Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 4:18 pm | Fair 77º

 
 
 
 

Jim Hightower: Say ‘No Way’ to NSA; Domestic Spying Goes Too Far

The very fine public servant Russ Feingold cautioned against the steady slippage of our democracy toward autocracy back in October 2001, when he stood tall as the only U.S. senator to vote against the Patriot Act. Warning that its anti-democratic provisions would create a nation "where the government is entitled to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations or intercept your email communications," Feingold rightly concluded: "That country wouldn't be America."

So here we are, having devolved from the founders' principled insistence on erecting the strongest palisades for the defense of the people's personal liberties to now having a secret government inside our borders and inside our lives. The National Security Agency is running a labyrinthine, secret, extravagant, unconstitutional and out-of-control electronic surveillance operation that targets you.

Yes, you! And me. Its not just German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other head-of-state allies who are furious that this veracious nest of snoops has been listening in on their private conversations for years, but also everyone living in our own Land of the Free. We citizens have been redefined by our government as suspects.

Not that NSA officialdom actually thinks that you, Mr. Upright or Ms. Doright, are terrorists or even "persons of interest" — but, then again, you might be. So, the spook bureaucracy has unilaterally chosen to create an elaborate, electronic Rube-Goldbergish spy matrix that (A) appropriates and agglomerates everyone's "metadata" — a geek term defined as data that provides information about other data — channels it into (B) banks of rapidly spinning supercomputers that (C) analyze your and my terrorist inclinations, based on (D) the phone calls we make and get, (E) emails we send and receive, (F) websites we visit and topics we Google, (G) Facebook friends and pages we like, and (H) credit card expenditures and bank transactions we make.
Even the code-names of NSA's array of electronic eyes are almost comically Orwellian: PRISM, Tempora, XKeyscore and — my favorite — Boundless Informant.

Boundless indeed. But all this, and for what? To make you and me safe from terrorists, the hierarchy chants in unison. Constantly pointing to 9/11, the spies and their political henchmen solemnly assert that, hypothetically, bulk surveillance of every American might have, possibly could have, maybe would have stopped that horrific plot. But the phone conversations that mattered in that case were those that did not happen — the breakdown in communication between the CIA and the FBI, and between FBI headquarters and its local agents.

When the top brass of U.S. SpyWorld did a dog-and-pony show for the House intelligence committee on June 18, they claimed that "dozens" of terrorist attacks had been prevented since 9/11 by NSA's SuperVac programs. Dozens? "More than 50," clarified NSA's director. But wait, how many of those were plots for terrorist attacks on our soil? "A little over 10," he mumbled. That's it? Years of scooping up all metadata on every American to find only 10 plots?

Moreover, he was able to name only four of those 10, and none were serious threats to do major harm to Americans. In fact, one involved a bombing in India, one is a questionable case of $8,500 ostensibly sent to terrorists in Somalia, one was actually uncovered by regular police work, and the fourth was not a plot to attack the United States but to send funds abroad to al-Qaeda. For this, we should shred our Bill of Rights?

"We've got congressional oversight and judicial oversight," President Barack Obama said to a reporter on Sept. 13, then expressed exasperation that people don't have faith in the system. "And if people can't trust not only the executive branch, but also don't trust Congress and don't trust federal judges to make sure that we're abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we're going to have some problems here."

Well, yes sir, you do have some problems — big ones. Obama and the surveillance establishment are proposing a bit more "disclosure" to fix the agency's PR problem. But that's just warmed over B.S. We can't give him — or Congress — a pass on this. It's too big, too destructive of our values and self-respect.

NSA's domestic spy matrix and the Patriot Act itself confront us as a multieyed, hydra-headed, democracy-devouring monster. Forget disclosure; the monster must be dismantled.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @JimHightower, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >