Politically, the difficulty for Mr Obama is that even if the NSA is actually doing nothing different than it did for George W Bush, the American public – particularly on the liberal left – had believed that Mr Obama’s administration represented a fundamental departure from the excesses of the Bush years…
“I don’t think Congress thought it was authorizing dragnet surveillance” when it passed the Patriot Act, Ms Cohn said, “I don’t think Americans think that’s OK. I would be shocked if the majority of Congressmen thought it’s okay.” Over the next few days and weeks, expect a fierce and polarizing debate over just what Americans do feel is acceptable, in the name of their national security.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NEVADA): “Right now I think everyone should just calm down and understand that this isn’t anything that is brand new, it’s been going on for some seven years, and we have tried to often to try to make it better and work and we will continue to do that.”
“It is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress,” Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told reporters at an impromptu news conference in the Capitol. “This is just meta data. There is no content involved. In other words, no content of a communication. … The records can only be accessed under heightened standards.”
“I read intelligence carefully. And I know that people are trying to get to us,” Feinstein said. “This is the reason we keep TSA doing what it’s doing. This the reason the FBI now has 10,000 people doing intelligence on counter-terrorism. This is the reason for the national counter-terrorism center that’s been set up in the time we’ve been active.”
“And it’s to ferret this out before it happens,” she said. “It’s called protecting America.”
“As for Gore’s complaint, blanket surveillance,” Powers continued, referring to Al Gore’s earlier tweet that the NSA’s “blanket surveillance” was “obscenely outrageous,” “what other kind of surveillance do you expect them to do? They don’t necessarily know who the terrorists are. That’s why they do the data mining—to go through, to find patterns. These are machines that are doing the data mining. It’s kind of overstating what the situation is, versus people actually spying specifically on your phone calls.”
Even Charles Krauthammer did not take Wallace’s bait to call Obama a 1984-type leader.
“I’m not surprised when [Obama] becomes Commander in Chief and they tell him about the threats out there and his hair stands on end, and he says, ‘Well, perhaps Bush was on the right track here,’” Krauthammer said. “It’s good for the country that a conservative does it and then a liberal and the people understand: this is required.”
President Obama co-sponsored legislation when he was a member of the Senate that would have banned the mass collection of phone records that his administration is now engaged in.
The SAFE Act, introduced by former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), would have amended the Patriot Act to require that the government have “specific and articulable facts” to show that a person is an “agent of a foreign power” before seizing their phone records…
“The bill very much limit[ed] the scope of these secret orders to people who are believed to be bad guys instead of innocent citizens,” said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at The George Washington University. “It was great that Obama sponsored it at the time, and too bad he has abandoned that principle.”
I’m trying to imagine what conceivable of facts would render all telephony metadata generated in the United States “relevant” to an investigation, presumably of the bombing. This would include, of course, all telephony metadata that, as matters turned out, postdates the killing of one bomber and the capture of the other—though there’s no way the government could have known that when the application was submitted. And it would also include all telephony metadata that postdates the government’s conclusion that the Tsarnaev brothers were apparently not agents of any foreign terrorist group. But even if this were not the case, how is it possible that all calls to, say, Dominos Pizza in Peoria, Illinois or all calls over a three month period between two small businesses in Juneau, Alaska would be “relevant” to an investigation of events in Boston—even if we assume that the FBI did not know whom it was investigating in the Boston area and did not know whom that unknown person was communicating with?
Sen. Rand Paul today announced he will introduce the Fourth Amendment Restoration Act of 2013, which ensures the Constitutional protections of the Fourth Amendment are not violated by any government entity.
“The revelation that the NSA has secretly seized the call records of millions of Americans, without probable cause, represents an outrageous abuse of power and a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. I have long argued that Congress must do more to restrict the Executive’s expansive law enforcement powers to seize private records of law-abiding Americans that are held by a third-party,” Sen. Paul said. “When the Senate rushed through a last-minute extension of the FISA Amendments Act late last year, I insisted on a vote on my amendment (SA 3436) to require stronger protections on business records and prohibiting the kind of data-mining this case has revealed. Just last month, I introduced S.1037, the Fourth Amendment Preservation and Protection Act, which would provide exactly the kind of protections that, if enacted, could have prevented these abuses and stopped these increasingly frequent violations of every American’s constitutional rights.
“The bill restores our Constitutional rights and declares that the Fourth Amendment shall not be construed to allow any agency of the United States government to search the phone records of Americans without a warrant based on probable cause.”
[Y]ou get what you vote for – and both Republicans and Democrats keep on voting for authoritarians. There’s a frustrating hypocrisy that many conservatives applauded the accrual of state power under Bush for the sake of fighting the War on Terror only to scream blue murder about it now that it’s happening under Obama. Likewise, many liberals resented the domestic espionage programme of Bush but have been less vocal about opposing it under Obama. The journalist Martin Bashir has gone to far as to claim that the IRS scandal is a coded attack upon the President’s race, that “IRS” is the new “n word”. Sometimes it feels like Obama could be discovered standing over the body of Sarah Palin with a smoking gun in his hand and liberals would scream “racist!” if anyone called him a murderer. Their capacity for self-delusion knows no bounds.
Finally, totaling every scandal up – IRS, AP phone records, Fox journalists being targeted, the Benghazi mess – this has to be the most furtively authoritarian White House since Nixon’s. We don’t yet have a “smoking email” from Obama ordering all of this, but it can’t be said often enough that there is a correlation between Obama’s “progressive” domestic agenda and the misbehavior of the other agencies governed by his administration – forcing people to buy healthcare even when they can’t afford it, bailing out the banks, war in Libya and the use of drone strikes to kill US citizens. This is exactly what the Tea Party was founded to expose and oppose. All the laughter once directed at the “paranoid” Right now rings hollow.
The political impact of this expose is amplified by the broader context of scandal. Taken alone, Obama defenders could probably lean on “Bush started it,” and fight through this, the president’s hypocrisy and broken promises notwithstanding. The real problem for the White House is how the public will receive this story after being battered with negative headlines about the administration’s behavior on other fronts for a full month. It builds. Public confidence in the administration’s credibility is already waning; this won’t help. The NSA revelation feeds a potent and growing sense among Americans that an overbearing, unaccountable, ever-growing, over-powerful federal government is out of control. They’re manipulating intelligence to cover-up the full story on a deadly terrorist attack. They’re targeting one side of the political spectrum for abuse and harassment. They’re secretly spying on journalists. They’re spending our money on wildly expensive parties for themselves and losing the receipts. And they’re secretly culling our phone records by the millions, day in and day out. No one has answers. No one takes responsibility. No one knows anything. No one is punished. This is toxic.
I myself am not particularly worried that the FBI will come knocking on my door any time soon. But why are we so sure that this information will only be used to track terrorists? Mightn’t it also be used to track people for other crimes? Once such a treasure trove of data is created, the temptation will be to validate the money spent by using it as often as possible. If you are worried about the IRS misusing its authority to crack down on conservative groups, you should be even more worried about our secret spy agencies collecting reams of data on every aspect of our lives that leaves an electronic trace. If the IRS scandals have taught us anything, it’s how easily a powerful agency, isolated from the eye of the general public, can run amok…
Fifteen years ago, all of us would have laughed at the notion that the government would assert the right to know about every phone call made by ordinary American citizens suspected of no crime—that’s something that East Germany would do, not the American government. How have we gotten so comfortable with the panopticon state in little more than a decade?
My greatest fear is not that this surveillance will turn out to be more widespread. My greatest fear is that we will find out they are spying on us, and the American public will yawn. And in some secret room, bureaucrats and politicians will note that the American public does not care, and turn to discussing how much more spying they can get away with.
“Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression,” wrote Postman. “But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”
“Huxley grasped, as Orwell did not, that it is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcotized by technological diversions,” Postman continued.
Everyone , of course, seems outraged by the abuses today. But if the Obama scandals are greeted by the general public with a yawn — if they think about it for a minute, and then decide to watch another episode of “Arrested Development” (which, of course, will be monitored by the state) — you’ll know it was Huxley, not Orwell, who was right.