Tuesday, December 17, 2013

When real progressives took on the national security apparatus

"In the need to develop a capacity to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air. Now, that is necessary and important to the United States as we look abroad at enemies or potential enemies. We must know, at the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left such is the capability to monitor everything...There would be no place to hide.

"...I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."
Want to know who said that? No, it wasn't Glenn Greenwald or any other Snowdenista. It was Senator Frank Church in August 1975. In one of the most progressive victories against the national security state in this country's history, Senator Church chaired a committee that investigated illegal activities by the CIA, NSA and FBI.

The revelations that prompted the investigations of the Church Committee included not only the fact that the government was spying on American citizens, but also things like this:
Among the matters investigated were attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, including Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Diem brothers of Vietnam, Gen. René Schneider of Chile and Director of Central Intelligence Allen Welsh Dulles's plan, approved by the President Dwight D. Eisenhower, to use the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro of Cuba.
Compare that to the kinds of things we're hearing from Snowden and you might understand why many of us who lived through those years are greeting these current revelations with a certain amount of "ho-hum."

As a result of the Church Committee's reports, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to stop these abuses, including the formation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). To hear many folks talk about FISC today, you'd assume its the root of all evil instead of one of the most important progressive victories in our history.

So now we have a federal judge appointed by President Bush who issued a ruling in favor of the guy who recently said that conservatives should demand that this president put the Quran down, get up off his knees, and figuratively come out with his hands up. And this one is being celebrated by so-called progressives even though it directly contradicts one recently declassified by FISC.

All I'll say is that a little history on the work of progressives in this area would go a long way towards some common sense on the issues at hand.

5 comments:

  1. The demonizing of the NSA over Greenwald and Snowden is one of the strangest things I've ever heard. Bush's administration seems to have not happened. Overreacting to the attacks of 9/11/01 was out of line and destructive, but pretending that terrorist threats aren't real after Bush launched two wars--- one of which was based on lies and pie-in-the-sky neocon fantasies--- we should reasonably expect the threats to be worse than they were before the attacks on the towers and the Pentagon and should also expect better intelligence being used effectively to thwart threats. That the attacks on 9/11 weren't framed as the biggest air defense failure in the history of air defense, with the most costly and technologically advanced air defense structure in the world, is testament to how irresponsible the Bush Administration was. I trust that the Obama Administration is doing what it can to avoid such a failure in the future while working toward more effective foreign policy.

    This total mistrust of the government seems to be coming mostly from wingnuts who hate Democrats and democracy, and libertarians who are mostly white males. It's a position that denies what the government does to help women, children, and minorities escape the worst of patriarchy, free market fanaticism, and white supremacy.

    They don't see it, but they consider themselves to be the default citizens. Right wing legislators passing laws to limit reproductive freedom to the degree that they're attempting to prevent women from getting affordable birth control doesn't seem to concern them. Blacks voters being disenfranchised doesn't appear to concern them either. But the idea that someone at the NSA has the ability to capture metadata means that we live in a wholly oppressive society?

    Oh, please. The NSA is supposed to cripple itself because these people feel like they're metadata is sacred, but a woman being autonomous and minorities being purged from voter rolls doesn't concern them because they can't make it about them, and them is about all they care about.

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  2. Before PRISM there was a vast program called ECHELON which basically monitored all electronic transmission from all over the world. It had been going on for years.
    I recall a report on BBC about it back in 1999 and I was astounded. Eventually the news of ECHELON reached the ears of European leaders and they commissioned an investigation on NSA surveillance activities. The final draft of that report came out in the summer of 2001. After the 911 attacks, the war on terror washed all those privacy concerns away.
    You might find this information useful:
    http://nomadicpolitics.blogspot.com/2013/06/before-prism-curious-history-of-us.html

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    1. So, if a known terrorist calls someone in the U.S., then the NSA should be unable to find out anything about who they called because some people mistakenly believe that they are entitled to have their metadata kept secret from the government? Capability is not culpability if we limited every government and law enforcement action on the basis of the possibility that it could be misused, we'd have an ineffective government, and criminals and terrorists would rule the day.

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    2. I am not a good person to argue with on this issue because I don't have a firm position on this issue. (Or rather I see both sides of the issue.) After all we live in an age of easily obtainable weapons of mass destruction, So I am not sure whether my personal privacy has all that much ranking. There's a lot of hypocrisy and confusion out there about privacy anyway.

      On the other hand, because of its amazing and potentially intrusive capabilities, there must be oversight and the oversight of the NSA must be independent and rigorous.

      I think that particular violations should be investigated.There were claims - I can't say how valid these claims were- that the collected information was actually being passed onto and used by favored corporations to give them an edge against the industries of our allies. Others claimed that the damaging information was being used against individuals, both public and private.
      Other than those two areas, I think criticisms against the surveillance network are fairly hypocritical since all it would take is one dirty bomb in an urban area to make minds change. Then the fingers of blame would start pointing. To allow that possibility for the sake of absolute privacy seems foolish to me.
      Incidentally, it surprises me that none of the journalists who have been complaining about the NSA have picked up on the name of the politician who, under Bush, worked so hard to loosen the oversight of the (FISC). The sponsor of that bill, if I remember correctly, is still in office,and holding on to his position by his toe nails. Understandably, he has been very quiet about this subject. :)

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  3. GREAT! I'm really glad to hear that since we solved the problem 40 years ago we no longer have anything to worry about. I'm sure nothing has changed since then.

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