Monday, August 26, 2013

Can't Be Overturned

So I got a comment [offline] that my crusade here is hopeless and ill-advised for two reasons.

#1, it's written into the Constitution that the Executive Branch can break any law it needs to, in the name of National Security. Since the surveillance is in the name of National Security, all this is perfectly legal and cannot be overturned.
On the other hand, wiretapping bank executives is not relevant to National Security, so I shouldn't open a can of worms and use the bulldozer of National Security on things that don't fall into that category.

#2, if I make a stink abut this, all I'm doing is helping the Opposing Political Party get elected, which will turn out much worse than the situation we have now. Especially if that Opposing Party gets to pick more Supreme Court justices.

Anyone who knows me, ought to know that argument #2 is one of my red hot-buttons.

So: according to this argument #2, when I see the infrastructure for massive oppression being set up under a supposedly more benevolent and responsive Allegedly Nice Political Party, I'm just supposed to shut up and wait until the Mean Ol' Other Party inevitably gets elected, keep mum and quiet until THEY grip the reins of the oppressive infrastructure, and then the Mean Ol' Other Party really goes to town? Not to protest, not to do anything until then?? Hypothetically, if the Allegedly Nice Political Party currently in power started actually building new concentration camps, am I still supposed to vote for them -- because we know they would run the camps far more humanely than that nasty Mean Ol' Other Party? **

I thought the whole reason the current party is preferable to the Mean Ol' Other one is because they are supposedly more amenable to liberal principles and it's more likely we can influence them to do good. So if I'm not allowed to raise a stink, howinahell am I supposed to be influencing them to do good? Telepathic brain waves? Donating $50 to their re-election fund and knocking on some doors, when entities like Wall Street and surveillance contractors donate hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to the Allegedly Nice Political Party at a pop?

After having heard this same basic argument for the past half-dozen elections, all the while watching the country swing further and further into political and economic disaster, I can't even discuss this argument seriously anymore.

Right from the outset, this line of argument completely pre-empts the very idea that I have an inherent right to oppose political policies that I think are immoral. I'm not willing to concede the terms of battle like that.

This argument is all about trading principle for expediency, and we have already done far too much of that. What offense is a bridge too far, what line do we have to cross, exactly, before the mythically benign Democratically-Appointed Supreme Court is going to leap up and save the country?

There isn't any. No depredation, crime, or offense can possibly exist which that Mean Ol' Other Party wouldn't be doing worse than the Allegedly Nice Party. Which means you are advising me that we have to let the Allegedly Nice Party get away with anything that they want, anything at all, and this argument says that in principle we shouldn't ever oppose them no matter what they do. I don't buy that whatosever and I never will. Somebody who uses this argument on me, IMHO, is simply telling me that they plan to duck their heads down low, keep quiet and do nothing until long after it's too late for anything to be done, and that they want me to do the same.

It's pretty much a defining requirement in order to be a mainstream Democrat today, that you can take careful note of a brick that's precisely two and a half feet above your head, while steadfastly and resolutely refusing to take note of the fact that it's falling. I have given up hope of waking these people up to the idea that the Democrats themselves, not just the Republicans, are continuing to slide in the direction of Evil despite everyone's best efforts. Loyalty to the Democrats is apparently an identity issue for these guys, my-team-right-or-wrong, no other choice, rah-rah-rah.

So instead of that, let's address argument #1: the myth that this is being used for National Security.

First of all, are we expected to just sit back and let the government label absolutely anything they want as "National Security"? If the government just stencils the two words "National Security" upon anything they please, is that a carte blanche for them?

In a democracy, don't the people get a say in what's the best, most preferable methods of national security, versus what's not?

Even if we grant the idea that surveillance is necessary and effective National Security -- and this blog has already collated a good amount of evidence that it's not...

Even so, it's indisputable that the government is NOT only using the surveillance for national security.

"I shouldn't open a can of worms and use the bulldozer of National Security on things, like financial crimes, that don't fall into that category."

