FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Insults to Our Intelligence

by SHELDON RICHMAN

It’s bad enough the federal government spies on us. Must it insult our intelligence too?

The government’s response to Edward Snowden’s leaks about the National Security Agency’s secret monitoring of the Internet and collection of our telephone logs is a mass of contradictions. Officials have said the disclosures are (1) old news, (2) grossly inaccurate, and (3) a blow to national security. It’s hard to see how any two of these can be true, much less all three.

Can’t they at least get their story straight? If they can’t do better than that, why should we have confidence in anything else that they do?

Snowden exposed the government’s indiscriminate snooping because, among other things, it violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and he had no other recourse.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says Snowden should have used established channels to raise his concerns, but there are no effective channels. Members of the congressional intelligence committees are prohibited from telling the public what they learn from their briefings. Two members of the Senate committee, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, for years have warned — without disclosing secrets — that the Obama administration is interpreting the Patriot Act and related laws far more broadly than was ever intended by those who voted for those pieces of legislation. Their warnings have made no difference.

A court challenge wasn’t open to Snowden either. Glenn Greenwald, who published Snowden’s leaks in the Guardian, notes that for years the ACLU has tried to challenge the surveillance programs in court on Fourth Amendment grounds, but the Obama administration has blocked the effort by arguing that the ACLU has no standing to bring the suit. It’s a classic Catch-22. Since the surveillance is secret, no one can know if he has been spied on. But if no one knows, no one can go into court claiming to be a victim, and the government will argue that therefore the plaintiff has no standing to challenge the surveillance. Well played, Obama administration.

The administration should not be allowed to get away with the specious claim that telling its secrets to a few privileged members of Congress is equivalent to informing the people. It is not. It’s merely one branch of government telling some people in another branch. Calling those politicians “our representatives” is highly misleading. In what sense do they actually represent us?

Equally specious is the assertion that the NSA can’t monitor particular people without court authorization. The secret FISA court is a rubber stamp.

When Obama ran for president in 2008, he said Americans shouldn’t have to choose between privacy and security. Now he says that “one of the things that we’re going to have to discuss and debate is how are we striking this balance between the need to keep the American people safe and our concerns about privacy? Because there are some tradeoffs involved.”

What do you take us for, Mr. President? Do you say whatever serves your momentary interest?

It’s outrageous for Obama to say he welcomes this debate — when his regime is plotting to capture and prosecute the heroic whistleblower who made it possible.

The debate would be bogus anyway. No one has a right to make a security/privacy tradeoff for you. Our rights should not be subject to vote, particularly when a ruling elite ultimately will make the decision — out of public view!

Americans have learned nothing from the last 40 years if they have not learned that the executive branch — regardless of party — will interpret any power as broadly as it wishes. Congressional oversight is worse than useless; it’s a myth, especially when one chamber is controlled by the president’s party and the other chamber’s majority embraces big government as long as it carries a “national security” label.

Obama says, “If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.”

That’s wrong. If the politicians’ only response to revelations that they’re violating our privacy is to ask for trust, then we already have problems.

Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) in Fairfax, Va. He can be reached through his blog, Free Association.

Sheldon Richman, author of the forthcoming America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.  He is also the Executive Editor of The Libertarian Institute.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail