The Patriot Act’s New Clothes


Last week we focused our attention upon the expiration of the so-called USA PATRIOT Act, or Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, and all of the corporate and government shenanigans associated with it. We know our communications are being recorded and stored in the name of “National Security” – a blanket term that’s used when powerful agencies and companies engage in blatantly illegal behavior. But that’s all over now because the so-called Patriot Act expired on Sunday night, right?

Well, no, not exactly.

There’s a lot of hubbub in the media patting Rand Paul on the back for his vow to force the expiration of the unconstitutional legislation plaguing America since the autumn of 2001. There’s a suspicious celebration of this new USA Freedom Act. And there’s a pesky weed sprouting up yet again in America’s minds that our national spy networks use of corrupt overreach is a problem that can somehow be solved politically.

But let’s get real about what’s actually happened here. Rand Paul might have gummed up the works for a minute, but the so-called Patriot Act’s expiration on Monday morning changes absolutely nothing.

First of all, as we mentioned last week, NSA dragnet surveillance programs did not begin in 2001 with the creation of the Patriot Act. George W. Bush may have institutionalized surveillance in the minds of Americans as acceptable by assuring them it would “keep them safe,” but Anglo-American spy agencies were recording every communication with ECHELON, MINARET, SHAMROCK, COINTELPRO, CHAOS, and countless other operations in the decades prior, that birthed what we know of today as Signals Intelligence or SIGINT.

Secondly, the NSA never needed the Patriot Act to conduct their unconstitutional surveillance on Americans in the first place. Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the chief architects of the Patriot Act, never intended for it to be used in the way that intelligence, spy and surveillance agencies and their associated contractors have. These agencies instituted a secret interpretation of the wording of the act to legally justify their illegal actions.

Third, the sudden passage of the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday immediately followed the expiration of the USA Patriot Act, which stinks of the tried-and-true methods of psychological manipulations employed by the public relations industry in the past – give the people a fake solution so that they’ll go back to sleep. What they’ve done is effectively replaced a red apple for a green apple, which is decidedly a red herring that everyone should be well aware of. Just like the Patriot Act, the Freedom Act’s name derives from a comically over-thought acronym that stands for the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection and Online Monitoring” Act.

Civil liberties advocates are hailing it as a great step forward from the dark days of the Patriot Act, celebrating the first reform of surveillance laws in well over a decade.Don’t believe the hype, though. The Freedom Act is nothing more than a new Patriot Act 2.0. It will perpetuate the same behavior from the intelligence community and the corporations that own it.

As Sonali Kolhatkar pointed out this week, “Activist groups like Demand Progress, Credo and Fight for the Future have unanimously declared that, ‘The USA Freedom Act is a mass surveillance bill dressed up as a reform bill, and its passage will authorize unconstitutional surveillance practices’.”

Sunday night the EFF posted on their website, “Don’t Worry, the Government Still Has Plenty of Surveillance Power If Section 215 Sunsets.” The long journey to stop surveillance has only just begun.

BBC News even admits that key parts of the Patriot Act are retained in the Freedom Act.


With all of this doublespeak its no wonder so many of us have become apathetic about the political process. The confusion is anything but accidental. The system is deliberately structured to make us bewildered. Just as the language of Wall Street is so confusing you’d have to be crazy to bother learning its dogmatic lexicon, the architecture of our political process intentionally baffles and frustrates the common people into complete indifference. For ordinary citizens who realize these things but don’t quite comprehend the extent of the issue or what should be done, the recent surveillance debate has been nothing short of confounding.

For one thing the vast majority of us are struggling every day just to make ends meet, so we don’t have much time or energy to pay attention to current events, the finer points of one bill versus another, or the congressional procedures involved in the passage of legislation. And even for those who do have the time and the will to take a look, its dry, boring, intimidating, draining, confusing, and at the end of the day seemingly irrelevant. If we internalize the learned helplessness that this Empire has instilled into us with miseducation, the psychology of advertising, and near-total control of mainstream propaganda, what’s to stop the average person from tossing their hands up in disgust while declaring, “Who cares? There’s nothing I can do about it anyway!” And who can blame them?