BZZZTT!! Wrong! I am not the one using the bulldozer. It is already being used on seemingly every political problem under the sun that protesters pose to authorities. The can of worms is already wide open, my friend.

Ever hear of "Fusion Centers"?

Fusion Centers - PRWatch

Fusion Centers - NBC News

Report: Fusion Centers Investigations Sloppy

These are local police intel centers which meet with the NSA and share their information. That way, local police can report terrorist tips and suspects up the chain to the NSA, and the NSA can report down the chain to local police and notify them of local terror suspects to keep an eye on. Sounds great, right? All on the up-and-up?

The problem is, the sharing at these "Fusion Centers" goes both ways. Local police apparently get to enlist the NSA capabilities, by means of these "Fusion Centers," for their own investigations. On some vague promise that these tips will ultimately turn out to have something to do with terrorism someday.

So, apparently, if Vegans for Peace throws a soy cream pie in the face of some war profiteer at a press conference, and the local Boss Hawg decides these hippie protesters are a menace to trade and commerce, Boss Hawg can go to a "Fusion Center" and submit a request to use NSA surveillance capabilities to find out everything the government knows about Vegans for Peace, track their movements and gin up a case to investigate or arrest them, or tailor an infiltration plan to them, and monitor their communications to see whether or not they're catching on to the mole that the police have put in their midst.

And as we saw with Bank of America, once this information leaves the NSA building, the war profiteer guy might even be willing to pony up good money to get NSA dirt on the groups who are peacefully and politically protesting him.

Bank of America isn't the only case, of course. The company in charge of the Tar Sands pipeline, whose protests have been in the news a lot lately, gets to participate in these Fusion Centers, and monitor what those dirty hippy protesters with their mistaken ideas about Free Speech and the First Amendment plan to do next. Perhaps, it's unclear, maybe even submit an order for a police raid at the secret site of the next protest. At what point do I get to call this corporate fascism? If not now, then when?

In March, TransCanada gave a briefing on corporate security to a Criminal Intelligence Analyst with the Oklahoma Information Fusion Center... The following day, Diane Hogue, the Center's Intelligence Analyst, asked TransCanada to review and comment on the agency's classified situational awareness bulletin. Michael Nagina, Corporate Security Advisor for TransCanada, made two small suggestions and wrote, "With the above changes I am comfortable with the content." ...Then, in an email to TransCanada on March 19 - the second day of the action camp - Hogue seems to refer to the undercover investigation taking place. "Our folks in the area say there are between 120-150 participants," Hogue wrote in an email to Nagina.

Plausible deniability. Having their secret cake and eating it too. The NSA gets to say they are "only" working on cases important to National Security. The local police get to bust down doors of whomever they want to, because they have "probable cause": supposedly accurate, cutting-edge, secret and unquestionable tips obtained "from the highest authorities" (the NSA surveillance), on whatever local peeve they wish to investigate. The tips will stand up in court but they will be too "Top-Secret" for the defendants to hear and prepare defenses against. The corporations that peaceful protesters might be protesting, get to use your tax-funded police department as a private mercenary security force. And nobody needs to know, until such time as they find themselves on the receiving end of a baton.

Doesn't that strike anybody as a bit one-sided?

When the local police act on secret NSA tips, it violates the judicial principle that a defendant gets to confront his accusers and examine the evidence against him so that he can prepare a defense.

The authorities know this is unconstitutional, because it's been all over the news these past weeks that the Feds and the local police are paying money and spending effort to falsify records and hide the fact that this is going on.

DEA Agents Urged To Cover Up Use of NSA Intel in Drug Probes

Good luck defending yourself from a false accusation in court, when the accusation originated from a top-secret spying center and then the local authorities LIE and deny that's where it came from. So much for the right to a fair trial in this country, stick a fork in it.

So under the Obama administration -- presumably not with his direct supervision, but under the Obama administration, those suspected of drug crimes are being spied upon by the NSA, accused by means of secret evidence, and then due to the veil of secrecy, denied the chance to examine and defend against the evidence that led to their charges.

