But an array of privacy advocates and libertarians said the disclosures provided the most detailed confirmation yet of what has been long suspected about what the critics call an alarming and ever-widening surveillance state.
This only show that the government is corrupt and the rot runs both wide and deep; the need to defend the indefensible is shameful and a disingenuous defense of an action that explicitly goes against both the U.S. Constitution (the Fourth Amendment) and the many international laws on the sovereignties of individual nation-states. Saying something is legal in a nation does not make it so; many corrupt nations have had laws in place that go against internationally recognized standards of human rights; these American laws are no exception.

In addition, something rings false about the statement from the Justice Department in defense of an intrusive action, in the first reported case; after all they are infringing on an important constitutional right, namely, freedom of the press.

Forget Free Assembly, Protests & Dissent

So, what is really behind all this surveillance, then? The advocates of a surveillance society will argue that such is necessary and proves the effectiveness of the American’s ability to stop terrorist attacks; yet, we can never really know if that is indeed the case, since we are not privy to the actions and thinking of the state security organizations. They, after all, work under a cloak of secrecy. In general, these wide-spread fishing expeditions are rarely effective. How many terrorists have been stopped? The American public deserves details, facts and figures, not hiding behind a veil of secrecy.

There’s more disturbing news, this time against the constitutionally protected right to free assembly. An article, by Jed Morey, in the Long Island Press, says the military has been granted legal authority to unilaterally act against civil-rights movements and protests, which are constitutionally protected. This comes after a previous law, NDAA 2012,  granted the executive branch to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without due process.

In response to this draconian measure, the article says, “Last year, Bruce Afran and another civil liberties attorney Carl Mayer filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration on behalf of a group of journalists and activists lead by former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges.”.

Morey writes about the latest law:
Bruce Afran, a civil liberties attorney and constitutional law professor at Rutgers University, calls the rule, “a wanton power grab by the military,” and says, “It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”
[…] 
Another of the plaintiffs in the Hedges suit is Alexa O’Brien, a journalist and organizer who joined the lawsuit after she discovered a Wikileaks cable showing government officials attempting to link her efforts to terrorist activities. For activists such as O’Brien, the new DoD regulatory change is frightening because it creates, “an environment of fear when people cannot associate with one another.” Like Afran and Freedman, she too calls the move, “another grab for power under the rubric of the war on terror, to the detriment of citizens.”
[…]  
Despite protestations from figures such as Afran and O’Brien and past admonitions from groups like the ACLU, for the first time in our history the military has granted itself authority to quell a civil disturbance. Changing this rule now requires congressional or judicial intervention.
“This is where journalism comes in,” says Freedman. “Calling attention to an unauthorized power grab in the hope that it embarrasses the administration.” Afran is considering amending his NDAA complaint currently in front of the court to include this regulatory change.
I think, or at least I hope with some optimism, that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule eventually against these laws, considering them unconstitutional—but recent past inactions do not raise much hope in this area; simply put, the judiciary is not doing its job. So where do we stand? Such anti-constitutional actions— and I have only enumerated a few that have taken place over the last few years—lend credence to the charge that the U.S. is technically close to being a police state, or at least becoming more authoritarian, more tyrannical, whose chief purpose evidence shows is serving the purpose and interests of itself—as hard as this idea is for many Americans to consider, let alone believe.

Forget The Fourth Amendment

Yet, the American Public are coming around to the idea, and many are losing faith in government, as was the case during the Nixonian Watergate years 40 years ago. This breach, however is far worse and far more dangerous. I agree with what Glenn Greenwald wrote (“On whistleblowers and government threats of investigation”; June 7) in The Guardian on the National Security Agency's (NSA) Prism Program, which has been covertly monitoring the electronic activities of both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals:
The way things are supposed to work is that we're supposed to know virtually everything about what they do: that's why they're called public servants. They're supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that's why we're called private individuals.
This dynamic—the hallmark of a healthy and free society—has been radically reversed. Now, they know everything about what we do, and are constantly building systems to know more. Meanwhile, we know less and less about what they do, as they build walls of secrecy behind which they function. That's the imbalance that needs to come to an end. No democracy can be healthy and functional if the most consequential acts of those who wield political power are completely unknown to those to whom they are supposed to be accountable.
No sane, rational person can disagree with the above. This current state of affairs, precipitated by fear, paranoia and greed—a toxic combination—has induced an uncontrolled chemical reaction, which is neither good for democracy nor for humanity in general. That civil liberties— starting immediately after 9/11 under the Bush Administration and continuing under the Obama Administration—have been impoverished is undeniably true.

That President Obama defends such all-encompassing snooping is both troubling and disappointing; it’s also predictable. The idea that it’s about national security rings hollow; that card has been played too often since 9/11 for the American public to accept it. Consider this: do you really think terrorists would use an open-access public Internet or a regular phone to conduct their plans?; they use highly encrypted telecommunications systems and the NSA and the U.S. government knows that. They have other motives and none of these are honest or good, likely to limit or quash dissent.

Here’s the really bad news. Having read The Guardian interview of Edward Snowden, the courageous 29-year-old whistle-blower, a sample below is chilling enough to reveal the New America:
Q: What do the leaked documents reveal?A: "That the NSA routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America. I believe that when [senator Ron] Wyden and [senator Mark] Udall asked about the scale of this, they [the NSA] said it did not have the tools to provide an answer. We do have the tools and I have maps showing where people have been scrutinised most. We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians."
Don't Forget Edward Snowdon, An American Hero

Mr. Snowden has done what the feckless and fearful members of Congress have failed to do, given that they said they were briefed on the program. Daniel Ellsberg, who as a 40-year-old defense researcher gave documents to the New York Times, which would be called the Pentagon Papers, says the following on how important the NSA documents are: "In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago," Ellsberg writes in The Guardian.

Now, evidence in hand, one can only rationally conclude the following. The America Republic, since September 2001, has been inexorably sliding into a Totalitarian Police State, having borne the fruits of it paranoia and delusions, having thrown out all of its constitutional protections and limits, and and having betrayed and lied to the people it was supposed to serve and protect. I say this with sadness, that Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and other like-minded totalitarians would be proud of where America now stands. The U.S., by dint of such restrictive practices and thinking, has foolishly handed terrorists its victory.

Is it too late to reverse course? I am not certain, since the rot is so deep and wide, but it might be worth a try. That the British-based Guardian first broke this story and that it was then was picked up by the Washington Post is good news, since that is one of the main jobs of the media and a free press—to closely monitor and report to the public the actions of the government. The Guardian is doing an excellent job of continuing to follow through and report. Others should emulate them.

Truly, it will take a concerted effort, first from all the major media outlets to reveal the extent of the corruption and deception and second from the American public to place pressure on the government. Let’s hope that the media, both in the U.S. and internationally, keep relentlessly hammering away at the Obama Administration on such issues, which I sense is far greater than the Watergate scandal of 40 years ago.

The only good news is all this is that it will unite all Americans, no matter their party affiliation.

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A shorter version of this article was originally published at Perry J. Greenbaum on October 19, 2010; and most recently in full version at The Greenbaum Report (May 19, 2012). Additions have been made since then, after revelations of greater abuses of power by the American government.

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For more information on the U.S. Government’s Prism Program, go to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) site.

You can also read the interview in The Guardian of Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old whistle-blower who gave the world the news about NSA’s deceptive, nefarious and illegal practices. In my view, Mr. Snowden is a Fourth Amendment hero.