For one thing we read in the newspapers in the lead up to the Patriot Act’s expiration that the Senate failed to pass the new Freedom Act. But then just a few days later all the headlines proclaimed just the opposite – that the Senate passed the Freedom Act.

Just to clear the air, this piece of legislation was introduced in the Senate as S.1123 on May 12th but failed to pass. Then it was introduced in the House as H.R.2048 and passed the House on May 13th before the Senate passed the House version of the bill on June 2nd and it was signed into law by the President on the same day. So Sunday’s heated Senate session that failed to produce an eleventh-hour extension could be construed as a contrived distraction since they immediately turned around to pass a revised version of the Freedom Act on Tuesday anyway, which is in essence nothing more than a carefully revised Patriot Act.

You’ve probably noticed over the years that these laws are always labeled with emotionally evocative titles, like “The Milk For Cute Babies and Kittens Act.” Who could possibly be against that? In this case, Congress might as well have wasted our time debating whether it is nobler to choose between “Patriotism” or “Freedom.” Retired NSA whistleblower Kirk Wiebe who spent 36 years in the intelligence community, admits that the names of these bills “are designed to elicit emotion with words like Patriot Act and Freedom Act. It’s all psychological manipulation.”

Wiebe summarized the kind of aversion we need to adopt in our thinking on this issue, saying, “We have a variety of organizations that constitute a huge intelligence police apparatus, and it’s being turned against the American people under the explanation that ‘We need to protect you.’ My goodness, that is used by every tyrannical government in history!” prism

Rand Paul pointed out the major weakness in the Freedom Act is that the records of many millions of phone calls would no longer go to the NSA, where such data has been stored in the past. Instead they will now remain with the phone companies. Intelligence agencies could retrieve the records only with the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which operates in secret. “We may be replacing one form of bulk collecting with another,” Paul told the Senate on Sunday.

Rand Paul’s message was on point, but since he’s going to run for president next year, the likelihood that his stance was nothing more than a distracting bit of political rig’a’ma’roll is a possibility that becomes more probable the more you think about it. Even if his message was genuine, the vast majority of the other representatives are bought and paid for – just look at their campaign financiers for proof of this assertion. Whomever has the money gets the election, and we know who provides the money in this system.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation – who have expressed optimism about the Freedom Act – admit that it doesn’t go nearly far enough because now we’re entrusting the corporations to follow the law, which they probably won’t. And this isn’t just about one agency or another since the powerful all work together. More than 70% of NSA’s employees are privately contracted by agencies like Booz Allen Hamilton, the firm that Edward Snowden used to work for.

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper this week, Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, said of the new law, “The USA Freedom Act is hardly any better than the Patriot Act, as it still violates a lot of our constitutional rights.”

The only freedom the so-called Freedom Act will provide, is the freedom for Corporations and Intelligence agencies to justify unconstitutional surveillance on everyone with the same legal loopholes provided to them by their secret interpretations of the new statutes. Sure, their lawyers will have to scramble for a few months to write up the specifics of how exactly they’re going to defend their position in front of Congress should that ever happen again, but when was the last time these agencies followed the laws as written?

Legally speaking, NSA has always denied the extent of their surveillance, and when push ever comes to shove can hide behind a technicality that allows the to share data with other members within the Five Eyes Alliance. They might be forbidden from collecting data on Americans, but Britain’s equivalent of the NSA called the Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ can collect on Americans and then share that data with NSA or FBI.

And the persecution of whistleblowers is likely to continue under the USA Freedom Act. In fact it’s rather likely that whistleblowers will be oppressed even more tyrannically now that Snowden has stepped forward.

The NSA has been violating written laws for decades and has defended such violations quite vociferously. Disregarding constitutional rights is exactly how the NSA got to this point. The government never got a warrant for any invasion of privacy they now take for granted as standard procedure. And a recent Federal court ruling found that the Patriot Act didn’t authorize the degree of intrusive dragnets in which the government has been engaged. So now the same people who got us into this mess have passed an act with the word “FREEDOM” in it in place of the word “PATRIOT” and we’re really naïve enough to think things are going to change? – that they’re just going to say, “Oh well, I guess we have to follow the law now,” and give up control just like that?

