I wrote this opinion the day before General Hayden was approved. Subsequent to said approval, President Bush said, "I look forward to working with…Negraponte, General Hayden…as we continue to address the challenges and threats we face in the 21st century." Challenges and threats which the President increased by invading Iraq.
The only no votes to Hayden's approval were Democrats Ron Wyden, Russ Feingold, and Even Bayh, and Republican Arlen Specter. My hat's off to these four who had the guts to protest and not just go along.
After 9/11, Vice President Cheney wanted to intercept domestic telephone calls and e-mails without warrants but was warned away by more cautious National Security Agency lawyers, owing to the measure's illegality, and especially since they were slammed in the 1990s for eavesdropping. But the nominee for director of the CIA, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, then head of the NSA, ultimately created a collection program and sold it to the wary NSA officers and a not-so-wary President Bush.
A Cheney spokeswoman said the program "is terrorism surveillance, not domestic surveillance," and the V.P. further explained it as "a wartime measure…limited in scope." Limited? The serious problem with the vice president's reasoning is, as described by Bush: this "war on terrorism" is going to go on for many years.
The trouble is, terrorism will remain with us for as long as our soldiers' boots are on the ground anywhere in the Middle East. Which means a very long "wartime measure." Decades? Decades of data collection?
Under a dictatorial government, police may search and seize your property without providing justifications or legal warrants. It follows that a dictatorship having unwarranted access to collected data, such as telecommunications and e-mail, will not consider this an invasion of privacy but merely a way of closely monitoring its citizens, like it or not. On the other hand, as intended by our founding fathers, we supposedly live in a free society, able to express ourselves without fear of reprisals for independent thinking, to speak openly in opposition to our government when necessary. Additionally, protected by the Fourth Amendment, we expect a right to privacy, to be able to communicate with others without intrusion.
With that said, it appears that no matter the rationale — "security" or otherwise — because of this administration's creative and of the moment interpretations of our laws, the NSA's data collection ultimately undermines our precious Bill Of Rights, in which the meaning of Amendment Four has been explicitly stated for any reasonably intelligent human being to grasp. It's quite clear to me and others that this secret agency, under the guidance of General Hayden, is almost certainly violating our rights with the approval of his boss, President Bush, as surely as a burglar who breaks and enters our homes. Assuming the General is approved, can we now expect domestic spying from the CIA? It would not be the first time.
Early on at the NSA, General Hayden said he wanted congressional oversight. True, he said that. One would then assume that he meant to make complete presentations to a full intelligence committee, but he never did. Therefore, with this in mind, Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Dem, accused the Bush gang of violating the national Security Act of 1947 because a full oversight committee was never briefed, which, of course, would be a way of keeping illegal activities as secret as possible, certainly pleasing President Bush.
Yes, our president, who has publicly complained numerous times about traitorous leaks of classified intelligence, while he himself has declassified "secrets" on a moment's notice whenever he has wanted to destroy an opponent and/or protect an ally.
So the wily Bush/Rove team, mindful of the legitimate criticism regarding the lack of full oversight, beat the Hayden confirmation hearing to the punch by giving the House and Senate intelligence committees a briefing on classified activities. Whew! Just in time.
Those of us who believe we have nothing to fear from this kind of government intrusion because we have nothing criminal or treasonous to hide, should understand fully that the passive acceptance of a Big Brother system will create a chink in our personal liberty, into which an oppressive wedge will most assuredly be inserted.
Any arrogant government facing little opposition might, over time, widen the chink to a gap, seriously eroding self-expression while instilling fear, however real or imagined. Intimidation is the technique. Opposition to the Iraq war was immediately squelched by this administration, and not at all subliminally, but by overtly suggesting dissent was traitorous anti-Americanism and we, the dangerous dissenters, were "not supporting our troops."
Unfortunately, and much to its discredit, the media fearfully and totally caved in to the administration hawks and only found its collective voice much later when the administration began to falter under the weight of an Iraqi civil war and Republican scandals. The media then morphed into the current feeding frenzy after it caught the smell of blood in the roiling political waters. Add to that the early cowardice displayed by most politicians, some of whom moved right of center in support of the war and remain there purely for political reasons, not for moral ones, which for me (who does confess to a profound cynicism) is an outrage and I hope they lose their political base. Of course, regarding bravery, how many of us are truly courageous enough to swim against the tide?
Anyone old enough to recall "McCarthyism" will understand the fear and reluctance to speak up.
Early on, President Bush said the NSA data collection was a "limited program." Later he said, his administration was "obliged to connect the dots." (Hundreds of million dots?) He also stated that domestic calls are "not intentionally monitored." One wonders how much unintentional listening has been going on.
