Thursday, June 20, 2013


 When I worked in Congress, budget time brought out great creativity as government agencies tried to defend their turf.  The Interior Department would engage in an annual ritual.  If they faced cuts, they would issue a press release announcing the closing of the Washington Monument to visitors due to lack of funds.  The "Washington Monument drill" got everyone's attention and, since no member of Congress wanted to hear from constituents about why they couldn't visit the monument on vacation, the maneuver was quite successful.

     Such is the nature of the terrorism defense trotted out in front of a House committee recently.  Arguing the ends justify the means, the head of the N.S.A. (National Security Agency) testified the massive government spying on Americans, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, is proper and correct because it has foiled a number of terrorist plots.  He, and the Obama administration, are counting on the sheep-like tendencies of Americans, frightened by the specter of anonymous terrorists, to be easily stampeded into trading their privacy for the illusion of security.  (do I need to repeat Ben Franklin's admonition on this point, or have I used it enough previously?)

     Of the thousands of people killed by terrorists worldwide, how many can you name who were Americans?  Two, five, maybe ten?  At the same time, there were 30,000 gun-related deaths just in the last year in this country.  Yet, Americans can be convinced to abandon the 4th amendment, and their right to be free in their homes and papers, but if anyone were to suggest the government should know who owns a gun, all hell would break loose.  Why does the word "terrorism" evoke such irrational fear while even modest attempts to regulate guns is politically anathema?

     It was predictable the government would march out a spymaster to remind us how only by giving up our privacy can we hope to fight terrorism.  The vacuuming up of billions of phone calls, emails and internet searches by average Americans is legal and justified because it helped stop a couple of amateurish plots to attack us.  Is it really this easy?  Are we really this gullible as a people?  Congress can't even pass a law requiring universal background checks for gun purchases, (saving thousands of American lives?), but can pass the Patriot Act, virtually unanimously, which effectively eliminates 1/10th of the Bill of Rights.  30,000 dead Americans doesn't even dent the 2nd amendment, or generate irrational fear, but 3 dead in Boston justifies government intrusion into our private lives which creates the greatest authoritarian big brother in history.  How is this possible?

     Granted, being able to catalog everything we do in our cyber-lives has stopped some terrorist attacks.  However, you will notice there are no claims to have had much of an impact on Al Qaida, Al Shabob, or terrorists in Mali, Libya, most of Africa or the Middle East.  Al Qaida is wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria and our intelligence agencies can't tell one group from another, as they attempt to arm the good rebels and not the bad ones, but they are very good at spying on us for our own protection.

     Imagine a knock on your front door, opening it to find uniformed police who announce they are going to search your home from top to bottom taking anything they wish into evidence including your computer, cell phones, letters and family pictures.  They have no probably suspicious actions on your part.  They can do this any time they wish, as often as they wish and you cannot object or stop them.  When complaints flood into the A.C.L.U.'s offices, local politicians and police point to the fact these random, warrantless searches have caught some thieves and drug dealers and violent criminals keeping you safe.  You should feel grateful.  Do you?  Of course such a law could never pass nor could the arrest of some crooks persuade people to allow police to rampage through your house any time they wish.  Yet, this is exactly what Obama and Congress authorized to happen when they put on their dog and pony show, complete with general's stars and epaulets, and tell Americans they are safer from terrorists when they give up all expectations of privacy.

     Obama bristles when he is compared to George Bush on national security policy.  He touts how his reforms have created checks and balances to prevent abuse.  These are the same checks and balances which prevented the I.R.S. from targeting some non-profit groups...the same ones which prevented the Justice Department from seizing the records of more than 20 phone lines in the offices of the Associated Press...the same checks which kept them from naming a Fox journalist as a criminal co-conspirator of leaked secrets...the same ones which stopped the A.T.F. (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) from selling guns to Mexican gangs and then losing them and being unable to track what happened to them.  The F.I.S.A. (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court received over 39,000 requests to spy on Americans in the last years and rejected 11 of them.  A rubber stamp is not a check.  Congress, and Obama, do not provide any check or balance either.  Congress members, including Diane Feinstein, admit knowing about this spying for years without raising any objections.  (Oregon Senator Ron Wyden did raise some objections, but had to do so in private, out of public view, since all of this information is top secret...again no check or balance)

     Ultimately, the entire argument for this privacy neutron bomb is if we didn't do it, something bad is going to happen.  Be afraid, be very afraid because without all this spying there could be another Boston.  (Oh wait, we were being spied on for years and Boston happened anyway)

     Recently, in USA Today, three NSA whistleblowers offered up a viable compromise which could leave the 4th amendment still relevant.  It's called "two degrees from Bin Laden".  They conceive of two zones of inquiry...if someone from Yemen or an Al Qaida-like organization or affiliate, is communicating with someone in America, or if Americans are visiting and viewing terrorist websites, suck up everything you can on them, their communications, and everything on whoever they are communicating with in this country.  This is one degree from Bin Laden.  It would also be allowed to go after anyone associated with someone in this country who was involved or communicating or searching or talking about someone or some group in another part of the world.  This is two degrees from Bin Laden.  However, outside these two zones, leave everyone else alone.

