The most rudimentary research on the U.S. government's illegal mass surveillance of Americans will reveal that this unconstitutional practice has been ongoing since at least J. Edgar Hoover's days. History openly details the chilling effect his secret file-keeping had on the politicians of that time, not to mention the control he exerted as a result. Don't believe for a minute that such activities stopped when he passed. In fact, collection of sensitive, private information on all Americans - including politicians, bureaucrats, military personnel, and public-sector employees across the spectrum of government - has ballooned beyond even his comprehension.
Last issue's Reader cover story "The War on Whistleblowers" provided a small list of whistleblowers who have made enormous contributions to our open society. Missing from that list were Gregory Hicks, Christopher Pyle, and James Bamford.
Gregory Hicks was the exemplary deputy chief of missions at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, when Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three American Marines were murdered. He testified that the Africom military-response team under General Carter Ham was told to stand down, allowing four Americans to needlessly die. He has suffered reprisals and demotion for telling the truth to Congress. Meanwhile, National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who recently admitted lying to Congress when he previously denied that his agency was spying on Americans, has experienced zero consequences for his crime.
Christopher Pyle was the U.S. Army Captain who, in the 1970s, exposed the military's spying campaign, COINTELPRO - a program to infiltrate and report on the legal activities of groups and individuals protesting the Vietnam War.
Thanks to Pyle's whistle-blowing, Congress convened the Church Committee, resulting in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to require warrants for and oversee any surveillance of American citizens.
Pyle now teaches constitutional law and regularly speaks out about the dangers inherent in the government's massive and growing domestic-spying capabilities - including that 70 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget goes to civilian corporations, making mass surveillance big business and a huge profit center while simultaneously adding systemic risk to national security because approximately 5 million people currently have access to some level of classified material (RCReader.com/y/pyle).
It is important to note that the FISC is not without its weaknesses as an oversight body, primarily due to its absurd secrecy, including secret laws and interpretations that claim to justify overriding the U.S. Constitution. Add to this secretive oversight court the ever-expanding, self-empowering executive orders, accumulating legislation that is purposely vague and ripe for abuse (the USA PATRIOT Act, the NDAA of 2012), and a stunningly apathetic populace that pays precious little attention to such matters that directly impact the constitutional protections of our unalienable rights, and voilà! You now have an effective formula for overriding the bedrock protections in favor of administrative rules that claim authority to dispense with pesky constitutional restraints.
The corporate media cartel is clearly tasked with influencing Americans in the direction of acceptance of government's mass surveillance as the new normal and perfectly acceptable. Americans happily accept the trite reassurances given by our leaders that even though it is collecting vast amounts of metadata, it isn't listening, or reading, or watching, or inhaling.
Any semi-critical thinker, after listening to testimony during the recent congressional hearings with the NSA and FBI leadership, can discern that the committee members are compromised because the questioning is obviously predetermined to steer all answers away from discussion of anything other than the exact programs that purportedly collect only metadata, such as PRISM. NSA Director Keith Alexander can honestly say that PRISM does not listen in, as long as congressmen never ask, "Are there other government surveillance programs in operation that do listen in?"
James Bamford, a former Navy intelligence officer, later pursued a career in journalism and has written extensively on the NSA. Technically, he is not the stereotypical whistleblower, but his exposés have caused the Department of Justice to seek his prosecution by claiming he possessed classified documents. The DOJ failed in this prosecutorial attempt because the documents had been de-classified during the Carter Administration and by law could not be re-classified. Since then, new rules for re-classification of de-classified documents have been created through a series of executive orders (12958, 13142, 13233, 13292, and 13489) - the most draconian under Bush and Obama. (Recall that in the Thomas Drake case, prosecutors had documents re-classified in an attempt to frame Drake.)
In his recent book The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America, Bamford reveals government programs beyond PRISM (identified by latest whistleblower Edward Snowden) that do nothing but spy on Americans. These include Operation Chaos (spying on anti-war groups during the Vietnam War) and Black Chamber (an unholy alliance between the NSA and the telecommunications industry) from the 1970s. And then there's the struggle between Thinthread - William Binney's filtering software program that could detect potential terrorist threats from correlations found in massive amounts of encrypted data, then discard all extraneous data to protect Americans' privacy - and Trailblazer, the $1-billion surveillance boondoggle exposed by Thomas Drake that was meant to replace Thinthread because it kept all the extraneous data, violating myriad civil rights. Bamford writes about Black Widow (a collection of supercomputers currently collecting data that could fill 37,000 new Libraries of Congress) and Echelon, the interception of communications by Americans over satellite transmissions, including e-mail, cell phones, the Internet, and telephones.
Bamford writes that this type of information is often shared with "Five Eyes," a group that includes the intelligence agencies in the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Total Information Awareness sweeps in everything with a digital trail, including retail purchases, banking, health care, and travel. Operation Highlander employs tens of thousands of linguists to listen to and translate foreign conversations that are suspected to be connected to al-Qaeda. Unfortunately, this program, according to Bamford, was eventually expanded to include journalists and non-governmental and humanitarian organizations. And then there are data-mining programs such as PatternTracer, Agility, Fastscope, Hightide, Intelink, CREST, and Surrey, to name just a few in Bamford's long list.
The real danger lies in the secrecy of all this governmental spying activity, and the agendas behind American targets we know nothing about. The potential for abuse is staggering. The excuse that shallow Americans use to do nothing - "I have nothing to hide" - should be responded to with "not yet." The number of rules, regulations, and statutes that turn everyday activities into civil or criminal infractions, punishable by fines and/or confinement, is growing exponentially.
For instance, what if you are involved in grassroots efforts to improve the healthfulness of your drinking water? During a May 29 town-hall meeting in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee, residents protested the poor quality of their water, only to be met with the threat from a Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation deputy director that if their complaints were deemed unfounded by federal authority, they could be charged as terrorists (RCReader.com/y/complaints).
In another egregious Supreme Court ruling in Salinas V. Texas on July 17, the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination was discarded, allowing that the defendant had no right to remain silent. The court allowed the defendant's silence to stand as proof of his guilt (RCReader.com/y/salinas). This is absolutely antithetical to the core principles of the rule of law that defines America's republic.
As one can see from the sources above, the secret and unlawful surveillance programs being perpetuated upon Americans go well beyond those recently leaked and reported in the mainstream headlines. Add in the expanded prosecutions of whistleblowers and undisclosed interpretations of secret laws and the flagrant and indiscriminate classification and re-classification of massive amounts of government documents, and one must admit that George Orwell was only too prescient with his novel 1984. A free society is rapidly evaporating right before all of our eyes. And for those who dismiss these statements as a symptom of "the sky is falling" syndrome, one has to only acknowledge the horrific history of societies that stood silent while their overlords turned the screws of tyranny.
And it is not only the populace that these tyrants turn on. The government employees who help carry out such violations, as well as those well-meaning whistleblowers trying to do the right thing, inevitably end up being expendable, too. Consider Obama's new "Insider Threat" program that, according to McClatchy reporters Marisa Taylor and Jonathan S. Landay, "could make it easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations of loyal Americans" (RCReader.com/y/threats).
It is time more Americans recognize and actively oppose the pattern of the growing violations of the Bill of Rights, including threats to our Fourth Amendment guarantee of due process and our First Amendment protections of free speech, free press, and free association/assembly. If you think you are somehow immune to the abuses of a government run amok, you are wrong.