Recently I watched a Frontline episode called United States of Secrets Part I, about the NSA’s surveillance program. As I watched, I became more and more incensed and embarrassed. Incensed because basically we are being spied on with impunity. Embarrassed, because I was a staunch opponent of Edward Snowden. I branded him a self-involved, megalomaniac who had the nerve to take it upon himself to jeopardize the security of our country. Boy…was I wrong.
The powers given to the NSA (National Security Agency) have reached such an extent that we are currently living in a state rivaling communist Russia. Am I exaggerating? Maybe…maybe not. We, the people have become the pawns in a well- played scheme, which began during the Bush administration, and was perpetuated by the Obama administration. As we quietly go about our lives, somewhere, someone is listening to our phone conversations, monitoring our emails, and checking our Internet searches. Under the guise of keeping the country safe, the United States has become a police state.
After 9/11 the country was vulnerable. The Bush administration exploited this vulnerability and put a surveillance program into place far greater than was permitted by law. A program, which originally was meant to target known and/or suspected terrorist entities, was now transformed into a whole other beast. The NSA went from searching for the needle in the haystack to searching every needle in the haystack. Basically, my private life isn’t private anymore because Big Brother or rather the NSA is in my business. Such activity violates everything this country stands for, certainly the first and fourth amendments to say the least. However this didn’t faze anyone in the Bush administration who was in the loop about the NSA’s new powers.
Questioning the NSA’s actions is deemed unpatriotic. The ultimate guilt trip from the Bush administration was that opponents are “putting the country at risk.” How were they going to stop an attack if they didn’t have the tools to do so? Blah, blah, blah. These false pretenses became the basis for blatant illegal action and lies. Bush lied. He assured the American public that all surveillance was conducted according to the letter of the law, meaning only with a warrant. President Obama lied. He promised transparency when he would become president and instead secretly expanded the program. Both presidents are liars. The cynic in me says, “Duh…I’d have to be born yesterday to think otherwise.” Still, it was never made more obvious than with this business.
Our presidents lied, Senators and Congress people lied, our intelligence community lied, our courts broke the law, the FISA Court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) bent the law so far it’s unrecognizable. As if that weren’t bad enough it gets worse. Those working at the NSA who realized the illegality of the surveillance program were shut up. Although the whistleblowers followed protocol and went through the proper channels, they were repudiated and told to be quiet and do their job. Finally, after, not days or months, but years of trying to bring attention to the unlawful information gathering of the NSA, the whistleblowers turned to the only option left. This most dangerous move was a last resort. They took their findings to the public.
However, the New York Times, caved under pressure from the Bush administration. Suddenly, one of the most influential and respected journals in the country let the government control the narrative. They didn’t publish the story. Washington subdued the free press…for a time. Eventually the NY Times would publish. By then, newspapers far from Washington and the administration’s reach had their own sources on the topic.
Edward Snowden certainly studied the cases of his predecessor, notably Thomas Drake. An employee at the NSA, he was one of the first to call out the illegal spying on Americans. He waited years before finally offering the press unclassified documents. Despite President Obama’s promise to welcome and protect whistleblowers, Thomas Drake’s home was raided, his computer and other electronics seized and he was prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Eventually the case would be dropped for lack of evidence. He couldn’t be prosecuted for going public with information that was…public.
Edward Snowden understood there would be no justice for him should he blow the whistle. His actions would make him the most wanted man in the world, at least as far as the Americans are concerned. Our allies, the Europeans, embrace Snowden as a hero. I’m beginning to sympathize with him myself.
We, the public, keep doing what we do; we go about our business believing we live in the land of the free. We’re complacent, lethargic, asleep even though we now know. Meanwhile, the NSA spends tens of billions of our taxpayer dollars spying on yours truly. We live in a subtle police state and seem to be fine with it. These freedoms we think we have, the way things stand, they can be taken away just as easily as criminal activity by the NSA became law.