by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
January 30, 2014
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - Thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden, we now know what a rogue operation the National Security Agency is.
It has claimed the right to engage in secret and systematic mass surveillance on hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the world. 0AIt has claimed the right to sift through our emails and web searches and phone calls without a warrant, as blatant a violation of the Fourth Amendment as you get.
The public outrage over government surveillance run amok forced President Obama to give a speech on Jan. 27 at the Justice Department that acknowledged the abuses and promised reform.
Or, so it appears on the surface. The reality does not come close to the rhetoric.
President Obama thinks he can defuse the outrage with a speech that promises reform, but we can expect things to go as they always have.
He can say that "individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress," but the spying will continue as before, just with better PR.
He can say the NSA consistently follows "protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people," when the record shows that it has not ever, does not now, and will not in the future care about civil liberties and the Constitution.
He can say that "this debate will make us stronger," but hell will freeze over before Snowden wins clemency for his whistle-blowing.
In short, the Obama administration not only wants the national security state to remain as it now, but he also wants Americans to feel comfortable with the idea that everything that they say or do online is subject to collection and retention without just cause.
If the President was honest, he would have said these words: There will be no "balance" between the current surveillance state and our civil liberties. Meaningful oversight of our surveillance agencies will not be allowed. Shut up and go along. Remember, we're doing this to keep you safe.
But since his job is to defend the indefensible, the Obama Administration - which has not only continued the worst abuses of the Bush Administration, but doubled down on them - is asking for every American to trade most of his or her liberty for a bit of security.
As Ben Franklin pointed out long ago, people who accept that transaction end up with neither liberty nor security.
The history of our surveillance agencies is not a good one. From the Red Scare to the Civil Rights Movement to Occupy, from the anti-war protests of the Vietnam era to the anti-war protests against the Iraq invasion, there is a long record of spying, harassment, and imprisonment of Americans for the crime of calling B.S. on their government.
The revelations of the abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies against their own citizens from the end of World War II to the end of the Vietnam war sparked congressional hearings in the 1970s and laws to rein in their operations. Those laws are just a memory now. From collecting your metadata to torture and assassination, everything is fair game in the post-constitutional nation we live in now.
There isn't a rival superpower, not since the Soviet Union collapsed. Yet we are spending more than half of the federal budget on war and state security. Are a disparate group of Islamic radicals as much an existential threat compared to a nation that once had thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at us? The cynical stoking of fear in the days after the Sept, 11, 2001, attacks opened the door to the creation of an expanded national security state operating in secret, unaccountable to no one. And the national security state has joined hands with private corporations in gathering and storing data, ensuring ever-greater profits at the expense of our freedoms.
As for keeping us safe, I say that there is no threat in existence now, or on the horizon, that justifies taking away our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, thought and association. Or our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. Or our Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Or the most sacred of American rights, the right to privacy and to be left alone.
Quite simply, to preserve our civil liberties, we must repeal the corrupt set of laws that allow billions of records on every single American to collected and retained.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M. P.A .from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.