Surveillance State Evils

Glenn Greenwald GGreenwald@xxxxxxxxx
Saturday, Apr 21, 2012 12:03 PM UTC

Surveillance State evils

"Th[e National Security Agency's capability at any time could be turned
around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy
left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone
conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to
hide. [If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A. could enable it to
impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back."

That dramatic warning comes not from an individual who is typically held
up as a symbol of anti-government paranoia. Rather, it was issued
by one of the most admired and influential politicians among American
liberals in the last several decades: Frank Church of Idaho, the 4-term
U.S. Senator who served from 1957 to 1981. He was, among other things, one
of the Senate's earliest opponents of the Vietnam War, a former Chairman
of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Chairman of the
Committee (bearing his name) that in the mid-1970s investigated the
widespread surveillance abuses committed under every President since FDR
(that was the investigation that led to the enactment of FISA, the
criminal law prohibiting the Executive Branch from intercepting the
communications of American citizens without first obtaining a warrant from
a court: the law which the Bush administration got caught violating and
which, in response, was gutted by the Democratic-led Congress in 2008,
with the support of then-Senator Obama; the abuses uncovered by the Church
Committee also led to the enactment of further criminal prohibitions on
the cooperation by America's telecoms in any such illegal government
spying, prohibitions that were waived away when the same 2008 Congress
retroactively immunized America's telecom giants from having done so).

At the time of the Church Committee, it was the FBI that conducted most
domestic surveillance. Since its inception, the NSA was strictly barred
from spying on American citizens or on American soil. That prohibition was
centrally ingrained in the mindset of the agency. Church issued that
above-quoted warning out of fear that, one day, the NSA's massive,
unparalleled surveillance capabilities would be directed inward, at the
American people. Until the Church Committee's investigation, most
Americans, including its highest elected officials, knew almost nothing
about the NSA (it was referred to as No Such Agency by its employees). As
James Bamford wrote about Church's reaction to his own findings about the
NSA's capabilities, "he came away stunned.â?? At the time, Church also said:
"I don't want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the
capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see
to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology
operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never
cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.â??

Of course, that bridge has long ago been crossed, without even much
discussion, let alone controversy. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11,
George Bush ordered the NSA to spy on the communications of Americans on
American soil, and they've been doing it ever since, with increasing
aggression and fewer and fewer constraints. That development is but one
arm in the creation of an American Surveillance State that is, literally,
ubiquitous -- one that makes it close to impossible for American citizens
to communicate or act without detection from the U.S. Government -- a state
of affairs Americans have long been taught since childhood is a hallmark
of tyranny. Such are the times -- in both America generally and the
Democratic Party in particular -- that those who now echo the warnings
issued 35 years ago by Sen. Church (when surveillance was much more
restrained, legally and technologically) are scorned by all Serious People
as radical hysterics.

Yesterday, Democracy Now had an extraordinary program devoted to America's
Surveillance State. The show had three guests, each of whose treatment by
the U.S. Government reflects how invasive, dangerous and out-of-control
America's Surveillance State has become:

William Binney: he worked at the NSA for almost 40 years, and resigned
in October, 2001, in protest of the NSA's turn to domestic spying.
Binney immediately went to the House Intelligence Committee to warn them
of the illegal spying the NSA was doing, and that resulted in nothing.
In July, 2007 -- while then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was
testifying before the Senate about Bush's warrantless NSA spying program
-- Binney's home was invaded by a dozen FBI agents, who pointed guns at
him, in an obvious effort to intimidate him out of telling the Senate
the falsehoods and omissions in Gonzales' testimony about NSA domestic
spying (another NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake, had his home searched
several months later, and was subsequently prosecuted by the Obama DOJ --
unsuccessfully -- for his whistleblowing).

