Under America’s Surveillance Dome
The greatest threat to America’s “national security” is the American people, not an endless array of Al-Qaeda-type “terrorists” hyped by our own government. “National security” are tried-and-true code words used by political leaders of both parties to conceal and justify policies that are actually harmful to the security of most Americans. Thus Edward Snowden’s disclosures of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) extensive spying on the e-mails and telephone calls of every citizen, in violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, reveal that those in political power see all Americans potentially as the real enemy. Their greatest fear is that an informed public will connect the dots between the criminal exploitations and invasions of other countries and the illegal invasions of every American’s privacy: that “protecting” Americans has become a pretext for detecting, monitoring, intimidating and squashing dissent—as was done to blunt the Occupy Wall Street movement, and labor, liberation, anti-war and other status-quo-threatening movements in the past.
Transparency, the indispensable principle of representative democracy, would be the undoing of many in political power. Thus the extreme, and hypocritical, reactions to Edward Snowden indicate the danger government whistleblowers present, not to “national security” but, to national secrecy that hides the “high crimes and misdemeanors” of the ruling political elite—and their corporate supporters and profiteers.
The threat Edward Snowden’s current—and future—surveillance disclosures represents is seen in the Obama administration’s extreme, disingenuous reactions. In seeking to prevent Snowden, who has been hiding in a Russian airport, from receiving political asylum anywhere, President Obama declared, ”We’re following all of the appropriate legal channels” to get him, and “working with various other countries . . . to make sure the rule of law is observed.” (“Obama following ‘legal channels’ to get Snowden back,” by David Jackson, USA TODAY, June 24, 2013)
“The rule of law?” Tell that to Latin American countries. Thinking Edward Snowden had stowed on board Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane when it left Moscow, the Obama administration pushed buttons and Morales’ presidential plane was prevented from flying in the air space of Spain, Portugal, Italy and France, forcing an emergency landing in Austria, where it was searched. This blatant disregard for the international “rule of law”—never mind the historic honoring of political asylum by nations and religious institutions—was condemned by Latin American leaders who, as The New York Times reports, “quickly rallied to his [President Morales’] side, condemning the treatment as an affront to the entire region.” (“U.S. Is Pressing Latin Americans to Reject Leaker,” By William Neuman and Randall C. Archibold, July 12, 2013)
The Times story shows that President Obama is not about observing “the rule of law,” but about pushing buttons and twisting arms. “And all across the region,” the piece states, “American embassies have communicated Washington’s message that letting Mr. Snowden into Latin America, even if he shows up unexpectedly, would have lasting consequences.” (Ibid)
“The rule of law?” Tell that to the government and citizens of Pakistan, who have overwhelmingly condemned the United States’ repeated violation of their national sovereignty with its criminal drone warfare. Tell that to the loved ones of all the innocent Pakistani—and Afghan and Yemeni and Somali—victims of the Obama administration’s illegal drone warfare.
The war crimes committed by our government in our name are obvious to most people in the world. Most know that they are the enemy because our government, now even more under the influence of predatory corporate profiteers, is bent on world domination. Edward Snowden’s disclosures of U.S. surveillance of the citizens of Latin American countries, and elsewhere, merely reveal what American-oppressed peoples’ already know—reinforced by the constant reminder provided by the presence of over 1000 U.S. military bases on or bordering their lands and seas. They are painfully aware that the United States is imperialistic, and does not abide by “the rule of law.” And President Obama knows that they know. But that doesn’t matter because, in the nations of the Other beyond the United States, it is about the rule of power, not of right over wrong. Thus his “rule of law” statement is for the public consumption of the American people, many of whom don’t, or do not want to, know the truth.
“The rule of law” itself is now determined by the creation of a secret intelligence court (FISA) that continues to rubber stamp the government’s vast unlawful surveillance of Americans. (See “Support Oversight of the Secret FISA Court,” ACLU, Sept. 154, 2005) God—and the Obama and Bush administrations—forbid! if enough American people find out the extent to which they are being exploited and hunted by their own government.