Get Real!


In an article entitled “Dear NSA: This Call Will Not Be Recorded, Eugene Robinson writes:

“I made a phone call at 12:01 a.m. Monday, and it felt good. For the first time in years, the number I dialed on my iPhone was not captured and stored in a massive government database. Since it was an inconvenient hour, I called my office phone, knowing it would go to voicemail. But I wanted to make the point that an important principle was again being honored: Unless I’m suspected of some involvement with terrorism, it’s none of the National Security Agency’s business whom I talk to. Or when. Or why. … When the relevant parts of the Patriot Act expired, the NSA lost its legal authorization to track the usage of my phone—and yours.”

Robinson would be correct if bulk surveillance collection had actually ended at midnight on Monday, but it didn’t. There’s actually a six-month grace period before any substantive changes will be made, and that’s a best-case scenario. In fact, the Obama administration intends to use part of a law banning the bulk collection of US phone records to temporarily restart the bulk collection of US phone records.

US officials contend they will ask a secret surveillance court to revive the program – deemed illegal by a federal appeals court – all in the name of “transitioning” the domestic surveillance effort to the telephone companies that generate the so-called “call detail records” the government seeks to access.

The unconventional and unexpected legal circumstance depends on a section of the USA Freedom Act, which Obama signed into law on Tuesday, that provides a six-month grace period to prepare the surveillance and legal bureaucracies for a world in which the National Security Agency is no longer the repository of bulk US phone metadata. The Freedom Act’s ban of mass surveillance reads that it “shall take effect on the date that is 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act”. During that time, the act’s ban on bulk collection will not yet take effect, and they weren’t shut down as of Sunday night.

There is no on/off toggle switch for these intelligence programs within the houses of Congress, and this supposed shut down hasn’t had any more effect on the NSA than the budgetary shutdown of our National Parks could have prevented rivers from flowing or trees from growing within the Parks. The Patriot Act’s 215 provision may have expired on Sunday night, but the government is arguing that it “needs to restart the program in order to end it,” which provides a nice preview of what the future holds – an endless list of excuses but no real changes.

But Robinson continues:

“Assuming the agency obeys the law, the balance between liberty and security has been sensibly rebalanced.”

This last sentence really hits the nail squarely on the head, because we would be rather gullible to assume the agency has any intention of obeying the laws as they are written – or more importantly, as the public would interpret them. Because remember, statutes are not written in English – they’re written in Legalese, which is a different language used by courts and banks to exploit the people, and it’s a language that requires a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary and one hell-of-a-lot of patience to understand properly.

All this adds up to a lot of possible loopholes, the biggest one being the Freedom Act’s reliance on the phone companies, which are part of a web of telecommunication companies, Internet providers, tech companies and others on the information superhighway that work hand-in-hand with the federal government. Most importantly, we won’t know how the secretive FISA court will regulate the process. As the Electric Frontier Foundation stated, the journey to bring the national security apparatus under control has just begun.

There’s still much to be done. If the American people start to organize there is still time to make the necessary steps to salvage what’s left of our Constitutional Republic. As long as we’re reforming surveillance laws, we can focus our attention on the next series of sunsets. For example, certain provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act are scheduled to sunset in 2017, including Section 702, one of the main legal authorities the government relies on to engage in mass surveillance of people’s online communications. There’s also Executive Order 12333, which provides carte blanche for NSA’s worldwide dragnet, and the obsession with classification that prevents accountability, transparency and oversight all in the name of “National Security.”


Let’s get real about the justifications behind the so-called PATRIOT Act. The whole issue of government surveillance was mainstreamed by 9/11, which has been used to justify crimes too numerous to articulate. History’s rhyme scheme again knocks loudly in the form of something Adolf Hitler once said, that “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Anti-war activists protesting the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as journalists reporting on the illegal activities of NSA and JSOC have all been denounced as villains, granting authorities the vindication to search the communications records of anyone suspected of being a “terrorist.” Just look at the more than 1.5 million names the government has added to its Terrorist Watch List in the past five years. They even charged Reverend Billy with terrorism in 2013 for singing songs in a bank. The “T” word is being thrown around so loosely that its beginning to lose its meaning, as it no longer signifies a genuine threat, but instead indicates anyone who opposes the status quo however peacefully, including activists, journalists and whistleblowers.

September 11th scared the bejesus out of the entire country and this abomination was pushed as an anti-terrorism measure, but it should be clear by now that it was never about the existential threat of “terrorism,” (a threat that our secret military programs have themselves deliberately created) and it wasn’t that it was written hastily in response the 9/11 event. NeoConservative bureaucrats have clearly had such an assault on civil liberties and the US Constitution prepared in the 1990s and further published their plans in the Project for a New American Century a year prior to 9/11, admitting that the new level of imperial mobilization and resource exploitation they desired to further concentrate wealth and power would be difficult to exact, “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.”  Not long afterward, late one afternoon, the 1100 page Patriot Act was swiftly dropped on Congress who were expected to vote on it the very next day. Its obviously doubtful at best that anyone was able to even read it. But the point is that the bill was prepared in advance and ready to go when the timing was convenient. It was a preexisting conspiracy, just as were the plans to invade Afghanistan, drafted months ahead of 9/11.

But in all the debate surrounding the so-called Patriot Act, the intelligence community has never been able to claim a single fruitful investigation of terrorism that originated with phone data. Instead, analysts have delved into the haystack to corroborate and expand upon information obtained by other means such as interrogating prisoners, coercing people to become informants, and examining seized documents.

If the job of the intelligence network is to prevent terrorism, when has the government actually stopped terrorist acts over the last 14 years, after 9/11 justified the expansion of these surveillance programs? As we stated last week, there is no evidence that this massive domestic surveillance program rolled up a single terrorist plot, but plenty of evidence that it was misused. This is a point so important it needs to be repeated again and again – after all, the slogan, “We Shall Never Forget,” is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.

We shall never forget the report by the Justice Department’s inspector general who stated that the FBI “did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders.”

The phone dragnet has never found a terrorist. The only incident that intelligence agencies say they used it for was finding a guy who sent $8,500 to Somalian militant rebel group al-Shabab, and this dude was trying to fight back against the Kenyan invasion of Somalia, which has nothing to do with the security of America whatsoever.

Contrary to popular belief, several instances of terrorism such as the Boston Marathon bombing were known in advance by the top officials and allowed to happen. Because rather than harming terrorists, the government consistently works to harm us.

On the same day the USA Freedom Act was passed, the Associated Press released a shocking investigative report on FBI surveillance. According to the report, “[t]he FBI is operating a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the country carrying video and, at times, cellphone surveillance technology–all hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government.” For years, reports of suspicious-looking planes flying over neighborhoods fueled fears of government surveillance, including during recent protests in Baltimore after the police-custody death of Freddie Gray. The Associated Press report confirms those fears. And AP investigators have found that the use of these surveillance aircraft is so astonishingly widespread that “In a recent 30-day period, the agency flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states across the country.”

We also now know that NSA’s surveillance is shared with the Drug Enforcement Agency, which uses it to prosecute drug dealers but routinely lies to judges about how the case developed. Looking over the numbers its easy to see that the Patriot Act has almost never been used for terrorism cases but more for drug busts and a crack down of civil groups practicing their right to dissent. In many of these cases the illegal actions of the NSA is causing unjust incrimination of citizens not defying state law. While it might be hard for those on the straight-and-narrow to sympathize here, whenever law enforcement acts unconstitutionally and illegally, it harms us all. And its easy for most of us to say, “Well that’s no problem for me – after all, I’m not a drug dealer and I don’t March Against Monsanto, so this doesn’t affect me at all.” But let’s allow CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou to be the first to pop that bubble when he says, “Wake up America – you’re next.” If the routine military raids on organic farms or methodical murder of unarmed black men in urban areas, or the IRS’s targeting of political adversaries isn’t a warning to this effect, I don’t know what is.


So how does the Freedom Act differ from the Patriot Act?

Not much.

The most significant change is that call records will now remain with the phone companies, at least in theory and on paper. But they are still recording the content of every call, every email, and every communication, and the NSA will probably need only the most minuscule thread to be granted access.

