by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
June 20, 2013
THE IRS "SCANDAL" IS ALL SMOKE, NO FIRE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- So much for the "most transparent administration ever."
So much for the hope that President Obama would curb the excesses of the national security apparatus.
Yes, it is true that PRISM, the National Security Agency's (NSA) data-mining program that is collecting phone and Internet records of millions of Americans, was started in 2007 during the Bush Administration.
However, President Obama had a choice.
He could have pushed for safeguards to prevent the indiscriminate hoovering-up of the private data of Americans by the NSA and FBI, in conjunction with private telecommunications and Internet companies.
Instead, PRISM was allowed to continue.
He could have seriously scrutinized this policy and put protection of our civil liberties ahead of nebulous assurances of security.
Instead, the President said last week that the data-mining by the spy agencies are merely "modest encroachments" to our privacy.
He could have asked Congress to change the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FiSA) and Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.
Instead, the President and Congress quietly reauthorized an amended version of FISA last December, and the PATRIOT Act is still on the books.
The irrational, paranoid fears of the autumn of 2001, when our nation was cowed into accepting draconian changes to our civil liberties in the name of "fighting terrorism," are still with us.
And few in Washington are willing to see that our nation is transforming itself into something that looks more like East Germany before the Wall came down than the nation of Jefferson and Madison.
The American people never authorized the creation of a national surveillance state. It never authorized the repeal of the freedoms and rights contained in our Constitution.
Instead, under a veil of secrecy, our government has been given the power to read our text messages and emails, sift through our phone records and, with the help of Microsoft, Apple, YouTube and Facebook (along with AOL and Skype), view our online search histories and website visits, and do so without court warrants and without accountability.
And, as usual, officials in Washington are more upset that the details of PRISM were provided by former NSA employee Edward Snowden to The Guardian and The Washington Post last week than they are that such a program exists.
The Obama Administration has been absolutely ruthless when it comes to going after whistleblowers, which is why the 29-year-old Snowden - who had been working for Booz Allen Hamilton, one of many private sector corporations complicit in this illegal spying program - fled to Hong Kong.
But Snowden, like fellow truth-tellers Cpl. Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, deserves our gratitude, rather than prison or exile.
When he was asked by The Guardian why he would risk everything, including his very life, to lift the veil on PRISM, Snowden's answer was simple.
"I don't want to live in a society that does these sorts of things," he said. "I don't want to live in a society where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under."
That should be the response of every American today. What our nation has morphed into since the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks should sicken us all. After nearly a dozen years of endless war, intensified secrecy, and total disregard for civil liberties, the time has come to say enough is enough.
The reflexive fallback position of secrecy that the Bush Administration embraced after 9/11 and the Obama Administration beefed up over the past four years will not work in the long run. History shows us this.
"The times in American history when political power was constrained was when they went too far and the system backlashed and imposed limits," wrote Glen Greenwald, who helped lead The Guardian's investigation into PRISM. Is it just irony that it was a British newspaper, not an American one, that broke this story?
"That's what happened in the mid-1970s when the excesses of J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon became so extreme that the legitimacy of the political system depended upon it imposing restraints on itself. And that's what is happening now as the government continues on its orgies of whistleblower prosecutions, trying to criminalize journalism, and building a massive surveillance apparatus that destroys privacy, all in the dark. The more they overreact to measures of accountability and transparency - the more they so flagrantly abuse their power of secrecy and investigations and prosecutions - the more quickly that backlash will arrive."
The hope is that it will be the architects of the national security state, and not the brave souls who ripped off its mask, who will pay the price. But that will only happen when Americans recognize that that an unjust regime stays in power only as long as people are willing to stay silent and do nothing to change it.
This is still a free country. We still have a free press. We are still nation of laws, not men. And it is the citizens, not the leaders, who have the ultimate power. This must be remembered always.
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.