And this relates to National Security how? If the Drug War is defined as a National Security matter, worthy of using the worldwide electronic surveillance network against, then I just don't see how I am proposing anything inappropriate by suggesting they can also examine the evidence they've already collected against financial fraudsters.

None of those articles indicate that the authorities are stopping the practice, only that they're trying to eliminate evidence of the practice.

The only aspect of all this which has gotten any press lately, is the revelation that the NSA violated its own "privacy" safeguards "a couple thousand times per year".

Now, of course, this is self-regulation. It's reasonable to assume that a lot of similar cases go unreported. The ones that make it into the error reports are probably only the ones where the screw-up is so big that they can't easily erase the paper trail.

"The Tip of the Iceberg"

"Heh, heh, kids will be kids."

The NSA and the politicians in favor of this surveillance, of course, say that a few thousand errors and infractions out of trillions of documents and pieces of information scanned is not a bad record. But I'd say it just proves my point: this surveillance technology is inherently dangerous, non-fixable, because despite rules, ethical guidelines, and safeguards, people in power still have a gut-level tendency to treat things they don't like, even things which are legal but they don't personally like, as a crime. Apparently the line gets blurred thousands of times per year, which is plenty enough to qualify as a danger to democracy.

And hey guess what? Has anyone asked the Agency whether the domestic surveillance which is recorded illegally actually gets purged from their database? Bueller? Bueller? I didn't think so. "Whoops, I did it again!"

So the purpose of this blog is to let people know.

You cannot trust the government when it says that something is secretly justified by "National Security". Not even when the party you like is in power.

You cannot trust the government agency when it says it has internal rules to prevent abuse. Abuse happens anyway. And it gets covered up.

The deck is stacked against you. Because the local authorities, the Feds, and even the powerful financial players -- yes, private companies in the course of seeking profit -- can use this surveillance against you, but you have no similar means of monitoring their behavior.

The only reason anyone puts up with this situation, I believe, is because at a gut level they believe in the old canard: you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide. Don't move your arms and you won't even notice your manacles.

History shows that such a situation doesn't last long. The more surveillance and control that authorities have, the more they want to use it, until eventually even the smallest, most innocuous everyday activities are criminalized.

And this does not depend on which political party is in power.

Today, under a Democratic Administration, peaceful -- sworn pacifistic -- environmental and anti-war protesters, and drug users are spied on because people somewhere in the Administration classified them as threats to national security. My argument is that this is inevitable given human nature and the powerful technology. It's going to keep going from there, no matter who is in power.

As Rall puts it, "If absolute power corrupts absolutely, absolute access to information is irresistible." He's talking about the young, hormone-addled 20-year-olds who are the only people computer-savvy enough to man this surveillance system, spying on their ex-girlfriends. But my argument is, that is the principle even when hormones aren't involved.

If the War on Drugs is conflated with the War on Terror for National Security, as is already happening, and something like 75% of the population have used recreational drugs, we are heading in a bad direction. Tomorrow Green Party voters will have dossiers, later your Netflix queue will be searched for anarchist/seditionist viewing material, until eventually something you do, yes you reading this, will land you on the blacklist.

That's what history shows; keeping your head down and hoping they don't get any incriminating dirt on you, ultimately doesn't work. Laws change, laws are complicated, and always subject to interpretation by the fallible humans behind the surveillance cameras. The things which are defined as 'illegal' change and morph as the State's power to spy on its people changes.

As if the US wasn't already among the most divided and stratified societies on the planet, we are once again creating a whole new privileged class -- the watchers, versus the watched. And _you_ reading this blog, I guarantee you do not have enough money nor political power to stay above suspicion. Just ask Father Niemöller how that one turned out. **

1 comment:

  1. ** = Yeah, yeah, Godwin. If you think I'm being harsh to the mainstream point of view, you should know that my earlier draft discussed boxcars quite a bit before I toned it down.