As Juan Cole pointed out this week, “The spy network will likely be only slightly inconvenienced by
the expiration of the misnamed “PATRIOT Act.”

So does it make any difference whatsoever if phone records are held by the telecom companies instead of the government? After all, the corporate monolith has successfully gained control over our government institutions by buying them. Government used to regulate corporate power, and the media used to regulate government power. But now these systems of checks and balances have mutated into the corporate-owned hegemony we see before us. And we would do well to remember that the definition of Fascism is the merging of corporate and government forces.

Warrantless and general searches through people’s papers without probable cause was one of the sparks that set off the first American Revolution. The Fourth Amendment was enacted to ensure that the abuses that occurred under the crown would not continue in our Constitutional Republic. In 2001 the PATRIOT Act abrogated the Fourth Amendment, which used to say:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Section 213 of the unconstitutional Patriot Act allowed “sneak and peak” searches, where law enforcement did not even tell the suspect that his or her premises were being searched. Only half-of-a-percent of searches (0.5%) conducted with these secret warrants actually involved terrorism. Mostly they have been used in the “war on drugs,” which we know is more about keeping the poor impoverished and imprisoned, as well as an attempt by liquor and pharmaceutical companies to eliminate the competition posed by marijuana and other ancient, unregulated medicines.

Our fourth amendment was crafted to make general warrants illegal. Even British courts under the monarchy in the 18th century pushed back against the crown’s assertion of a right to snoop into someone’s papers with no probable cause and no specific warrant. George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both laid claim to a power that even the monarchical King George III never did, and Americans kicked King George III off this continent for being too nosy.

History may not repeat, but it does rhyme. The Patriot Act was all-too reminiscent of the British Sedition Act and eve more recently, the German Enabling Act.

German Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin pointed out that George Bush used Iraq to distract the American public from his failed domestic policies, reminding her audience, “That’s a popular method. Even Hitler did that.”

Hitler came to power legally; that the Nazi party were elected democratically in a time of great national turmoil and crisis; that they were funded and ultimately ushered into power by wealthy industrialists looking for government favors.

History teaches us that it is shockingly easy to separate reasonable and intelligent people from their rights. A legally elected leader and party can easily manipulate national events to whip up fear, crucify scapegoats, gag dissenters, and convince the masses that their liberties must be suspended (temporarily, of course) in the name of restoring order, “for your protection.”

When the shooting started at Lexington Green in 1775, those calling themselves patriots were those who refused to yield their rights to an increasingly oppressive government. According to John Ashcroft’s Patriot Act, the modern “Patriot” is someone who kneels down in fear, and hands over all inherent rights to the government. But John Ashcroft and George W. Bush were and are just another chapter in the continuity of a regime that hijacked this country a long time ago.

After America placed her faith in Barack Obama, she was shocked to find his demeanor a carbon-copy facsimile of previous administrations, making the reign of Obama the biggest disappointment since George Lucas’ Star Wars Prequels. If the Freedom Act is the Patriot Act 2.0, Barack Obama is certainly George W. Bush’s upgrade.

As an individual, Obama has demonstrated disinterest in acknowledging the Fourth Amendment. PBS Frontline recently revealed that NSA didn’t even bother to read Obama into its massive domestic surveillance program until 2010, two years into his first term, and that when they did, he just sat nodding complacent approval. It’s led some to wonder if he has been blackmailed in some way, but the reality is much simpler that that. The truth is that the human being named Barack Obama cannot suspend domestic spying programs, any more than he can institute mandatory GMO labeling or end America’s global war and bring the troops home, because organizations far more powerful who have been at this for far longer than he has brought those things into existence and are not about to relinquish on their investment of domination. Furthermore, if the spy agencies have any dirt on any politician, they can ruin them, which is yet another reason why surveillance is fundamentally corrosive to democracy and a menace that leaves the door to fascism wide open.


Juan Cole emphasized this week that the present conversation taking steps toward restoring liberty in this country would not have occurred without the revelations provided by Edward Snowden that publicized just how out of control the National Security Agency is, disclosing how executive orders are used to authorize absolutely outrageous warrantless snooping into the affairs of millions. Even senators like Ron Wyden of Oregon, who knew what the US government was doing in secret, could not openly blow the whistle because they would be instantly arrested.

