Many years ago, back in 1975 when Gerald Ford was the nation’s default president, I spent a summer living in the home of two Minneapolis friends, both important anti-war academics, who had two young children. One of their kids, Jacob, who was about seven at the time and smart as a whip, had been given the gift of a can of compressed air which carried a label claiming it contained a miracle product called “Bullshit Repellent.” Whenever someone in the house — family member, me, or some other guest — would say something ridiculous, stupid or false, someone would inevitably yell out, “Jacob, get the Bullshit Repellent!” Jacob would come running in enthusiastically with the can and would spray it proudly at whoever was uttering the BS.
I sure wish I had Jacob and his spray can right now. I simply cannot believe the BS being spouted by President Obama, National Security Agency Director James Clapper, or the members of Congress who should be demanding their heads for the unprecedented surveillance and spying on all Americans that has just been exposed.
Let’s begin at the top: Our president (who once boasted of having taught Constitutional law), decried, way back in 2007 when he was contemplating a run for the White House, what he correctly labeled the Bush-Cheney administration’s “false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide.” Fast forward to the president today, after his all-encompassing monitoring of all the phone and internet communications of all Americans, and here’s what he’s saying now (speaking last Friday in San Jose) after the humongous pervasiveness and intrusiveness of the spying was exposed in the U.K Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post:
“I think it’s important for everybody to understand … that there are some trade-off’s involved. You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. You know, we’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”
Jacob, quick! The bullshit repellent!
Where to start? A security-for-liberty trade-off, he says? Where’s the security? We just had a bombing in Boston that would have been spotted in a minute if the FBI were monitoring the Tsarnaev brothers‘ websites (assuming they are the guilty parties). But the FBI claims it “stopped” monitoring Tamerlan Tsarnaev after interviewing him several times, and “closed” his case, despite his having travelled to Dagestan, a former Soviet struggling with separatist Islamic rebels, and despite warnings from Russian intelligence. This is the kind of “100 percent security” we get in return for handing over 100% of our privacy on the phone and online? What incredible BS!
And about that need to make choices? The president says he “welcomes a debate” on those choices, but how are we supposed to do that if the entire surveillance program, not to mention the snatching of the records of journalists at Fox News and the Associated Press, is all done in secret? It’s like a waiter stealing the menus from your table and then asking you what you’d like to order. We only know about the massive spying program aimed at us because of whistleblowers, like the heroic Edward Snowde, who, their disgust and patriotism overcoming their fear of jail, alerted the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and the Post. And far from welcoming the resulting “conversation” we’re now having about “choices,” opened up by those disclosures, we learn that the Obama “Justice” Department (the same one that ordered the secret monitoring of 100 of the phone lines of AP reporters), is about to launch a criminal investigation into the leaks.
At the risk of having the Secret Service sicced on me, once the NSA’s PRISM monitors read what I’m typing here, I sure wish I had Jacob’s spray can so I could shoot a blast of it at the president.
Then there’s Clapper. On Saturday, this surveillance Svengali released a “fact sheet” on PRISM. He claimed that the program is not just a sweep of data. Rather, he said it was “overseen by all three branches of government.” And for good measure he added, undermining the claims of the industry, that “The United States government does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers.” He also tried to reassure people that the program only targets “foreign” communications.
Jacob! I need you again with your bullshit repellent!
What BS! The NSA’as data sweep is almost total. That’s precisely why the agency built its huge top-secret National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center in Utah. If they were just targeting alleged terrorism suspects with their PRISM program, they could handle all the data with a single laptop computer. Instead they have what is the largest assemblage of supercomputers in the world, designed to store and go through data measured in a term I never heard before — yottabytes — which means a trillion terabytes or, if you prefer, a trillion trillion, or a quadrillion gigabytes. Gigabytes, by the way, are how we measure the memory storage capacity of our personal computers — the ones that Clapper and his spook minions are monitoring, apparently even as we type on their keyboards. As for that bit about PRISM just targeting foreign communications, given the borderless nature of the Internet, that claim is absurd on its face, and it is clearly just more BS intended to mislead us.
But it ain’t just the White House, the Justice Department and the NSA that are spouting BS.
How about Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee that is supposed to oversee the nation’s intelligence agencies, including the super-secret NSA? She seems to have no problem with all this epic spying on the nation’s citizens. Last Thursday, when the Guardian’s story broke about the NSA’s monitoring of all the communications of Verizon customers (a revelation that would quickly prove to be just the tip of a very huge surveillance iceberg), Feinstein noted that the activity had been approved by the super secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court, and said, “As far as I know, this is an exact three-month renewal of what has been the case for the past seven years. Therefore it is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress.” Apparently, any godawful thing can be done to us and the Constitution in today’s America by the Executive branch, as long as it secretly “briefs” the useless dregs we send to Congress, who are required to keep it secret from us.
Jacob! We need you again!
If this is oversight, I think it is in the other meaning of that word. Actually, it was two years ago, back in 2011, that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) publicly warned Americans about the spying, but said he could not reveal the details as he was sworn to secrecy. As he put it, “I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: when the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.” A colleague, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), backed him, saying, “Americans would be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out.”
The two men claimed they could not provide any details of what was going on because, as members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, they were sworn to protect secrets the government reveals to them. But that’s pure BS. As Senators, they and the rest of the 98 men and women in that chamber, as well as the 435 others in the House, are bound by a much higher oath of office, in which they vowed to uphold and defend the Constitution. And if the Bill of Rights means anything, this surveillance violates that document egregiously.
Jacob, where are you! Hurry and bring your spray can!
Now the White House, the NSA and backers of the spying in Congress like Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are citing a couple of alleged terror plots that they claim this huge national and international electronic spying campaign prevented from happening. This shameless attempt to get frightened people to accept the end to privacy in communications is all pure bullshit, though. Sens. Wyden and Udall, who ought to know, given their positions on the Senate Intelligence Committee, are not buying it. “As far as we can see, all the useful information that it has provided appears to have also been available through other collection methods that do not violate the privacy of law-abiding Americans,” they both say. And that’s not bullshit!
So we may need more than one can of Jacob’s miracle spray for all this BS. We may in fact need truckloads of the stuff.
That would include needing to spray some at the executives of the telecom and internet firms that are now claiming, rather incredibly, that they didn’t know any of this. Last Thursday, Google, Facebook and Apple were issuing denials (quickly contradicted by NSA director Clapper) saying they had “no knowledge” about the spying program. Google issued a statement piously saying, “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data.” An Apple spokesman said, “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.”
More BS of course. It’s all in how you word your denial, right? Google and Apple may never have heard the code name PRISM, but they sure knew their customer data was being systematically mined and analyzed by the NSA. And while maybe these companies, and Microsoft and AOL and the rest of them, do usually require a court order for a specific request for data on a particular customer, they have been happily complying with a FISA court permit to let the NSA mine and review all their customer data wholesale for years. None of the companies has appealed the FISA orders, which they could have done either individually or collectively.
We are living in an era of unprecedented Washington BS. The odor at this point is beyond what it was when Tricky Dick Nixon was president, denying that he was a criminal and denying that he knew anything about the Watergate break-in of Democratic Party headquarters. If the place stunk like an uncleaned stable back then, today it stinks like a mid-western cattle feedlot, and trust me, you don’t even want to visit one of them without a gas mask.
I’m not sure even my now grown young friend Jacob’s bullshit repellent can clear the air.
DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).