     Will Americans be stampeded into giving up even more of their civil liberties by playing the "terrorist" card?  Will we once again bend over and take whatever the government proposes because we are scared?  Are we really more scared of a random act of terror than we are the attacks resulting in over 30,000 dead Americans every year?  Trotting out the N.S.A. general was as predictable as the Washington Monument drill.  Will it be as effective?

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Edward Snowden, told the world, via the British newspaper the Guardian, the United States was spying on its own citizens...  covertly raiding search engines by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others...using a net so wide it rendered the 4th amendment moot...and all of this known to terrorists but unknown to everyone else.  A new Gallup poll say 56% of Americans support what Snowden leaked and the debate is on as to whether he is a hero or villain.

     He is neither.  He is a whistleblower.  Whistleblowers are both heroes and villains depending on your perspective and whether or not the information helps or hurts you.  From the Congressional and Executive branch positions, he is a traitor.  He has to be.  The President, and Congress, have been sucking up your electronic activities for at least 7 years, (more like 13) and they approved this spying.  They re-authorized the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  They watched as the National Security Agency and F.B.I. demanded the telecom companies, and big search engines, turn over billions of call logs and search requests...years of web surfing and inquiries...location and subject information from every American who used a computer or smart phone.  Diane Feinstein, Barack Obama, Harry Reid, John Boehner publically support all this spying and peeping and their defense is it's legal...we approved it all.  Of course they felt no compunction to inform their constituents how naked they were in the face of government voyeurs.  This legal, patriotic, prudent destruction of privacy was nothing to lose sleep over in Washington, but let's not tell anyone else because they might not understand.  To them, Snowden is the worst kind of miscreant.  He has to be crushed just like Bradley Manning and Daniel Ellsberg and anyone else who attempts to inform the electorate of actions their government doesn't want them to know.  New York Congressman Peter King, always good for outrage and taking umbrage inappropriately, not only wants Snowden thrown into the Florence, Colorado Super Max, he wants reporters like Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian behind bars too.  (we can’t have the press finding out what the government is doing)  This is the same King who for years championed the cause of the Irish Republican Army's actions in Britain and Northern Ireland as it was committing terrorists acts against innocent people.  This is the same King who welcomed leaks about British abuses in Northern Ireland and British covert surveillance.  The hypocrisy in Washington about national security, and what the people should know, is causing a run on hip boots and waders.

     If you are an average citizen, who foolishly and naively thought the 4th amendment protected you from warrantless searches and gigantic fishing expeditions by your government into your private life, Snowden has to be a hero.  He is throwing himself on the proverbial grenade in order to save you...alert you...protect you...inform you...outrage the hope the electorate will rise up and demand the government actually read and follow the Constitution.

     When I worked with whistleblowers, on issues about weapons procurement in the Pentagon, the first thing we told them is if they stick their head up to tell the truth, someone in government is going to try to blow it off.  They had to know the consequences of their actions so they could make an informed choice.  We weren't kidding.  I watched many an honest civil servant, government worker or contractor "commit truth" only to lose their job, their pension and sometimes their freedom.  Snowden knew all of this and yet did what he did anyway.  Only someone truly horrified by what they know becomes a whistleblower.  There is no glory...There is only pain and recrimination.

     Snowden didn't do any harm to the national security of this nation.  We know the C.I.A. found Bin Laden by following one of his couriers.  Al Qaida, any relatively sophisticated terrorist organization, abandoned all phones, email, the Internet or any electronic signature long ago.  They already knew what the U.S. was up to and they changed their tactics accordingly.  Snowden's revelations just confirm what they knew and they already avoided most of theses forms of communications.  This data mining may stop amateurs on occasion.  (Feinstein and others say these programs stopped an attempt to attack the New York subway system)  The questions is at what cost?

