Representative Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said of Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, who published secret material leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that:
“[Greenwald] doesn’t have a clue how this thing works. Neither did the person who released just enough information to be dangerous.”
The snippet above was taken from an article by Jane C. Timm (@janestreet) on the MSNBC/Morning Joe blog in which Greenwald defends his own actions, and those of Snowden as "essential to Democracy.
Here is what I have to say to Rep. Rogers, and all the rest of our electeds who provide supposed "oversight" in relation to the type of intelligence gathering which involves collection of data from American citizens, on American soil, with no notice, no recourse, and no probable cause:
Please, Mr. Chairman, please do enlighten us, with sufficient information to NOT be dangerous, and so that we, the people YOU WORK FOR, DO have a clue "how it works."
When you are collecting my private communications, I expect you to act with accountability. As a proud American, I am ashamed that those who (somehow) find themselves elected to office anymore seem to think they act with impunity. The safety of our nation is indeed a priority. But there are ways you can get what you need without obliterating our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and protections.
In the wake of news reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly mining data from large internet service providers Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Larry Page both released statements about their respective company's position on the matter.
While both read like well-thought-out, carefully crafted (but very "corporate") responses, and appear to support the notion that neither company actually participates in a program like the alleged PRISM, both statements also read like thinly disguised paraphrases of the same script. You know, almost like they were being spoon fed.
We've Never Heard of PRISM
Both companies also appear to craft their statements using very carefully chosen language. From Zuckerbergs post on Facebook (Emphasis mine):
"Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers. We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received. And if we did, we would fight it aggressively. We hadn't even heard of PRISM before yesterday."
And now, From Larry Page's post, released shortly prior to Zuck's statement (again, emphasis mine):
"First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday . . . Until this week’s reports, we had never heard of the broad type of order that Verizon received"
Interesting that in both instances, each CEO is very specific in stating what their company is not doing. They have not granted the government direct access to their servers. They have never received a blanket request such as that reportedly received by Verizon. If you read the full content of each CEO's statement you will find that they are essentially paraphrasing each other, or some third source.
Apple spokesman Steve Dowling also responds with a similar statement:
"We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order."
When asked whether Apple had joined the joint NSA-FBI data collection program, Apple declined to comment, according to the Huffington Post.
Only with a Court Order?
All of the companies that have responded publicly make some form of statement indicating that they comply only with court orders, and under applicable law. Each gives some lip-service to resisting attempts by government to compromise the privacy of users. However, in an article from the Washington Post, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union states:
"I would just push back on the idea that the court has signed off on it, so why worry? This is a court that meets in secret, allows only the government to appear before it, and publishes almost none of its opinions. It has never been an effective check on government."
Bad things are happening on the web. Governments around the world seek to monitor and control this invaluable communications resource. Totalitarian governments like those of China and Iran have set the example for what we, in the US, do not want to see happen.
Except, well, it kind of is happening, and has been for several years now.
I understand that, to paraphrase US President Barack Obama, you can't have 100% security, and 100% freedom, and 100% privacy with zero inconvenience. But the lack of transparency and sheer underhandedness of the US government in this case appears to be not only appalling, but growing by the minute.
It's not the Crime that Kills You, It's the Cover-up
We don't know all the facts at this point, and we likely never will. But paying close attention to the manner in which the big internet providers respond is at the very least interesting, and quite possibly a sign that there is, indeed, more here than meets the eye.
I encourage the Googles and Facebooks and Apples of the Silicon Valley to remember the old political adage: It's not the crime that kills you, it's the cover-up. John on Google
This isn't tech-talk!
I know, but I couldn't resist. Normally I would avoid politics in the blog space. But this is an issue which transcends right vs. left, Democrat vs. Republican, and the partisan bullshit we find permeating the media today. American citizens should be afraid. Very afraid. Not for their own sake, as I suspect most Americans are not, in fact, aiding and abetting terrorists. Instead, we should be concerned as a nation with the erosion of our most basic constitutional protections.
A Schutzstaffel for modern America
You are awakened at 2:00 AM by the sound of your door caving under a battering ram, wielded by black-clad government agents. You are subdued, pinned to the floor, placed in restraints, carted off to an undisclosed location and locked up. You are not informed as to the reasons for all this, your not charged with a crime, and you are not afforded access to an attorney. You are not scheduled for trial, but instead are held for months on end.
You may or may not be "interrogated." Your family, employer, and friends have no idea what has happened to you, or when, if ever, you shall return.