Jacob Appelbaum: an Internet security expert and hacker, he is currently
at the University of Washington and engaged in some of the world's most
important work in the fight for Internet freedom. He's a key member of
the Tor Project, which is devoted to enabling people around the
world to use the Internet with complete anonymity: so as to thwart
government surveillance and to prevent nation-based Internet censorship.
In 2010, he was also identified as a spokesman for WikiLeaks. Rolling
Stone dubbed him "The Most Dangerous Man in Cyberspace,â?? writing:
"In a sense, he's a bizarro version of Mark Zuckerberg: If Facebook's
ambition is to â??make the world more open and connected,' Appelbaum has
dedicated his life to fighting for anonymity and privacy. . . . 'I don't
want to live in a world where everyone is watched all the time,' he
says. â??I want to be left alone as much as possible. I don't want a data
trail to tell a story that isn't true'.â??

For the last two years, Appelbaum has been repeatedly detained
and harassed at American airports upon his return to the
country, including having his laptops and cellphone seized -- all without
a search warrant, of course -- and never returned. The U.S. Government
has issued secret orders to Internet providers demanding they
provide information about his email communications and social
networking activities. He's never been charged with, let alone convicted
of, any crime.

Laura Poitras: she is the filmmaker about whom I wrote two weeks
ago. After producing an Oscar-nominated film on the American occupation
of Iraq, followed by a documentary about U.S. treatment of Islamic
radicals in Yemen, she has been detained, searched, and interrogated
every time she has returned to the U.S. She, too, has had her laptop and
cell phone seized without a search warrant, and her reporters' notes
repeatedly copied. This harassment has intensified as she works on her
latest film about America's Surveillance State and the war on
whistleblowers, which includes -- among other things -- interviews with
NSA whistleblowers such as Binney and Drake.

So just look at what happens to people in the U.S. if they challenge
government actions in any meaningful way -- if they engage in any
meaningful dissent. We love to tell ourselves that there are robust
political freedoms and a thriving free political press in the U.S. because
you're allowed to have an MSNBC show or blog in order to proclaim every
day how awesome and magnanimous the President of the United States is and
how terrible his GOP political adversaries are -- how brave, cutting
and edgy! -- or to go on Fox News and do the opposite. But people who are
engaged in actual dissent, outside the tiny and narrow permissible
boundaries of pom-pom waving for one of the two political parties -- those
who are focused on the truly significant acts which the government and its
owners are doing in secret -- are subjected to this type of intimidation,
threats, surveillance, and climate of fear, all without a whiff of illegal
conduct (as even The New York Timesâ?? most celebrated investigative
reporter, James Risen, will tell you).

Whether a country is actually free is determined not by how well-rewarded
its convention-affirming media elites are and how ignored its passive
citizens are but by how it treats its dissidents, those posing authentic
challenges to what the government does. The stories of the three Democracy
Now guests -- and so many others -- provide that answer loudly and clearly.

Beyond the stories of these guests, I want to highlight two particularly
significant exchanges from yesterday's show (and I really urge you to find
the time this weekend to watch the whole thing; it's embedded below or,
alternatively, can be viewed here). First is this:

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the differences in the [Bush and Obama]

WILLIAM BINNEY: Actually, I think the surveillance has increased. In
fact, I would suggest that they've assembled on the order of 20 trillion
transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: How many?

WILLIAM BINNEY: Twenty trillion.

AMY GOODMAN: And you're saying that this surveillance has increased? Not
only the--


AMY GOODMAN: --targeting of whistleblowers, like your colleagues, like
people like Tom Drake, who are actually indicted under the Obama


AMY GOODMAN: --more times--the number of people who have been indicted are
more than all presidents combined in the past.

WILLIAM BINNEY: Right. And I think it's to silence what's going on. But
the point is, the data that's being assembled is about everybody. And
from that data, then they can target anyone they want . . . That, by the
way, estimate only was involving phone calls and emails. It didn't
involve any queries on the net or any assembles--other--any financial
transactions or credit card stuff, if they're assembling that. I do not
know that, OK.

That sounds like a number so large as to be fantastical, but it's entirely
consistent with what The Washington Post, in its 2010 "Top Secret
Americaâ?? series, reported: "Every day, collection systems at the National
Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and
other types of communications.â?? Read that sentence again and I defy anyone
to deny that the U.S. has become the type of full-fledged, limitless
Surveillance State about which Sen. Church warned.

Note, too, how this weapon has been not just maintained, but -- as Binney
said -- aggressively expanded under President Obama. Obama's unprecedented
war on whistleblowing has been, in large part, designed to shield from the
American public any knowledge of just how invasive this Surveillance State
has become. Two Obama-loyal Democratic Senators -- Ron Wyden of Oregon and
Mark Udall of Colorado -- have spent two full years warning that the
Obama administration is "interpretingâ?? its spying powers under the Patriot
Act in ways so "twistedâ?? and broad that it would shock the American public
if it learned of what was being done, and have even been accusing the
DOJ and Attorney General Holder of actively misleading the public in
material ways about its spying powers (unlike brave whistleblowers who
have risked their own interests to bring corruption and illegality to the
public's attention -- Binney, Drake, Bradley Manning, etc -- Wyden and Udall
have failed to tell the public about this illegal spying (even though they
could do so on the Senate floor and be immune from prosecution) because
they apparently fear losing their precious seat on the Intelligence
Committee, but what's the point of having a seat on the Intelligence
Committee if you render yourself completely impotent even when you learn
of systematic surveillance lawbreaking?).

None of this should be surprising: Obama -- in direct violation of his
primary campaign pledge -- infamously voted for the FISA Amendments Act of
2008 that not only immunized lawbreaking telecoms, but also legalized much
of the NSA domestic spying program Bush had ordered in the aftermath of
9/11. At the time, he and his acolytes insisted that Obama was doing
so only so that he could win the election and then use his power to fix
these spying abuses, yet another Obama-glorifying claim that has turned
out to be laughable in its unreliability. The Obama administration also
advocated for full-scale renewal of the Patriot Act last year, and it was
Harry Reid who attacked Rand Paul for urging reforms to that law by
accusing him of helping the Terrorists with his interference.

But whereas massive Surveillance State abuses were once a feigned concern
of progressives, they now no longer are. Just last week, The New York
Times began an editorial about the proposed massive expansion of
Internet spying powers in Britain with this sentence: "The George W. Bush
team must be consumed with envyâ?? -- because, of course, Barack Obama has no
interest in such things.

Similarly, Hilary Bok is a Philosophy Professor at Johns Hopkins who
blogged about civil liberties and executive power abuses during the Bush
years under the name "Hilzoy.â?? I have a lot of respect for her; she gave
valuable insight into the draft of my first book on Bush's surveillance
abuses. But barely five months into the Obama presidency,
she announced that she would no longer blog because she started
blogging to combat the "insanityâ?? that prevailed in the U.S. but now, in
the wake of Obama's election, "it seems to me that the madness is overâ?? --
even as the out-of-control Surveillance State she spent so much time
protesting continues to explode. Along the same lines, let me know if
MSNBC ever mentions, let alone denounces, any of these trends or stories
of oppression of the type experienced by Binney, Appelbaum and Poitras.
That is one major reason why it continues unabated: because the political
faction with a history of opposing these abuses -- American liberalism,
which spearheaded the Church Committee reforms -- has largely decided that
the Democratic President whom they elected can be trusted with these vast
and unaccountable powers or, worse, they just pretend that this isn't

Then there's this: Appelbaum describing the various government efforts to
intrude into his private discussions and Internet activities, all without
a warrant:

JACOB APPELBAUM: But in the period of time since they've started
detaining me [at airports], around a dozen-plus times. I've been
detained a number of times. The first time I was actually detained by
the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, I was put into a special room,
where they frisked me, put me up against the wall. One guy cupped me in
a particularly uncomfortable way. Another one held my wrists. They took
my cell phones. I'm not really actually able to talk about what happened
to those next.


JACOB APPELBAUM: Because we don't live in a free country. And if I did,
I guess I could tell you about it, right?And they took my laptop, but
they gave it back. They were a little surprised it didn't have a hard
drive. I guess that threw them for a loop. And, you know, then they
interrogated me, denied me access to a lawyer. And when they did the
interrogation, they has a member of the U.S. Army, on American soil. And
they refused to let me go. They tried--you know, they tried their usual
scare tactics. So they sort of implied that if I didn't make a deal with
them, that I'd be sexually assaulted in prison, you know, which is the
thing that they do these days as a method of punitive punishment, and
they of course suggested that would happen.

AMY GOODMAN: How did they imply this?

JACOB APPELBAUM: Well, you know, they say, "You know, computer hackers
like to think they're all tough. But really, when it comes down to it,
you don't look like you're going to do so good in prison.â?? You know,
that kind of stuff.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what was the main thrust of the questions they were
asking you?

JACOB APPELBAUM:Well, they wanted to know about my political views. They
wanted to know about my work in any capacity as a journalist, actually,
the notion that I could be in some way associated with Julian. They
wanted, basically, to know any--

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange.

JACOB APPELBAUM: Julian Assange, the one and only. And they wanted--they
wanted, essentially, to ask me questions about the Iraq war, the Afghan
war, what I thought politically. They didn't ask me anything about
terrorism. They didn't ask me anything about smuggling or drugs or any
of the customs things that you would expect customs to be doing. They
didn't ask me if I had anything to declare about taxes, for example, or
about importing things. They did it purely for political reasons and to
intimidate me, denied me a lawyer. They gave me water, but refused me a
bathroom, to give you an idea about what they were doing.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to your Twitter account?

JACOB APPELBAUM: Well, the U.S. government, as I learned while I was in
Iceland, actually, sent what's called an administrative subpoena, or a
2703(d) order. And this is, essentially, less than a search warrant, and
it asserts that you can get just the metadata and that the third party
really doesn't have a standing to challenge it, although in our case we
were very lucky, in that we got to have--Twitter actually did challenge
it, which was really wonderful. And we have been fighting this in court.

And without going into too much detail about the current court
proceedings, we lost a stay recently, which says that Twitter has to
give the data to the government. Twitter did, as I understand it,
produce that data, I was told. And that metadata actually paints--you
know, metadata and aggregate is content, and it paints a picture. So
that's all the IP addresses I logged in from. It's all of the, you know,
communications that are about my communications, which is Bill's
specialty, and he can, I'm sure, talk about how dangerous that metadata

What Appelbaum is referring to is the fact that the Patriot Act has
decreed then when the U.S. Government demands information about an
individual -- all without a search warrant -- the party who receives the
demand is criminally prohibited from discussing that demand. That's why
Appelbaum can be targeted with such intimidating, constant and chilling
invasions without any allegation of wrongdoing: because the powers of the
Surveillance State are exercised almost entirely in the dark. That's what
makes it so significant that two Democratic Senators have been warning for
two years now that these powers are being exercised far beyond what the
statute permits, far beyond what the public can even imagine, and that the
Obama DOJ is lying about it.

The domestic NSA-led Surveillance State which Frank Church so stridently
warned about has obviously come to fruition. The way to avoid its grip is
simply to acquiesce to the nation's most powerful factions, to obediently
remain within the permitted boundaries of political discourse and
activism. Accepting that bargain enables one to maintain the delusion of
freedom -- "he who does not move does not notice his chains,â?? observed Rosa
Luxemburg -- but the true measure of political liberty is whether one is
free to make a different choice.


Glenn Greenwald (email: GGreenwald@xxxxxxxxx) is a former
Constitutional and civil rights litigator and is the author of two New
York Times Bestselling books on the Bush administration's executive power
and foreign policy abuses. His just-released book, With Liberty and
Justice for Some, is an indictment of America's two-tiered

system of justice, which vests political and financial elites with
immunity even for egregious crimes while subjecting ordinary Americans to
the world's largest and most merciless penal state. Greenwald was named by
The Atlantic as one of the 25 most influential political commentators in
the nation. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for
Independent Journalism, and is the winner of the 2010 Online Journalism
Association Award for his investigative work on the arrest and oppressive
detention of Bradley Manning.

Copyright © 2011 Salon Media Group, Inc. Reproduction of material from any
Salon pages without written permission is strictly prohibited.

SALON ® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as a
trademark of Salon Media Group Inc.

Associated Press articles: Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All
rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed.