By Ted Braun
After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the Bush Administration made a fateful decision. Instead of regarding the attack as a criminal act to be brought before the International Court of Justice, it took the position that the attack was an act of war. In response, it then embarked upon a “War of Terror” on several fronts.
One front included military ground operations against Iraq and Afghanistan. A second front was carried out by CIA drones to assassinate foreign and American individuals abroad who were thought to be involved in terrorist activity against the U.S. A third front was a secret surveillance program operated by the National Security Agency to mine telephone and Internet data in the U.S.
This secret surveillance program has had two main components. In one, the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) empowered the NSA to order Verizon Communications (with nearly 99 million wireless customers), AT&T (107 million users), and Sprint (55 million) to turn over to the NSA all its call records, abroad or within the U.S. (for instance, when they were made, what numbers they were made to, where they were made from, and how long the calls lasted).
In a second component, PRISM, a top secret data-mining program, was set up to give the NSA access to all the private data (e-mails, video chats, photos, files transfers) stored by Internet giants such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, AOL, Skype, Apple, and Facebook.
All of this huge amount of intelligence and surveillance data is being housed in new NSA interconnected data centers around the country and is being turned over to private corporate contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton to analyze for the NSA.
This is where the current drama surrounding Edward Snowden becomes part of the picture. As an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton working for the NSA during the last four years, he became increasingly disturbed about the extent of the nation’s secret surveillance program and its violation of the Fourth Amendment. “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things. I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.” This became his motivation for becoming a whistleblower to expose our growing surveillance state.
Snowden went on to say, “I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest. There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people is not my goal. Transparency is.” His basic concern, he said, was about fostering an informed and engaged public.
Daniel Ellsberg, publisher of the Pentagon Papers, argues that Snowden’s leaks could be a tipping point in America. “There has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material,” including his own leak of the Pentagon Papers.
Snowden had been hoping to start a national conversation about the issue of secret surveillance. “I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the U.S. government is doing. I know the government will demonize me. My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”
As journalist Chris Hedges points out, this cuts to the heart of one of the most important questions in a democracy. Will we have an independent free press that reports on government crimes and serves the public’s right to know?
Many people have been calling Snowden a “traitor” (as they did with Ellsberg), and our administration has been trying to apprehend him and bring him to trial under the Espionage Act of 1917. Whether this happens in the near future or not, our nation still needs this conversation about surveillance and secrecy now, given the massive spying being carried on without the Fourth Amendment’s mandate of “probable cause.” A number of people have warned us that the building blocks for a future fascist government are now in place, and the longer they remain in place, the more dangerous it will be for our nation’s future. A sobering example was provided by East Germany in its “surveillance state” days. The motto of the Stasi, its secret police, was “to know everything.”
On June 11 the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over its “dragnet” collection of logs of domestic phone calls, contending that the once-secret program is illegal
But our national conversation will need to go deeper than the issue of illegality. Is it irrational to give up so much liberty to fight terror? Especially when most of the acts of terror in our nation are actually the results of blowback for what we have done: our demeaning of Muslim people and sites overseas, our unqualified support for Israel against the Palestinians, the terror our drones cause among civilians wherever they fly.
There is a vast difference between being a brother and being a Big Brother.
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This column is sponsored by Cumberland Countians for Peace and Justice and dedicated by the local writers to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world. Opinions expressed in “Lion and the Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.