The worst fear of those in power is that of whistleblowers disclosing to Americans the connection between what government policies do to people around the world in their name and terrible blowback violence, like the 9/11 attacks and the Boston Marathon bombings. This statement is not meant to minimize the tragic deaths of and injuries to Americans, or the culpability of perpetrators. It is meant to help more Americans to understand the ultimate culpability of our own government leaders. There would have been no 9/11 with its horrific victims, nor Boston Marathon bombings with their tragic victims, if our government’s foreign policy were relational with other countries, rather than imperialistic. An influential American citizen was put on President Obama’s “kill list” and assassinated for broadcasting that to everyone. Obama’s “death list” provides a reality check on the depth of his empathy for human beings.
After continuing national protests and growing pressure from black leaders, President Obama finally commented on the George Zimmerman case, in which a mostly white jury of six women found the 28-year-old not guilty of demeaning, profiling, getting out of his car (against a police directive) and ending up killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin—the verdict also declaring that Trayvon was judged not to have any legal ground to stand on. Obama spoke truth about the “pain” and history of profiling in “the African American community . . . that doesn’t go away.” His open words especially were personal and humanizing: “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Travyon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” (“President Offers a Personal Take on Race in U.S.,” By Mark Landler and Michael D. Shear, The New York Times, July 20, 2013; “In words revealing and rare, Obama speaks on Martin case,” By Matt Viser, The Boston Globe, July 20, 2013) Apply these words globally.
Sixteen-year-old American, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was assassinated on October 14, 2011by a President Obama-ordered drone strike, also could have been Obama’s son. But Obama—and his administration– chose to hide behind the secrecy of silence after committing that war crime. And Abdulrahman’s American father, Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who was assassinated by an Obama-issued drone strike a mere two weeks earlier, could have been Obama’s brother.
Here, at last and appreciatively in The New York Times, are the words of a grieving father and grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, who writes in a July 18, 2013 op ed page piece on “The Drone That Killed My Grandson,”
I learned that my 16-year-old grandson, Abdulrahman—a United States citizen—
had been killed by an American drone strike from news reports the morning after
he died. The missile killed him, his teenage cousin, and at least five other civilians
on Oct. 14, 2011, while the boys were eating dinner at an open-air restaurant in
southern Yemen. . . .
My grandson was killed by his own government. The Obama administration must
answer for its actions and be held accountable. . . . I will petition a federal court in
Washington to require the government to do just that.
Abdulrahman was born in Denver. . . . He was a typical teenager—he watched “The
Simpsons,” listened to Snoop Dogg, read “Harry Potter” and had a Facebook page with
many friends. He had a mop of curly hair, glasses like me, and a wide goofy smile.
This grieving former president of Sana University and Yemeni minister of agriculture and fisheries, also wrote about his son, Anwar:
The government repeatedly made accusations of terrorism against Anwar—who was also an American citizen– but never charged him with a crime. No court ever reviewed the government’s claims nor was any evidence of criminal wrongdoing ever presented to a court. He did not deserve to be deprived of his constitutional rights as an American citizen and killed.
Like Pvt. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, Imam Anwar al-Awlaki was a whistleblower. He was silenced by assassination, rather than given his constitutional right of due process in an American courtroom, where he could explain his motivation and behavior, and his accusers forced to document their accusations and be cross-examined. In Internet sermons, a formidable al-Awlaki spoke offensive truths, which would have found their way into the ears and minds of the American people if he had been put on trial:
We are not against Americans for just being Americans. We are against evil. And America as a whole has turned into a nation of evil. What we see from America is the invasion of two Muslim countries. We see Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo Bay. We see cruise missiles and cluster bombs. And we have just seen in Yemen the deaths of 23 children and 17 women. We cannot stand idly by in the face of such aggression, and we will fight back and invite others to do the same. . . . America refuses to admit that its foreign policies are the reasons behind a man like Nidal Hasan, born and raised in the United States, turning his gun on American soldiers. (For more on his sermon and assassination, see Alberts, “Labels Kill: The Assassination of Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, Counterpunch, Oct. 7-9, 2011)
“The rule of law?” Similar to President Obama’s hollow appeal, self-righteous former vice president Dick Cheney went on Fox News and “strongly defended the recently exposed U.S. surveillance programs, which he helped craft in the aftermath of 9/11,” and said “former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposing the gathering of information of phone calls and emails has done ‘enormous damage’ to the United States’ anti-terrorism programs and called Snowden a ‘traitor.’” (“Cheney Defends NSA, Calls Snowden a ‘Traitor.’” June16, 2013)
The real “traitors” were draft-dodging Vice President Cheney and his Vietnam War combat- avoiding boss, former president George W. Bush. Contrary to “the rule of law,” they ballyhooed and launched a falsely-based, pre-emptive invasion against (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction-threatening Iraq. A war of choice that then UN secretary general Kofi Annan said “was not sanctioned by the UN’s security council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter, and “was illegal.” (“Iraq war was illegal and breached UN charter, says Annan,” by Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, The Guardian, Sept. 15, 2004)
What is believed to haunt Dick Cheney, George Bush and their warmongering co-conspirators is the fear that a cause-and-effect informed citizenry will, in the end, hold them accountable for the unnecessary, traitorous sacrifice of almost 4500 American military persons in Iraq, the physical and emotional wounding of an estimated one hundred thousand more, the terrible waste of our nation’s wealth, the deaths of over one million Iraqi civilians, the uprooting of some four million more, the terrible devastation of the country, and the severe sectarian violence today—all in the wake of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Herein lies the political and corporate dread of cause-and-effect whistleblowers.
Who benefited from this rule of lawlessness against Iraq? Obviously not the Iraqi people. Nor the American people. An old saying helps here: “Follow the money.” George Washington University Law School professor and legal analyst Jonathan Turley helps us pick up the trail. He cites a report that reveals how profitable the Afghan and Iraq wars have been for certain companies: “For just Iraq alone, some $138 billion went to private companies with an army of lobbyists eager to keep the pipeline of cash flowing.” The total is then broken down, with “one company receiv[ing] $39.5 billion. That company is Houston based KBR, Inc., which is an extension of its parent, Halliburton Co. . . . That of course is Dick Cheney’s firm.” Turley’s conclusion: “For $40 billion, a single company may be willing to do a lot to keep a war alive. In the very least, it may not be eager to see it end.” (“Report: Halliburton Subsidiary Received $39.5 Billion For Iraq War Alone,” jonathanturley.org, Apr. 8, 2013)
The horrific 9/11 attacks against America were used as a pretext for launching a global “war on terrorism,” and served to justify the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus began an endless war of terror—and great profit and power for the military industrial complex. And the Afghan and Iraq wars helped George Bush to win a second term as president. These criminal wars were not about “spreading freedom and democracy,” as a prayerful, born-against Christian President Bush said, but about profit and political power. It is also about American exceptionalism, not “the rule of law,” which allows Cheney to have a regular voice on Fox News, and Bush’s photo to appear on the front page of the July 11, 2013 New York Times– rather than on a wanted poster for “high crimes and misdemeanors” against the American—and Iraqi and Afghan– people.
When “follow the money” is applied in Edward Snowden’s case, it leads to billions of taxpayers’ own money paid out to private surveillance contractors to spy on them– like Snowden’s former Booz Allen Hamilton company, which “in the fiscal year ended in March 2013 . . . reported $5.76 billion in revenue, 99 percent of which came from government contracts . . . Almost a quarter of its revenue– $1.3 billion–was from major intelligence agencies.” (“Know the Carlyle Group (owns Booz Allen), it’s the Face of Evil,” by Judy Morris, beforeitsnews.com, July 7, 22013) The money also leads us to the building of the NSA’s $1.2 billion Utah Data Center complex, to help “secure” not only all Americans under the intelligence dome, but most everyone in the world. The secretive, growing totalitarianism of our government. It is not about “national security,” but about securing Americans—like a boat, so that they don’t rock the ship of state in dissent.