USA Today broke the story of AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth opening the door for intrusion; then Reuters reported that Verizon and BellSouth "have issued carefully worded denials of a report that they turned over millions of customers' calling records to a U.S. spy agency." Verizon wouldn't "confirm or deny." BellSouth: "…we have confirmed…we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA." What did they provide? AT&T said it was obligated to assist law enforcement and government agencies, with no further comment.
A great deal of parsing here, folks. No surprise since a $200 billion lawsuit has been filed in 18 states seeking damages for 200 million customers of all 3 companies. No doubt we'll hear complaints about greedy lawyers in our "litigious society," which would not be entirely untrue since lawyers — big surprise — have been known to smell the money as well as the blood. It will be interesting when reps from the three companies appear before Arnold Specter's committee, since they, unlike Bush/Cheney, can not claim executive privilege.
With all of the ongoing discussions it's very easy to forget the most important truth: The actual and ongoing NSA mission is to gather foreign intelligence and not to engage in domestic eavesdropping.
During the committee hearing, General Hayden was a very sharp evader of questions asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Calif. Dem., telling her over and over (politely) his responses, if given at that moment, would be too classified for those not cleared for secure intelligence, but he would be happy to provide the info in detail, in private — all of which annoyed me personally as I realized that at least two or three of her questions would not actually require going too deeply into classified secrets, could be at least partly replied to, and annoyed me because he was (politely) arrogant, condescending, and therefore insulting, to the American viewing public — totally in tune with the rest of this administration.
Hayden said, in a twisty sentence, that no one at the NSA has told him "…there's targeting that's not based on probable cause." He trusts his guys. And we shouldn't worry. Ain't that sweet?
The fact is, the Foreign Intelligence Act of 1978 has been violated by an administration that is, and has been, out of control, led by a devious and incompetent president who for his own — I suppose, imperial — reasons, believes he has had a blank check to do as he pleases. No one in his or her right mind during these terror-ridden times would doubt the need for listening in with warrants signed by judges. The problem, in the absence of oversight, rests with the deceptive and untrustworthy administration that has, ostensibly, been in charge of the people in charge of data collection. It is not paranoid conspiracy theorists creating suspicion of what has been going on (though theorists always exist to muddy the waters), but rather the recent history of lying about so much of what has led us out of Afghanistan and into Iraq.
And now, added to this, we have Bush's top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, saying he won't hesitate to tap into telephone conversations of reporters, related to any criminal leak investigations, while promising not to do it randomly. The latter barely comforting to those journalists who have the guts and feel it's their duty to inform American citizens about any criminal behavior in our government. Of course, Gonzales hasn't said anything about his boss' leaks, while he enthusiastically digs deep into his investigation of USA Today's expose of the NSA, trying to nail the journalist who did the worthy deed. ("Worthy" my opinion, I know).
The head of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Lucy Dalglish, said she thinks Gonzales has in mind the 1917 Espionage Act, which, having been created during the first World War to prevent giving secrets to the Germans (updated 2002), seemed to me to be a wild and desperate stretch when I read it. Everything this man and this administration will do appears purely designed to place a major and lasting chill on our Bill Of Rights’ First Amendment.
Gonzales was quick to add that the First Amendment right of a free press isn't absolute when it comes to national security, and if the NSA leak turns out to be a criminal offense, he's "obligated" to prosecute.
He also said, the American people would like to see the Feds go after criminal activities. No kidding?
Well, you bet they would, Mr. Attorney General. For instance, this country has been in the total grip of corporate interests in regard to the use of Mexican immigrants. There are, and have been, strict, clearly defined laws related to the employment of these illegals, with stiff penalties. Which means these corporations have been engaged in serious criminal activities, activities which you and this administration have chosen to ignore because of the vast contributions made to the seemingly bottomless Republican pockets, giving these agra-business guys a free ride and placing the burden on American taxpayers; the kinds of Americans with immigrant forbears who, though they recognize the industriousness of these mostly family-oriented workers, they correctly believe it has been unfair to allow these illegals to jump to the head of the line in order to satisfy those CEOs who are eternally pursuing a source of cheap labor.
It would appear, therefore, that Mr. Gonzales' position is that there are crimes to prosecute and crimes to wink at. There is a lot of corruption — lying, cheating, stealing, which I will avoid once again describing here (for the moment, at least), that Gonzales could investigate that he won't, attempting instead to stifle those occasional whistle blowers to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude.
Gonzales and Hayden make a great pair, fitting so well into the Bush/Cheney administration's devious goals, much to the detriment of our otherwise wonderful country.
I'm not an insider. I'm not able to prove or disprove anything taking place within the government, but the irony in all this, for me, is that in spite of the fact that General Hayden intruded much too far into our privacy, this will ultimately be overlooked. It's almost certain that General Hayden, guilty or not, will be approved by our sterling lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Bravery in lawmakers is no longer a requirement for election to office. Only poll-and-market-directed one-liners, and well-arranged photo ops is all, and let's get on to safer ground.Powered by Sidelines