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Wolf writes: "Warrantless wiretaps intimidate several organizations and cast a chill over lawyers, journalists and human rights researchers."

Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)
Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)

The Fight to Stop Government Surveillance of Our Citizens

By Naomi Wolf, Guardian UK

20 October 12


Warrantless wiretaps intimidate several organizations and cast a chill over lawyers, journalists and human rights researchers

re you, a US citizen, calling cousin Ivor in Budapest, or reaching out to your old pen pal Yasmeen in Sydney? The National Security Agency (NSA) can listen in on your personal cellphone or read what you might be emailing him or her from your personal computer without telling you.

In 2008, the US Senate voted to let the NSA wiretap any US citizens' emails and phone calls internationally in the interest of national security so long as the government's purpose was to collect "foreign intelligence information". In 45 minutes, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought a constitutional challenge to the Fisa Amendments Act. As the Director of the ACLU's Center for Democracy, Jameel Jaffer, pointed out, the amendments:

"gave the NSA unprecedented power to monitor the international communications of people living in the United States — to listen to their phone calls, and to read their emails. 'We are targeting our own country', one NSA whistleblower observed."

Though some in Congress argued that citizens were safe from having their communications intercepted "unless you have al-Qaida on speed-dial", dragnet surveillance of people with nothing at all to do with terrorism began at once. As Marty Lederman, at that time a law professor, noted:

"The new statute permits the NSA to intercept phone calls and e-mails between the US and a foreign location, without making any showing to a court and without judicial oversight, whether or not the communication has anything to do with al-Qaida - indeed, even if there is no evidence that the communication has anything to do with terrorism, or any threat to national security."

The Feds can listen in to you now, "whenever government deems it necessary for foreign intelligence reasons" Jaffer explained to me. The vagueness of a phrase such as "material support", and the chilling effect resulting from that vagueness, was at the heart of the successful National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) group challenge.

These Fisa amendments lose their authority in December, and the reauthorization battle will unfold in the context of a new high profile lawsuit's activities. This lawsuit is taking shape much like the one aforementioned that was won last month by a group of reporters and activists such as Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges. The ACLU group's lawsuit includes several journalists and organizations including Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges, Human Rights Watch, the Global Fund for Women, the Pen American Center and the Nation Magazine.

These citizens argue that they have changed their approach to work out of fear of incarceration for "material support" for terrorism if the NDAA was used against them. The ACLU group argues fear of NSA surveillance is hampering the abilities of these people to report the news, gain testimony from witnesses and represent victims of human rights abuses.

Is it "necessary for foreign intelligence reasons" for NSA agents to spy on a Human Rights Watch lawyer talking to a woman service member about having been abused by a US contractor? Is it reasonable under those terms to spy on a lawyer for a Guantanamo detainee seeking to have a confidential discussion to build his defense against a bogus US charge (a transcript that then gives the US lawyers at Gitmo yet another advantage unavailable to opposing counsel in real due process situations)? Can the US government agents record non-fiction writer Naomi Klein's phone calls to fellow activist journalists in the UK, or to UK government sources who would want to leak a potential story to her? Maybe one involving US wrongdoing?

Under these terms - sure thing, not a problem. (I should note, as always, that when governments eavesdrop on reporters and activists for "national security" they also secure leverage for all kinds of other harassment - even blackmail or entrapment on other issues - Eliot Spitzer-style - since private relationships and conversations are swept up as well.) These groups all depend on access to confidential communications with their clients, as well as with witnesses to human rights abuses and other sources.

The ACLU says the FBI and NSA are currently abusing the warrantless dragnet surveillance. When the organization filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see how it was actually being used, the FBI sent them some heavily redacted pages and explained that they could not yield more information about the surveillance since the business of turning in information on citizens' communications risk economic harm if their snitching were common knowledge. The ACLU wrote:

"The government doesn't want you to know whether your internet or phone company is cooperating with its dragnet surveillance program because you might get upset and file lawsuits asserting your constitutional rights."

In the government's response to the lawsuit, you see the incredibly Alice-in-Wonderland-like nature of logic on the far side of the slide to totalitarian institution-building in America. Just as the government classified the techniques its agents had used to torture Gitmo inmates - and then threatened lawyers for prisoners with prosecution if they brought up the torture on the grounds they would be revealing classified information - so are Obama's lawyers asserting that the litigants have no status to be plaintiffs since they were monitored in secret - essentially, they can't prove that they were monitored!

