NSA SECRET HARVESTING OF “MEGADATA” A THREAT TO LIBERTY … WHISTLEBLOWER SNOWDEN A HERO IN THE MOLD OF DANIEL ELLSBERG, JULIAN ASSANGE … ACLU FILES COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF IN FEDERAL COURT … THE IDEA OF AMERICA ITSELF HANGS IN THE BALANCE
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” – Ben Franklin 1759
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, JUNE 12, 2013) — We temporarily leave aside racial profiling (Doreen Wade spoke at the city council’s open mic session; she revealed nothing dramatic, issuing a call for a more just treatment of blacks within the city), budgetary madness, Beloved Lake Guzzo, and other assorted local topics to take up one with more far-reaching consequences, one that affects every person in Berkshire County and, literally, everyone who has made a phone call or received a phone call within the United States within the past seven years.
What do we want America to be? Do we place greater value freedom or security? Those are the questions.
Granted, the questions are not either/or. Nonetheless, in consideration of NSA informant Edward Snowden‘s shocking release of key documents pertaining to the government’s secret domestic electronic spying programs, either/or, though presenting a false choice, should force citizens to declare one in favor of the other — As a country, we must have this discussion before it’s too late.
In THE PLANET‘s books, Snowden is a hero, and we put him in the same category at Daniel Ellsberg of The Pentagon Papers fame and Julian Assange of Wikileaks. These are men who have risked all on behalf of freedom loving people worldwide, on behalf of freedom itself. Make no mistake about it: Freedom finds itself under its most serious attack since the Founding Fathers decided 237 years ago against Big Government, Divine Right of Kings, and Religious Rule in favor of personal freedom and a government packed with checks and balances.
Snowden’s defenders have rushed to brand him a hero, comparing him to Ellsberg. Ellsberg himself told the Daily Beast that “I think there has not been a more significant or helpful leak or unauthorized disclosure in American history ever … and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers.” Former Justice Department lawyer Jesselyn Radack argues that Snowden should be protected by a federal whistle-blower statute, since he “said very clearly … that he was doing this to serve a public purpose.”
ACLU Suit Offers a Glimmer of Hope
Since the the adoption of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978 and particularly as the debris field and dust settled on the morning after Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government has used a nebulous “War on Terror” as the rationale to check the checks and unbalance the balances. Fortunately, there are still forces in America who are willing to follow in the tradition of Ellsburg, Assange, and Snowden. The American Civil Liberties Union is one of them.
As a Verizon customer, the ACLU filed suit yesterday in federal district court, southern district of New York, naming as defendants Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, National Security Agency (NSA) director Keith Alexander, Defense Secretary Charles Hagel, AG Eric Holder, and FBI Director Robert Mueller III. Regardless of the effectiveness of this suit, the fact that an entity can sue members of the federal government without being sent to a gulag offers a ray of hope.
The ACLU’s complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief does not name Snowden. The organization is technically suing on its own behalf, as a customer of Verizon; in an extended sense, of course, the ACLU is going to bat for all of us, in the same manner as Ellsberg, Assange, and Snowden. Keep in mind that Snowden, in what appears to be an act of high moral action, has put it all on the line. He left a job paying him $200,000. He left his family and loved ones. He’s hiding out in Hong Kong with no guarantees that he’ll ever see the US again as a free man — or even live to see tomorrow.
The ACLU complaint observes how “[g]overnment officials have indicated that the [Verizon] order is part of a program that has been in place for seven years,” one “that collects records of all telecommunications of every customer of [any] major phone company, including Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint.”
“All records of every customer or any phone company” = These are absolute terms that allow no exceptions. It means that if you ever use a phone, you are considered a suspect, potentially guilty until proven innocent, of terrorism and treason. For seven years, the government has been collecting information “about every phone call made or received by residents of the United States.
The lawsuit is courageously challenging “the government’s dragnet acquisition” of phone records. The feds have cited Section 215 of the draconian Patriot Act to harvest this “metadata.” The ACLU contends that Sec. 215 does not authorize the government’s action.
ACLU Cites Three Causes for Action
In its “Causes for Action” (the section of the legal filing wherein the ACLU lists the reasons for seeking relief, the ACLU makes three points:
1. The harvesting of this information “exceeds the authority granted by” Sec. 215 of the Patriot Act.
2. It violates the First Amendment of the Constitution (free speech).
3. It violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. The 14th basically defines what it means to be a citizen of the US. Its due-process and equal-protection clauses are often cited as the means by which the Bill of Rights can and must apply to state and local governments.
The ACLU is asking the court to exercise its jurisdiction, declare the federal government in violation of the Patriot Act and the Constitution, order an immediate cessation of the program, order the feds to purge all records from government databases, and award “fees and costs.”
Here is a link to a 12 and a half minute interview with Snowden. We highly recommend it. The film gives you a sense of the man, his motivations, his methods, and the meanings he intends to affect. NOTE: The link is not hot.
Meanwhile, CNN reports the following:
He has some advice for Edward Snowden, who recently leaked information about the extent of U.S. electronic surveillance programs.
