Just for the sake of argument, let’s suspend our disbelief for a moment and pretend (I know it’s a stretch) that the Obama administration and the apologists for the nation’s spy apparatus in Congress, Democratic and Republican, are telling us the gods’ honest truth.
They have, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, “amped up” their defense of the NSA’s massive spying program, claiming that not two, but 50 terrorist plots have been foiled thanks to their metadata mining and their intrusive monitoring of our phone and email conversations and website browsing activity.
Think what that means: for years now, the Jihadists have known that the US spy apparatus is ubiquitous, and that it is able to track all their communications. Of course they knew this, because they would have seen all these plots being foiled (the real ones, not the many ones that were created by FBI or CIA provocateurs and plants), and, not being stupid, they would have put it together and realized that the plots that depended upon a lot of phone calls and internet communications were getting busted up, while ones that were handled either solo, or that were developed by careful word-of-mouth communication and courier were managing to succeed.
But we poor schmucks, the American people, have been left in ignorance, imagining that our carefully crafted and painstakingly memorized six or eight-digit passwords, including at least one letter and one number (or if we’re really good, some symbol or other), were doing the job of keeping our online lives private and that our unlisted numbers, or our decision not to list an address with the phone company, were keeping our telephonic communications secure.
Ho ho! Were we fooled!
But really, are we going to believe this nonsense about 50 NSA-foiled plots?
The reason the NSA’s success rate at defeating terror plots leapt overnight from an initial unimpressive two to an impressive 50 is that it turns out that the American people were really not very happy or grateful about learning that they had surrendered all privacy to Big Brother in return for the alleged disrupting of one wacko who had a dream, though poorly conceived, of bombing the New York subway, and the belated capture of another guy who had already allegedly done all the target-scouting work for the successful massacre in the hotel and train station of Mumbai, in India. That’s clearly not a great record to stand on, so now we’re being told by the NSA that actually it wasn’t just two plots that were foiled by their Orwellian spying, it was two score and 10. Much better, right?
Except… we don’t get to learn what those alleged busted plots were. If they were as hairbrained as the underwear bomber’s plan, which succeeded only in scorching his own privates, or as poorly conceived as the Times Square bomber’s plot, which succeeded only in burning some of the upholstery in his SUV, we don’t really have much to show for the freedom we’ve had stolen from us.
And we’re not going to learn what most of these alleged foiled plots were because…they’re secret.
We do know that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), who as members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, were briefed on at least some of the plots, including the first two that were offered up to us as demonstrations of the NSA’s prowess, have concluded that the NSA was exaggerating. They report that those first two plots were actually foiled by tips from British police, who had broken up plots in that country through good police work and then passed along evidence about plotters they were linked to here in the US. There is really no reason to believe that’s not the case with the other alleged NSA “triumphs.” It’s highly likely that they were all busted by solid police work and that the NSA was and also-ran in the process, playing a cameo role, and at best providing post-facto evidence to use in any prosecution, if that (as was the case in it’s “success” after the Mumbai massacre).
In reality, the biggest threat to America today is not terrorism, which is really a much more minor problem than drunk driving (and one which would subside if the US stopped trying to be a global empire), but rather a government that has become increasingly unhinged, unmoored from the people and the Constitution, and thoroughly unprincipled — ready to lie without hesitation and acting in the interests of the rich and the powerful, instead of in the broad interests of the majority of the population.
We have reached a point where trust in the government is so low that the default assumption of most ciizens is that the government is lying — and they are correct. Our government lies about the extent to which it spies on us, it lies about the integrity of the IRS, it lies about wanting to rein in the banks, it lies about “winning” the war in Afghanistan, it lies about the Social Security program going bankrupt, it lies about the US not torturing captives, it lies about chemical weapons use in Syria, it lies about not deliberately killing innocent civilians, including women and children, with its drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan, and it lies about nuclear power being safe (and about there being no radioactive fallout in the US from the Fukushima disaster). That’s just a partial list. You can add your own to it, I’m sure, with little difficulty.
As the president said in one of his rare moments of accidental candor: “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 we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and the rule of law, then we’re gonna have some problems here.”
Exactly. And that’s one reason we do have problems. Based upon a towering stack of evidence, the people of the United States, left, right and center, now profoundly do not trust the government.
But the real reason we have a problem is that the government — the executive branch, the Congress and the federal courts, especially the Supreme Court — don’t trust the people. Hence the spying, the amped up police departments with all their swat gear, tanks, and soon drones, and the laws making any expression of protest a crime. Look at the way the federal government orchestrated the brutal crushing of the Occupy Movement. Police in paramilitary and SWAT garb, armed with flash-bang stun grenades, rubber bullets, truncheons, saps, gallons of mace and even sonic weapons, using night-time assaults, mass arrests, and keeping the media at bay, cleared out Occupy actions across the country, city by city, under the direct guidance of the Department of Homeland Security. What was that but fear of the people? Look at the way the full force of the US government’s spying, diplomatic and legal apparatus have been brought down on whistleblowers like Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden for simply telling the truth. What is that but fear of the people knowing the truth?
Today I drove past a couple of people in the neighboring village of Flourtown, PA, who had set up some signs on a sidewalk along the main street calling for the impeachment of “Big Brother Obama.” People driving past in their cars in this town, which had voted for Obama both in 2008 and 2012, were waving and honking their horns. I though, “Hey, this is great. Obama’s starting to be seen the way G.W. Bush was seen, as a Constitutional criminal.” Then I noticed that the protesters were from the Lyndon LaRouche cult, the National Caucus of Labor Committees.
Amazing! To think that the US has sunk so far into fascist-style police statism, that the LaRouchies, who used to just seem like paranoid kooks, are now looking sane and prescient.
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).