Oh, the drama
Ok, so that was a bit dramatic. The Schutzstaffel, commonly known as the SS in Nazi Germany, represents an extreme example of what can happen when the police powers afforded The State are not constrained by sufficient legal controls. But we may be sliding down a slippery slope in that direction right here in the good ole' USA with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 . A large number of Senate Republicans, joined by a small number of Democrats recently voted against an amendment to the Act which would have explicitly affirmed that American citizens are constitutionally protected against indefinite detention at the order of the president.
"What we are talking about here is the right of our government, as specifically authorized in a law by Congress, to say that a citizen of the United States can be arrested and essentially held without trial forever"
- US Senator Dianne Feinstein(D-California)
Instead, the bill was passed with much weaker language essentially confirming the current state of affairs, under which the government attempts to claim some murky authority to arrest and detain American Citizens without due process, under the guise of the "war" on terror.
In debate on the issue, Senator Dianne Feinstein(D-California) argued in support of the amendment: "We as a Congress are being asked, for the first time certainly since I have been in this body, to affirmatively authorize that an American citizen can be picked up and held indefinitely without being charged or tried. That is a very big deal, because in 1971 we passed a law that said you cannot do this. This was after the internment of Japanese-American citizens in World War II .What we are talking about here is the right of our government, as specifically authorized in a law by Congress, to say that a citizen of the United States can be arrested and essentially held without trial forever."
"In World War II it was perfectly proper to hold an American citizen as an enemy combatant who helped the Nazis . . ."
-US Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina)
Arguing against representative Feinstein, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) contends that "In World War II it was perfectly proper to hold an American citizen as an enemy combatant who helped the Nazis. But we believe, somehow, in 2011, that is no longer fair. That would be wrong. My God, what are we doing in 2011? Do you not think al-Qaeda is trying to recruit people here at home? Is the homeland the battlefield? You better believe it is the battlefield."
Uh, Ok Senator Graham. During World War II it was also perfectly acceptable to segregate American troops on the basis of race. It was also perfectly acceptable to detain "for the duration of the conflict" American citizens of Japanese extraction simply for being, well, of Japanese extraction. In other words, on the basis of national origin. Notice that in Senator Graham's argument, he avoids mentioning this particular (and most infamous) implementation of citizen-detention-as-combatant.
I would argue that the US Constitution already provides the protections which Feinstein and other supporters of the amendment to the Defense Authorization Act speak (which does NOT mean that affirming such protection explicitly in the Defense Authorization Act would not be an important step forward).
The Fourth Amendment
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
The Fourth Amendment specifically describes "The right of the people . . ." It can be taken as an axiom the "the people" in this instance means the citizenry of the nation, as established in the famous preamble to the Constitution itself:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
The Fifth Amendment . . .
"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger . . . nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . . "
There are those who might attempt to argue that the clause which states " . . . except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger . . ." Note, however, that the operative phrase here is "When in actual service".
If this is not enough, the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution creates an even more explicit case against against detention without due process:
. . . As Enhanced by the Sixth Amendment:
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."
Note in the opening sentence the statement "All criminal prosecutions"
If the government, acting through the intelligence community and/or law enforcement, is unable to produce intelligence and/or evidence of terrorist activity sufficient to affect criminal prosecution under the laws of the land, then they have failed at their task, and should go back and do the job correctly. To paraphrase a famous quote, better that 100 terrorists go free than a single innocent American be unlawfully detained under these draconian measures.
Who are the Combatants, Anyway?
The US Government seems to think it can erode the rights of the citizen by declaring "war" on intangibles. The "War on Drugs". The "War on Terror" Etc. Who are the combatants in these "wars?" The Constitution of our great nation provides a mechanism for dealing with citizens who violate the law of the land, even in cases of Treason. Mere suspicion of terrorist collaboration is not sufficient to warrant the suspension of constitutional rights. While the actions of terrorist organizations are reprehensible (and ineffective at achieving the goals of the organization), when we as a nation allow our government to act in a manner contrary to our beliefs and ideals, and in contravention of the idea of the liberty we espouse as a model to the world, the terrorists can claim victory.
The Integrity of Our Nation
"The United States should not grant victory to the terrorist forces of the world by compromising those values we hold most dear. In doing so we damage the credibility of our nation, of our law, and of our leaders in the eyes of the world."
The United States should not grant victory to the terrorist forces of the world by compromising those values we hold most dear. In doing so we damage the credibility of our nation, of our law, and of our leaders in the eyes of the world. Given the current political circus, and the status of America in the global economy, we don't need any help with that from our "leaders" in the Senate and Congress.
Ideas and information for this post were drawn from the following sources: