Friday, May 05, 2006

NSLs and the folks who love them...

You may have been watching CNN, or your local news, last night, only to see Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, being heckled by several members of the audience, one of whom was a gentleman by the name of Ray McGovern, a CIA vet with more than 27 years of service at the agency. You may have heard the approximately 2 minutes of exchange between the two gentlemen in which Mr. McGovern rightly accused the secretary of defense of lying about the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. You may also have witnessed Rumsfeld lie about lying about whether or not he knew, beforehand, that a real, and present danger did not exist, in Iraq. Mr. McGovern reminded us that it was in a memo of January 31, 2003, that our president discussed, with Tony Blair, that most likely there were no weapons of mass destruction, and that the intelligence had to conform to the war plans, not the other way around.

In his interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper last night, Mr. McGovern said that the American people should consider "the irony" of the fact that "the media and the CIA" are now looking into wrongdoing on the part of our leaders, and not heads of foreign states. But, are the CIA, and FBI looking into wrongdoing on the part of our government? Is the media doing its job, or merely dangling its feet in the swimming pool like a small child afraid of the water.

You may recall that the congressman who introduced legislation known as the Intelligence Authorization Act last year, Representative Porter Goss, (R-Florida), was also appointed head of the Central Intelligence Agency, so one strongly doubts if the chickens will cook their own. Moreover, with barely 25% of the American people approving of the job Congress is doing, according to an AP poll released this morning, one can hardly expect to see any Clark Kent heroics, on this matter, from Congress. In fact, when the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican, calls for more aggressive oversight, by Congress, of the executive branch, and promises that the Judiciary Committee will be closely following the NSA domestic spying program, with the accent being on the transgressions of this administration and not the newspaper that broke the story, you know something heavy is going on.

Why, when a veteran of the CIA implies that the media and the CIA need to investigate this administration is the FBI allowed to hand out National Security Levels at the rate of more than 30,000 per year since the practice was inaugurated in late October, 2001?

What, you may ask, is the big deal about National Security Letters, and what does an NSL do? With only a piece of paper signed by your local FBI agent, the FBI can demanded detailed information about your communications over the Internet, your bank account, your car rental history, your medical records, your reading habits, and/or anything these folks deem relevant in their ongoing hunt for "terrorists," and/or anyne who openly differs from accepted policy which may include members of Green Peace, as well as grandmothers who meet, after church on Sundays, to protest the occupation of Iraq. Why should we care about NSLs? Apart from the fact that, as the ACLU has so nobly and aptly argued, they violate the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, through the use of NSLs, the FBI can bypass the issuance of lawful subpoenas to requisition, and access your electronic communication, as well as your cell phone records. Yes, you may not be paranoid after all--Big Brother may be reading your e-mails.

For those of us who embrace at least one conspiracy theory, whether it be that it wasn't a single bullet that took the life of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, or that there was a conspiracy behind 9/11, why are we conspicuously, and egregiously, silent when it comes to the conspiracy (i.e. act of breathing together) on the part of the radical right, and the so-called intelligence branches of government to "fix" the news we get, as well as the level at which dissent may be detonated, around what is politically, and economically expedient for this government?

Why, too, is there a flagrant, and persistent, conspiracy of silence on the part of the mainstream media with regard to what a National Security Letter is, and how it impacts each and every one of us? Why has this demand for personal documents, that has dubious legality, only now seeing the light of day, and only during station breaks on major television broadcasts? If, as Mr. Rumsfeld has asserted, he "serves at the pleasure of the president," the president, and Congress, serve at the pleasure of the American people, and it's time to demand better service for our tax dollars. If we, the people, are to tolerate another 3 years of the Bush administration, we need to remind them, again and again, that their political capital has now shrunk to less than one-third of the American people.

Alas, it must be remembered, too, that Congress voted for, and approved, the USA Patriot Act, which was reauthorized earlier this year, and that it was in the so-called Patriot Act that the insidious weapon against our personal privacy, known as the NSL, first appeared. We must hold Congress, too, accountable for an ongoing campaign of acquiescence with the policies with which the Bush presidency will distinguish itself for all eternity.

As FBI Director Mueller suggested, when questioned by Arlen Specter before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, the number of Americans who have been victims of domestic spying, either through the NSA program, or the issuance of NSLs, is a fraction of the number of Americans. Indeed, using the same logic, one might likewise assert that the number of those who died in that horrific attack on the World Trade Center also represents merely a fraction of the 300 million who live in this country, but we care about them, don't we? Thus, it follows that we must care about our government's attempts to violate our privacy in an attempt to discourage, and ultimately stifle dissent.

We must care, too, about the outrage that, as the Washington Post reported, on Tuesday, the FBI sought personal data on thousands of Americans in 2005 from banks, Internet service providers, and any other cooperating companies, without having to seek a court order, merely by issuing " a form of administrative subpoena" which may be disseminated widely nationwide with no congressional, or judicial, oversight(WaPo).

The release of the numbers of people whose records have been obtained without subpoena only became public this week. And. in 2005 alone, more than 9,200 NSLs were issued seeking detailed records of more than 3,200 Americans (WaPo). Further, the Justice Department has also acknowledged an ongoing increase in the use of secret warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. What is most insidious about NSLs is that it is the government's way of secretly obtaining personal information about its citizens, bypassing court order, and the use of a subpoena which is why it violates the Fourth Amendment right to due process. Secrecy breeds silence, and silence secrecy.

For those of us who have spent countless anguished hours debating one conspiracy theory or another, it's time to look into why it is that this government can be allowed, through oil consolidation, media consolidation, news consolidation, and disinformation consolidation to reach into our pockets not just for what little gas money we have, but for our credit card receipts, library cards, and what little dignity we have left, in violation of our constitutional rights, with no accountability to anyone, but themselves. We need accountability, and higher octane, not just at the pump, and in our stock portfolios, but in our House and Senate, too.

The time to voice our disdain with the direction in which this nation is heading has arrived, and watching a few brave souls do just that, at a Rumsfeld press conference yesterday in Atlanta, was heartening and, one can only hope, a harbinger of better things to come.