I am not making this up: the government's position is that the ACLU's clients lack standing because:

they can't prove that their communications were (or will be) monitored under it.

Right, because there are no warrants presented to subjects, which the fourth amendment requires, to prove that wiretapping is taking place. Because it is secret. Which is what the lawsuit challenges. And so on. Jaffer rightly calls that a cynical argument.

Indeed, if you follow this line of argument, any lawsuit from any citizen involving secrecy could be thrown out for lack of proof if the secrecy obscuring the harm done to that citizen is sufficiently intact. We may be seeing a trend, or some sunlight, in the judiciary. Just as Judge Katharine Forrest stayed the NDAA recently because the Chomsky group proved harm, so are the ACLU team getting some traction. Jaffer's team have won one point already; with the backing of a three-judge panel on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the ACLU case has been allowed to go through in a blow to the Obama Administration's challenge.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on 29 October. If the ACLU prevails, then the case will be heard by a federal district court. The ACLU is asking that the amendments be struck down as unconstitutional on first and fourth amendment grounds. "We don't know how this authority has been used because the government does not say," Jaffer noted.

The problem with overbroad surveillance authority is that it has a chilling effect - whether the government uses it or not. your social media marketing partner


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-27 # MidwestTom 2012-10-20 08:43
In 1970 we had less than 100,000 Muslims in this country. We now have over 3 million, and this President has increased their quota to over 350,000 per year; this is more than Cubans, more than Europeans. Out of fear of these same Muslims in our midst, we have lost our freedoms.

This same President, supported by most of the contributors to this blog, created and signed the NDAA, which literally takes away all of our freedoms and rights, as originally defined in the Constitution. Yet I frequently read on the blog people condemning politicians who want to return to our Constitutional values and laws. The Constitution was written to protect us from government, support those who support it, or accept the consequences.
+29 # David P 2012-10-20 09:37
Tom, you will also find that these new powers are an extention of those that were granted to Bush with the "Patriot Act", something that everyone here still disagrees with.

Obama has unfortunately done exactly what most presidents would do, Mittens included; that is to say he's power grabbing.

It's unfortunate that we don't have a "No Confidence" vote in our election system to keep both of these people out of office, as Obama has done quietly and in secret what Bush did brazenly and blatently in terms of corporate giveaways to more power.

On that last note, I wish these writers would go into the Trans Pacific Partnership, and the changes to the First Sale Doctrine which are being pursued by this administration. Soon we'll be at the mercy of the corporations, with the blessing of "our" government. Unfortunately I don't see any other candidate that will stop it without more extremism.
+4 # futhark 2012-10-20 10:48
You can always vote for Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson, either of which would constitute a "no confidence" vote on the Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumb stands of the two major parties in relation to protecting the Constitutional and inherent right of privacy. If you are of a libertarian inclination, I think Gary Johnson is also opposed to the machinations of the surveillance state apparatus now firmly in the saddle controlling the policies of the American government and threatening out liberty.
+1 # Glen 2012-10-20 12:26
Problem is, futhark, these folks are going to crash into those folks who are essentially running this country, using the "president" as a mere spokesperson. There is little choice in the matters of controlling this country and foreign policy. Clinton fell in line with much he did in office, George W. was totally under their control, Obama been following orders quietly. Look deeper and you will find the PNAC and neo-con/neo-lib eral agenda embedded in the federal government. It cannot be fought.
+4 # futhark 2012-10-20 19:26
Courage is tenacity in the face of adversity. Yes, we can just give up the American dream of a humane and just government and turn the whole dern thing over to the puppets of the surveillance state apparatus. Follow Glen's advice and vote for the hypocrite of your choice for office. Or just refuse to be a party to the charade of major party elections. The Constitution was written by people who had just been through a civil war, who recognized that governments must have the means for peaceful adaptive change and they must also respect and defend natural rights. That's what the elective process is supposed to be all about.

If you think that real power is the exclusive domain of shadowy figures acting behind the scenes, then you must also recognize that the elective process as practiced in America is a charade, pretty window dressing disguising a tyranny. Well, then, just salute the flag and declare your unconditional allegiance to the sham republic for which it stands. So much for hope and change...
+2 # Glen 2012-10-21 12:31
Advising in favor of realism is not giving advice to "vote for the hypocrite of your choice". It isn't that we CHOOSE to accept the domain of the wealthy and powerful and the military, et al. That whole system was forced upon us and has been developing for decades.