     The President says he welcomes a full-throated debate on the relationship between privacy and security.  Ok, let's give it to him.  What Snowden revealed shows there is no privacy in this nation.  Your turn Mr. President.  Justify that.  The 4th amendment prohibits unreasonable searches or seizures, warrantless searches, and requires probable cause to invade someone's privacy and these prohibitions have been ignored...struck down...left in shambles...without average Americans knowing such a constitutional tsunami has hit and without being asked for their permission.  The President wants a debate he wasn't interested in before Snowden stepped up to reveal the emperor has no clothes.

     Section 215 of the Patriot Act only allows for the gathering of private information from Americans in connection with a specific investigation.  Sucking up billions of calls, emails, web searches, and all online activity, makes a laughing stock of this provision.  The government's actions would be similar to passing a law allowing the police to stop you any time they wish and search your person and papers.  Eventually, they would catch some bad guys, but at what cost to your freedom of movement, speech or association?

     No one in government is saying the tactics Snowden revealed have been effective against Al Qaida, Iran, terrorists in Mali or Libya or Afghanistan.  Their claim is this privacy rape has caught some amateurs and small fish.  Snowden thought the price was too high in a democratic nation which values transparency in government.

     Snowden allegedly had access to lots of other secrets.  He could have given some beauts to Iran, China, Russia or various terrorist networks if he truly wanted to harm national security.  It is said he could have revealed names of covert agents.  Instead, he chose to reveal again, most of this had been reported by USA Today in 2006, how cavalierly this government takes constitutional rules and protections.

     Snowden is a typical whistleblower.  His actions will be considered folly if the status quo remains unchanged.  He will have stuck his head up only to see it blown off, if the government is allowed to close ranks...sight national security...frighten easily stampeded Americans...into doing nothing to rein in government spying on its own citizens which renders the 4th amendment not worth the parchment it was written on.

     Snowden didn't harm national security.  He alerted Americans to what the government was doing supposedly in their their best interests...because Washington knows what's best.  He has afflicted the comfortable and Congressman King and all his cronies don't like it because they have been caught with their pants down and a huge paw in the nation's cookie jar.  What you do now with the information will determine if Snowden ends up a hero or goat.  Ellsberg's leaks, also called treason at the time, helped to end the Vietnam War and he is a hero today.  Manning's fate is still hanging by a thread.  Snowden, if his actions lead to meaningful reform, will be seen as a patriot who was willing to sacrifice himself for the benefit of his fellow citizens.

     Which way do you think this will go?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


People dismiss conspiracy theorists as crazy, whack-jobs or daffy and thus pay them little heed.  However, even a paranoid can have people out to get them.  Ever since the passage of the Patriot Act, civil libertarians have been voicing concerns about the breadth and depth of surveillance being used by the government against its citizens.  Two responses have become ubiquitous..."if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear," or there are plenty of checks and balances to prevent abuse."  It is clear now both answers are inadequate at one level and a lie the deeper you probe the circumstances.

     The British newspaper, the Guardian, revealed the federal government served a subpoena on Verizon for three months worth of phone logs for "every" customer.  This isn't news.  (we have known for years the N.S.A., the National Security Agency, and the F.B.I. had set up secret spy rooms adjacent to telecom switching equipment.  One was set up in San Francisco at A.T.& T's offices to spy on every phone, email or Internet activity by A.T.&T. customers.)  The Washington Post reported on a secret program known as Prism,  which allowed the government to go in a back way to Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Yahoo and who knows how many others, to vacuum up every scrap of information regarding online activity, web searches, instant messaging, Skyping and anything else in cyber land.  When you add these two programs together, that sucking sound you hear is George Orwell, through dead pursed lips, gasping in amazement at how prescient he was, but how even he couldn't imagine the scope of government intrusion now possible with the arrival of the internet.

     The response to these revelations has been equally breath taking.  Senate majority leader Harry Reid says calm down, there is nothing new here, this has been going on for at least seven years and all senators knew about it...Sen. Diane Feinstein says this is all legal and if it fights terrorism its fine with her...Georgia Senator Saxbee Chambliss says during the entire time this spying and data mining has been going on, not a single constituent has ever complained about it to him...(can't complain about what you don't know I guess).  Along with the Obama administration, they have all adopted the strategy that massive spying, invasion of privacy and destruction of the fourth amendment is not news nor anything to get your panties in a bunch about.  At least one dissenting voice, that of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, tried to raise questions and objections about all of this activity, but since all of this is classified, his letters of protest had to be done in I'm not kidding,  Wyden says, "When law abiding Americans call their friends...who they call, when they call, how long they talk, where they call from is private information.  Collecting this data...would be a massive invasion of privacy” The Obama administration defends all of this as perfectly legal and assures us no one is listening to our phone calls or reading our emails.  It is an assurance which now requires the ingesting of large amounts of salt taken with it.