Long recognized, the first causality of war is truth, because truth is the greatest enemy of warmongers. Thus the persecution of Private Bradley Manning, who disclosed the war crimes committed by American forces in Iraq– which disclosures did not “aid the enemy,” but informed the American people of the crimes being committed in their name. The nearly 400,000 US Iraqi war documents Manning allegedly released, through WikiLeaks and its now US- hounded leader Julian Assange, exposed the extent to which our government minimized the killings and atrocities committed against the Iraqi and Afghan people. Chase Madar, attorney and member of the National Lawyers Guild, reveals what Manning did for, not to, Americans, and why his disclosures are such a grave threat to the political and corporate forces running our country:
The records allegedly downloaded by Manning reveal clear instances of war crimes committed by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, widespread torture committed by Iraqi authorities with the full knowledge of the U.S. military, previously unknown estimates of the number of Iraqi civilians killed at U.S. military checkpoints, and the massive Iraqi civilian death toll caused by the American invasions. (“Why Bradley Manning Is a Patriot, Not a Criminal, TomDispatch.com, Feb. 10, 2011)
Pvt. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are true guardians of “national security” because they dared to inform the America people of the crimes being committed in their name and the related blowback violence done to them. Manning leaked “the Iraqi war logs” through WikiLeaks because, as he said, “I want people to see the truth regardless of who they are . . . because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” (“Who’s the enemy,” CODEPINK, Mar. 4, 2011)
Reported by Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald as being inspired by Pvt. Manning, Edward Snowden’s motivation for disclosing the NSA’s vast spying on Americans is similar to Manning’s: “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in. My sole motive,” he said, “is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” (“NSA Leaker Edward Snowden Reportedly Inspired By Bradley Manning,” By Rob Smith, www.queerty.com, July 1, 2013; “What Snowden Said,” By Marc Ash, Reader Supported News, June 11, 2013)
Edward Snowden not only “inform[ed] the public,” but certain members of Congress as well. Associated Press reporter Pete Yost covered “a heated confrontation over domestic spying,” at which “members of Congress said Wednesday they never intended to allow the National Security Agency to build a database of every phone call in America . . . and threatened to curtail the government’s surveillance authority.” This strong negative reaction of these Congressmen contradicts “rule of law”-abiding President Obama’s reported “assurances that Congress had fully understood the dramatic expansion of government power it authorized repeatedly over the past decade.” Texas Republican Ted Poe testified to the invaluable patriotic service rendered by Snowden in saying that “some members of Congress would not have known about the NSA surveillance without the sensational leaks: ‘Snowden, I don’t like him at all, but we would never have known what happened if he hadn’t told us.’” (“Congress attacks NSA surveillance program,” The Boston Globe, July 18, 2013) Congress is authorized to provide oversight for the NSA. Oversight depends on insight, which was provided by Snowden, who lifted the veil of the Obama administration’s and the NSA’s secret surveillance programs.
The “rule of law”-disregarding pursuit of Edward Snowden and the criminal persecution of Pvt. Bradley Manning reveal that our government sees us Americans as the real enemy. These terrible injustices also reveal that unconscionable foreign—and domestic—policies of our government are the greatest threat to America’s “national security.”
Communities of faith have an honorable tradition of providing asylum in their sanctuaries for oppressed people. What will they do now that they know they are worshipping under America’s Surveillance dome? Stay in their sanctuaries and merely pray about it? Or, also go to the public square and dissent with other Americans in support of our patriotic whistleblowers and the common good?
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care. His book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, is available on Amazon.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.