Three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act were allowed to expire (at least briefly) on June 1 thanks to a Senate disagreement over how to “fix” them (and thanks to Sen. Rand Paul’s outspoken opposition to renewal), and now we’re vulnerable to terrorism!
That at least is what President Obama and other fear-mongering advocates of ever-increased surveillance and draconian laws in Washington are saying.
As the president (who in one of his first televised debate with Mitt Romney, famously declared that his “number one” responsibility as President of the United States was “keeping Americans safe,” rather than upholding and defending the Constitution), said of the USA PATRIOT Act expiration: “Heaven forbid we’ve got a problem where we could’ve prevented a terrorist attack or could’ve apprehended someone who was engaged in dangerous activity but we didn’t do so.”
Is your pulse racing? Are you stocking up on gas masks, canned food, bottled water and guns?
Maybe that’s because you realize now that this terrorism schtick is all a crock.
Not one alleged terrorism plot has been detected, disrupted, or foiled in the US since 2001 as a result of the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act — that fascistic law passed by Congress in a deliberately induced panic back on October 26, 2001. In fact, all the known so-called terror plots that have been busted by federal authorities turn out to have been instigated by those same federal authorities, though the creative use of paid informants and under-cover officers posing as terrorists — informants who often themselves came up with the plots and provided the equipment, too, usually to unsophisticated and mentally challenged suckers.
The USA PATRIOT Act, actually called, in a particularly ridiculous example of the Republican penchant for creating acronyms for their bills, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, was simply a collection of many civil-liberties violating measures long sought by authoritarian Washington officials, but never before successfully passed through Congress. This huge wish list of police-state laws were quickly dusted off by the Bush/Cheney White House and piled into one bill, and then rammed through Congress in a night session with no discussion in the wake of the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Let’s be clear: the whole wretched act isn’t expiring, but at least three provisions have expired, including one, called Section 215, that has allowed the National Security Agency, for 14 years now, to sweep up and store and search through all the phone calls and conversations of the American people. The other two lapsed provisions are : 1) a dangerous section that twists the definition of a “foreign power” to include anyone — including a US citizen! — who is accused of “engag(ing) in international terrorism or activities in preparation thereof,” and 2) another that authorizes so-called “roving wiretaps” that allow warrantless wiretapping of anyone’s phone or internet when a suspected “terrorist” is thought to be using another person’s equipment.
Now “heaven forbid,” with these sections of the act now lapsed, federal authorities have to go to a judge or to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) “Court” to obtain a warrant in order to legally tap our phones and internet — the way they used to have to do before passage of the USA PATRIOT Act.
If you are not cowering right now in your basement at the thought of this act being obsolete, perhaps you’ll agree that we should just let the thing die. All it’s been used for since passage has been to undermine our democracy and our civil liberties, paving the way for an increasingly totalitarian government down the road. This is precisely what was done to us at ThisCantBeHappening!, when the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Threat Assessment, in 2011, labeled TCBH! a “threat” because we ran an article exposing the department’s central role in orchestrating the nationwide local police crackdown on the Occupy Movement.
Benjamin Franklin long ago famously warned the American people that we could have liberty or security, but not both, and that if we tried to have security, we’d end up having neither.
That’s where we are today, after 14 years of the USA PATRIOT Act and other laws undermining the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. We have a chance to start recovering our liberties with the expiration of the act. Let’s demand that it be allowed to die.
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).