    Wyden, and some others, have been raising objections for years.  You and I don't know this because everything is secret and classified.  The debate, which should have occurred before this incineration of the 4th amendment began, about when and where Americans were willing to sacrifice their privacy never happened because average Americans had no idea a program of such massive scope and scale existed.  This isn't how democracy is supposed to function and this is a huge black eye on Obama for his abandonment of basic constitutional principles.  (it should not be lost on anyone Obama taught constitutional law)

     So many Americans subscribe to the...if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear school... and they couldn't be more naive or short sighted.  You call a therapist or maybe an AA call your best friend's wife or husband at odd call a company rival or a live-in rehab center...when you have every call ever made and when there are programs which can piece together intimate, private details about your life, family, movements and health, which no government has a right to know, whatever the founders thought the fourth amendment stood for, it no longer exists.

     If you add to this the very real possibility this cyber net can also reel in location information for every call or email you make and now the government can track your movements...whose houses you visit...where you have traveled...when and for how long you are in any location.  If this were a movie, it would be easy to portray the governments of Iran or China or Russia as implementing such programs to keep an eye on their restive constituencies, but his is our government, our republic, our "representatives” doing this without our consent, or at least without giving us an ability to object.

     We are told the Prism program is only targeting foreigners.  Yet, common sense tells you as all of the activity on Google goes on, those foreigners are interacting with Americans over and over again.  The "justice" department says no American is "intentionally" targeted.  It is a distinction without a difference.

     The dirty little secret this new information reveals is the "justice" department's interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act.  215 gives the government authorization to collect records and other "tangible things" only if they are relevant to an authorized investigation.  Government lawyers, in both the Bush and Obama administrations, interpret that to mean they have the right to collect information on "all" calls and internet activity in America and then sift through the meta data to find patterns of possible illegal activity.  This is analogous to passing a law allowing the police to search anyone's home anytime they wish, without a warrant, and if they happen to find something, they can then go to a judge with probable cause to continue searching.  How many of you would support such a law?

     We are a constitutional nation based on checks and balances.  Despite Sen. Feinstein's claims, there are virtually no checks or balances on this system.  The executive branch appoints the judges who compose the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  The judges act in secret and the latest data shows they approve over 90% of all requests by the government.  (so judicial review is now a blank check)  There is no ability by the side to be investigated to appeal a decision by this court.  (courts are never wrong)  The subpoenas are issued in secret ...carried out in secret...the companies must keep their cooperation secret...our representatives can't raise objections except in secret...the person investigated can't object even in secret...does this sound like something a democracy should tolerate?  Secret lawyers, secret judges, secret courts, secret warrants, all you need is Joe Stalin and it would make perfect sense.

     For seven years your privacy has been gutted and spread all over the floor and you had no chance to object.  Seven years of data mining, data tracking, location monitoring and you have no idea it's going on.  (btw, how did all this mining work in stopping the shoe bomber, Times Square bomber or Boston's bombers?)  There is no opportunity to say yea or attempt to let the American people have their say and all defended because the end justifies the means.  Terrorists are bad, therefore, whatever we have to fight them is good, even if it destroys the basis upon which this nation was built.

     For those of you still wedded to the quaint notion if you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear from government, let me remind you of over 5,000 federal laws and regulations which carry prison sentences and which do not require you to even know you broke them or that what you did was wrong. (remember it is the government which defines what is wrong or right in the first place and then you find out afterwards)  Federal law no longer requires "intent" for you to be found guilty.  In other words, the government makes something illegal, you don't know and they get to decide whether to prosecute you or not.  It is the perfect definition of fascism.

     Now that you know, what will you do?  Will you use your phone less?  Will you turn it off and remove the battery to protect from being tracked?  Will you disable the GPS chip in all new smart phones?   Will you get Onstar or some other system so your car can be followed?  Will you use an EZ pass anymore?  Will you use anonymous sites for email and other online activity and seek out ways to thwart the data miners?  Does this make you a terrorist?  How about going back to writing letters as it appears the Post Office actually protects your privacy better than the feds.  How about his...will you demand this stop until there is an open, full-throated, public debate about privacy vs. government spying...the 4th amendment against the National Security Agency...the constitution vs. those who would eviscerate it in the name of protecting you?  Will you tell Feinstein it isn't ok...the White House about how Obama has let you down...your representatives about how you want real "public" oversight and no more secrets?

     Many years ago I warned the Patriot Act was the start of a slippery slope for the civil liberties of Americans.  It appears for seven years, with the aid of Republicans and Democrats, we have been slip-sliding away from the Bill of Rights which made this nation unique.