June 7, 2013
The bombshell dropped by Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian has exploded any pretenses to being the linchpin of American liberalism Barack Obama may have retained until this point. In a story that broke yesterday [Wednesday, June 5], Greenwald revealed that the US government has been spying not just on targeted alleged “terrorists,” but on each and every one of us:
“The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.
“The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.
“The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.”
Just to be clear: at the instigation of the Obama administration, a secret court issued a secret order that a top-secret program to spy on all Americans is legal, necessary, and will continue indefinitely.
Some of this isn’t new: we’ve known since 2006 that the government was collecting such data, and that it wasn’t limited to Verizon: what we didn’t know is that the Obama administration has continued this practice, in secret, in spite of the President’s explicit opposition to such a massive violation of privacy when he was in campaign mode. Defenders of the program – such as Senators Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss – claim this doesn’t authorize the government to monitor the content of calls, but then again how do we know that? Like any ordinary burglary, or similarly shameful act, it’s all being done in the dark.
Verizon and other carriers are forbidden by law from revealing the court order. A secret court, such as the FISA court – under which this order was issued – isn’t really a court in the Western sense: it is a star chamber affair, a formality that rubber-stamps whatever our rulers desire at the moment.
Given this new information, what I would like to know is this: in what sense is the United States a “free” country, let alone the leader of the “Free World”? Sure, we have elections: so does Iran. Yes, we have a “free” press, but what happens when sources are afraid of talking to reporters? With a massive database that may even be tracking our location – yes, they have the technology to do it – America’s political class is making itself invulnerable to any challenge.
The Greenwald revelations describe the continuing practice of what is called “link” analysis: the authorities identify a suspect and then tap into their database to link him or her up to other suspects. They then – in theory – go back to the FISA “court” and get authorization to gain access to “content,” i.e. permission to eavesdrop. A broader practice is “data-mining,” which supposedly gives officials an overview of “terrorist” social networks. And while the actual usefulness of data-mining as an instrument of law enforcement is dubious, imagine what Stalin could have done with such a “tool”! Not to mention Richard Nixon.
Oh, but we’re the Good Guys: we would never do anything like track our political opponents and use the information we have on file to target them with state repression. Right?