“I would strongly advise him to go to Latin America,” Assange told CNN’s AC360 Monday night. “Latin America has shown in the past 10 years that it is really pushing forward in human rights. There’s a long tradition of asylum.”
Assange spoke from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been holed up for almost a year.
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Ecuador’s government granted him asylum in August, but British authorities have said they will arrest him if he leaves the premises.
Assange had kind words for Snowden, whom he described as heroic, and harsh words for the programs he helped to expose.
Snowden, 29, told the British newspaper the Guardian that he left behind his family and a six-figure job in Hawaii to reveal the extent of the NSA’s collection of telephone and Internet data, which he called “an existential threat to democracy.”
He worked for computer consultant Booz Allen Hamilton, a contractor for the U.S. electronic intelligence agency.
Snowden took off for Hong Kong before the stories were published and had been holed up in a hotel there, the Guardian reported.
He checked out of his hotel Monday but remains in the semiautonomous Chinese territory, said Ewen MacAskill, the Guardian’s Washington bureau chief.
“The oversight of this process is done in secret. The policy is secret,” Assange said.
“It’s not a case of looking at a particular suspect and deciding to apply surveillance to them as we once did in the past, but rather, just bulk, arbitrary, driftnet fishing across, not just Americans, but essentially the whole of the human race.”
In some cases, where there is sufficient evidence, it is right to watch some people for some amount of time, Assange said.
But, he argued, there is no justification for keeping such programs a secret.
“No one accepted and gave (U.S. President Barack) Obama the mandate to engage in a worldwide surveillance program on nearly every person.”
Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations that he raped one woman and sexually molested another.
He has said he fears Sweden will transfer him to the United States, where he could face the death penalty for the work of WikiLeaks if he were charged and convicted of a crime.
He has repeatedly said the allegations in Sweden are politically motivated and tied to the work of his website, which facilitates the publication of secret documents.
Assange has not been charged in the United States, though Assange and his supporters say a U.S. grand jury has been empanelled to consider charges against him.
Petition for the White House
There is an online petition circulating that will find its way to the White House. It reads:
“Edward Snowden is a national hero and should be immediately issued a full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs.”
As the White House faces questions about secret Internet and telephone surveillance programs, investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill says, “There’s a chill that’s been sent through the national security reporting community.”
Scahill, who investigated the United States’ covert operations in the war against terrorism in a new documentary, “Dirty Wars,” told Top Line in an interview recorded prior to the most recent NSA leaks that sources inside the government have grown fearful of talking to the media.
“Many sources that I used to be able to talk to through encrypted e-mail or with chats using OTR, off the record software, they won’t do it anymore,” Scahill said. “It’s either in person or nothing. … There’s a real fear on the part of whistleblowers and sources that the Espionage Act is going to come knocking on their door one day under the Noble Peace Prize-winning, Constitutional law professor, Democratic president.”
In his documentary, Scahill makes the case that the Obama administration has overstepped its stated goals of “targeted killings” of terrorists in places like Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.
Asked if he thinks the U.S. is creating more terrorists than it is killing, Scahill responded: “I think we’re creating more enemies than we are killing terrorists. When I was in Yemen, people were saying, ‘You consider al Qaeda terrorism. We consider the drones terrorism.’”
He told the story of investigating the United States’ first authorized attack in Yemen, which occurred in 2009.
“When I went there to investigate this cruise missile strike, multiple people had cell phone videos of the aftermath,” Scahill recalled. “And the U.S. had claimed that they had wiped out an al Qaeda camp, but their cell phone videos showed bodies of infants being pulled out of rubble, giving lie to the pronouncements that it was just an al Qaeda camp that was hit and civilians didn’t die in it.”
Scahill said that drones have made it easier for the United States to engage in this sort of warfare. But he argued that it’s not so much the technology, but the motivation, that concerns him about drone attacks.
“Focusing too much on the technology misses the broader point that assassination is becoming not just a central part of U.S. national security policy, but is sort of being legitimized by President Obama,” he said.
For more of the interview with Scahill and to hear what questions he thinks the Washington press corps has failed to ask the president, check out this episode of “Top Line.”
ABC’s Eric Wray, Alexandra Dukakis, Betsy Klein, Jon Kessler, and Gary Rosenberg contributed to this report.
As the government continues its pell-mell assault on freedom, standing by silently or having no opinion cannot be an option worthy of respect. For our part, THE PLANET condemns this abuse of surveillance and falls on the side of freedom. Freedom first, freedom second, and freedom third … then let’s talk “national security.” If we cannot hold liberty in that rarefied pose, let’s then be honest about where this all leads: A fake “republican democracy” that will find a way to crush political pluralism, the prohibition of any activity deemed to be “anti-government,” and legal (though immoral) constraints on liberty through an executive power that will get progressively ill-defined (and therefore elusive) as time goes on.
In a word, Authoritarianism.
It cannot be allowed to come to pass.
“You there, impotent, loose in the knees, / Open your scarfed chops till I blow grit within you, / Spread your palms and lift the flaps of your pockets, / I am not to be denied.” — Walt Whitman, from “Leaves of Grass,” Sec. 40.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.