Snowden scarified a relatively luxurious life to do what he did, and has since been charged with accusations that become more silly the more you think about them, because its obvious that he has put no one’s safety in danger, except the mafioso criminals at the top of the pyramid. Those criminals scrambled to charge him with “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and giving such material to an unauthorized person. Federal officials relied on a World War I-era Espionage Act from 1917 for the charges; an favorite of the Obama administration that has indicted seven whistleblowers in just a few short years. Compare that with the three Espionage Act indictments in the previous century. Ed would face an absolutely draconian prison sentence if he ever chose to give up his Russian exile, so it’s rather unlikely he’ll ever get to see his family again unless the cancerous tumors infecting the military-industrial complex metastasizing throughout every one of our social institutions is uprooted and restored with something more sane.

Snowden’s dramatic change of heart no-doubt came as a surprise to NSA. Ed’s mother works for the federal court system, and his father and grandfather were officers in the Coast Guard officers. In fact, his grandfather was present at the Pentagon when it was hit on 9/11. And his own military experience illustrates someone who believed the commercials about “Be All You Can Be.” Ed trained in the U.S. Army Special Forces for four months. After he broke both of his legs in training, his exceptional computer skills landed him a security guard job in top CIA technical posts before he ended up working for NSA as a private contractor. His concern for the civil liberties of Americans became a greater concern that his superior’s refused to acknowledge that NSA spying programs were blatantly unconstitutional. And the rest is history, but by now it should become more apparent why the intelligence community considers veterans a grave threat to quote “National Security.” In this case, National Security is code to signify that if the American people found out the truth there would be revolution before tomorrow morning, and it would be led by our best and brightest – the veterans who come home from our illegal war zones with a different perspective than they did as naïve recruits, thirsty for blood from the brainwashing of war culture, the celebration of war in films, the glorification of violence in Call of Duty, Halo and Medal of Honor, and the puerile proclamation of war on anything that makes the society uncomfortable, from the war on cancer to the war on drugs to the war on poverty and beyond. Veterans have seen the truth with their own eyes, but this society rarely wants to hear what they have to say because their story is counter to the narrative of our propagandists at the Public Relations firms who make us feel fuzzy about imperialistic genocide done in the name of Christ and wrapped in the American Flag.

Kirk Wiebe recently remarked that, “We are truly witnessing—and I mean it in the most serious sense—the ascension of the police state. Some people call it ‘fascism.’”

With the passage of the Freedom Act, NSA and FISA might not change their tune, but on the bright side they are slightly more transparent and legally accountable than they were a week ago. Will this moment be marked by history as a turning point or just another accommodation to placate the masses back into thoughtless complacency?

Our rights and liberties are nowhere near what they were prior to 9/11, but it seems as though we’re at least playing with the idea of taking a step in the right direction. Surveillance powers will always be abused to intimidate, harass, and to subvert social movements and their leaders. Rather than discussing the details of how much we would like to curb the government’s all-seeing eyes, we would do well to question the legitimacy of these programs and push back as hard as possible against their dubious and unfounded claims to protect us. But are Americans capable of peering deep enough into the looking-glass to see past the propaganda of those who seek to preserve their power at our expense?

What we have now is momentum, which is difficult to acquire. Now that we have it, we must keep it going, and push it in the right direction. Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war. Organized, politically-savvy, articulate, and educated activists strike fear into the black heart of the oligarchy. Let us keep this going.

simpsons-nsa1-1024x576Gabrielle Lafayette is a journalist, writer, and executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show.
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Surveillance Doesn’t Keep You Safe


The Patriot act is on course to expire Monday, June 1st. Thus opening the floodgates to a torrent of activity, from the creation and failure of the USA Freedom Act, as well as a ten-and-a-half hour filibuster by Senator Rand Paul in addition to hundreds of columns and speeches. Then on Friday, May 29th more than 10,000 websites prevented congressional offices from accessing them to protest the Patriot Act.

The Patriot Act’s expiration would be the sunset on that infamous Section 215 which has technically enabled the U.S. government to weasel their way into a secret interpretation of the wording of that clause to legally spy on all Americans. Unless Washington renews it before its scheduled expiration on Monday, government officials attempting to whitewash state-sponsored crimes won’t be able to hide behind the wording of that legal-loophole anymore.

Meanwhile federal law enforcement officials continue to persuade through fear mongering, warning that the expiration of the Patriot Act would significantly diminish their ability to fight this existential threat they commonly refer to as “terrorism.” Attorneys with the ACLU assert that FBI already has all the tools it needs, accusing intelligence officials and some in Congress of “scaremongering” in order to incite prospective need for the Patriot Act.

In a recent Reddit Q/A, Edward Snowden pointed out the fallacy of the argument that we need NSA to keep us safe. Supporters of mass surveillance insist that it’s the only thing to keep us safe, repeating that mantra over and over to anyone who will listen. But that’s an allegation, not a fact, and it turns out there’s actually no evidence at all to support that claim. In fact, a White House review with unrestricted access to classified information found that not only is mass surveillance illegal, it has never made a concrete difference in even one terrorism investigation.

If mass surveillance really kept anybody safe, the intelligence community would have prevented 9_11 instead of enabling it; they would have prevented the Boston Marathon Bombing; they would have prevented the Charlie Hebdo incident; they would have prevented the Naval Yard shooting – and the list goes on an on. The truth is actually just the opposite – impending danger is cited to justify the perpetual growth of the Empire, as well as the on-going evisceration of our civil liberties.

Privacy cannot be reconciled with Security, but that again is probably the wrong conversation to have because we’re not talking about privacy, a word that often stirs up feelings of resentment by its potentially pompous nature that hints toward naivety. The point is, what we used to refer to as Liberty we now substitute with the word privacy, thus altering the perimeters of the entire debate. Because Franklin hit the nail on the head when he said:

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

 If you really think deeply about it, there is no such thing as security. More people die of peanut allergies than from terrorism. And if the state was really in the business of keeping people safe, why are so many Americans shot to death by law enforcement for no reason? If the state was really in the business of “keeping you safe,” wouldn’t they do something about the million Americans who die annually from cigarette smoking and heart disease?They tell us we need them to keep us safe in the language of a strong patriarch all the while playing on programmed insecurities and a sense of learned helplessness that they themselves has instilled. And they repeat those words so many times that we begin to believe them, and trade our sovereignty for the promise of a guarantee. Their rhetoric is that of a heroic-father figure, reluctantly searching through his daughter’s dresser for signs of drug abuse, when they’re more like the 13-year-old spying on his sister in the shower and stalking her on dates in vein efforts to get her in trouble with her parents.

From The “Patriot” Act To The “Freedom” Act

So privacy advocates celebrated the House’s overwhelming passage of the USA Freedom Act, otherwise known as the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-Collection, and Online Monitoring Act, expressed as the necessary reform to end the bulk data collection of US citizens. The bill would have ended bulk data collection, prevented government overreach by limiting how data is collected, changed national security letter gag orders, and reformed the FISA court – that is the top-secret court modeled under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Critics of the Freedom Act asserted that it would merely adjust and codify the government’s practice of bulk telephone data collection instead of actually putting an end to it. The slew of other spying authorities utilized by NSA were not addressed in the bill. Congressmen Ted Lieu explained that the nation might be better served by simply allowing the Patriot Act to flounder, rather than dividing focus on creating additional legislation.

So after passing through the House, the Freedom Act died in the Senate. Now the Senate is scheduled to reconvene on Sunday, May 31, at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, mere hours before Section 215’s’ expiration. In spite of the House of Representatives rejection of short-term reauthorization of the Patriot Act, it appears that McConnell is going to bully his way into a last-minute extension of the program. In any event, if Section 215 of the Patriot Act dies at midnight on June 1st, it’s dead for good, along with two other key provisions.

Presidential hopeful Rand Paul made quite a bit of noise this week with his marathon filibuster on the Senate floor Wednesday night that lasted nearly 10-and-a-half hours. “There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer,” Paul warned. “That time is now.”

But aside from the potential of scoring political points for presidential hopefuls ahead of the 2016 election, its hard to say whether this debate will inspire the Government to follow the law as written. Now, pro-NSA bureaucrats are always quick to point out that the NSA is not violating any laws with its surveillance practices. However, US District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that NSA surveillance practices were “likely unconstitutional” even going so far as to refer to them as “almost Orwellian.” The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight board have also confirmed that NSA practices are illegal.

It leads one to wonder then, if the Freedom Act had make it through the Senate, would we witness any substantive changes? Even if the bill was capable of actually altering the law, when was the last time we read about NSA concerning itself with following the laws of this land? The NSA has been violating written laws for decades and has defended such violations at all costs. After all, disregarding constitutional rights is exactly how the NSA got to this point.

Legal compliance is not in the DNA of NSA any more that telling the truth is. We’re told that they’re not collecting the content of our Emails and phone calls, that they’re only collecting the metadata, which is a blatant lie. As former NSA official William Binney points out, they wouldn’t have been able to retroactively seek out the alleged culprits of the Boston Marathon bombing if they were only collecting metadata. Furthermore the collection of content is the primary reason for the new massive NSA data center in the Utah desert, which would not be necessary if they were only collecting metadata. And if preventing violence was really their M.O., their budgets would not have been able to swell the way they have.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be fooled by the circus of political posturing currently underway. As we can see looking back over the decades, NSA surveillance is likely to prevail one way or another.

Besides, the only reason NSA reform is even being considered is because Snowden leaked classified documents that exposed NSA spying programs in detail. However, that does not mean we should sit idly by and let Congress reinstate the Patriot Act; it wouldn’t be in our best interest to give the political pony-show the impression that people are not paying attention. We have the truth at our fingertips and the will to investigate the true legality of our government spying on its own citizenry.

Snowden rocked the political world and remains in the limelight as journalists continue publishing information sourced from a treasure trove of top-secret documents he took from NSA. But this whistle was blown repeatedly before anybody became aware of Snowden’s name. It’s just that other whistle-blowers who could not produce such explicit hard evidence have been ignored. Daniel Ellsburg, J. Kirk Wiebe, Ed Loomis, William Binney and Thomas Drake are just some of the more well-known NSA personnel who went public before Snowden did. And because these men were heavily persecuted and ignored despite going through the so-called “legal” channels of exposing criminal activity and government overreach, Snowden realized that if he was going to expose his revelations by a similar route, he would have ended up as a political prisoner like Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond.

Addressing an audience at Stanford University via video chat on Friday, 15 May 2015, Edward Snowden admitted that:

“If I had taken [the NSA] documents to congress, I would’ve gone to jail.”

But here is the problem with the whole Snowden conversation – it isn’t about Snowden. Every minute we spend discussing whether he’s a hero or a villain we’re massively missing the point.

Of all of the hubbub surrounding this subject, perhaps the most tragic is the character assassination of whistle-blowers. As John Oliver recently illustrated, many Americans have no idea who Edward Snowden is, and of those who do, many of them have completely inaccurate information. But the debate is not about Snowden, first of all because it’s about what he revealed, but also because he is not the only whistle-blower to shed light on what the NSA are doing. But these other whistle-blowers are now getting much deserved attention because of Snowden, so its nearly impossible to have a conversation about this subject without bringing his name into the fold. As long as we’re actually discussing the issues and not the man, it probably doesn’t matter because the importance of this discussion cannot be understated. As Ed brilliantly articulated this month, “The Internet goes into our homes and also into the confines of our mind. That’s where we confide in friends, that’s where we express ourselves, that’s where we develop our thoughts. It’s where we decide what we believe in and who we want to be.”

They say that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. But dragnet surveillance isn’t insidious because it might keep harmful activity at bay. It’s insidious because it changes everybody’s behavior, it stifles inquiry, it limits discussions, it gives rise to the concept of thought-crime, and it prevents sources from reaching out to journalists for fear of the possibility of adverse consequences. And because mass surveillance of one form or another has always been employed by every totalitarian regime in history, its one of the early warning signs of fascism.

nsa_surveillance_1Gabrielle Lafayette is a journalist, writer, and executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show.
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