As I have stated in a number of similar threads, this is not the country of our "forefathers" and it never will be again. A democracy was not meant for anything but a small population that is able to truly participate in the government, not just vote. That will never come again in the U.S. An entirely new system is required.

And yes, the elective process is a charade, as is those who run for office. That cannot happen without being filtered through those wealthy and truly elitist rulers of the U.S.

No sense pretending we count, unless you are up for a revolution, and good luck with that.
+1 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-21 15:06
CAUTION - The Surgeon General has determined that vote abstinence while in a swing state can cause a severe POTUS.
-4 # cafetomo 2012-10-20 10:27
Discriminating indiscriminatel y according to race and religion must be tiring. I just discriminate indiscriminatel y against others according to their poverty. If they have no means to get away from the police I call, they are automatically deserving of their grief and/or incarceration. So I could care less about the Constitution, the System works great. For me. Were I to become one of these poor, probably the only differentiation I could make out, would be along the lines of race, or religion. But I will change my views on that if or when I do. For now, I can afford to lump them all together as The Poor. As to Muslims, the few brave enough to persist in wearing a headscarf in this community clutch their coat and children closely to them, as they scuttle along the sidewalks avoiding eye contact. If you look closely, you can see the terror, all right. It's in their eyes. Of everything they have been told, of everyone else in this country, who has been told what to see in them.

But surveillance? I'm setting up cameras myself, if it's any of your business. I want to see who is dumping their condoms and needles in front of my house. God help them, if I do. And God Bless America, too. My Daddy used to say that, when some tool jumped up and bit him. Hope this one catches these guys on the ass.
+1 # Quonomo 2012-10-22 03:14
You have some points but it has nothing to do with freaking Muslims. You have drunk the Kool Aid. It has to do with the Corporate Fascists that have bought and are buying the last of this country.

The Military Industrial Terrorist Complex, The Banks, The Insurance Companies, The Energy Companies, The Drug Companies, The Healthcare Companies, The Agra Businesses and The Walton Family. They are Cartels no different then the Drug Cartels of Mexico. They all enrich themselves at your expense. They DON'T care about YOU!

It is all about them. They own you and they are not going to set you free. You can't vote your way out of this.

If you vote Obama they will have earnest money on your soul. If you vote Romney the deal is done and closed.

Stop blaming people of another color, religion, or sexual orientation. It is the classic pickpocket trick. You feel a bump but you do not feel your wallet being lifted.

They just want you to blame others for the screwing you are getting. It is the same method the Nazi Party used to destroy Germany.

My Father told me that you can never occupy people, they will eventually throw you out. I hope he was right. My question is how bad will it get before we throw them out and what that battle will look like?

Remember if you like Walmart prices you will end up working at one and then you will have to shop at the Goodwill. Uggg!
+2 # FDRva 2012-10-20 11:22
This "totalitarian institution-bui lding in America," that the author so eloquently illuminates, has occurred under, and accelerated under the Obama presidency.

If you still think Obama is worth voting for--you probably would have thought Mussolini a great progressive.

'Re-elect Mussolini--at least he says he is pro-choice while bailing out Wall Street and starting new wars...'

I have trouble reconciling Naomi Wolf's fine article--with the 'Reelect-Obama- he-is-not-as-ba d--as-his-recor d' apologism in most other RSN contributions.

Perhaps, the operative word is contributions?
+4 # RGV.REG 2012-10-20 13:56
I agree that Obama has continued the Bush policies.
But, be careful! Don't get rid of one person you don't like and put a worse person in his place.
I would also say that we, as a country, are in deeper trouble if Romney gets into office.
It seems that the Republicans want a bankrupt country so that the global corporations (ie. wealthy elite) can use this country as another low payed resource... like they have done to Central America for years... and Romney would help bankrupt us faster.
+2 # Glen 2012-10-21 12:51
Trouble is, bobv5366, every election is one step down, regardless of who you vote for. A few positive actions do not undo the rest of the negative policies in each administration. Folks like to think we can settle, but upon closer examination, we see how bad it is getting.
+1 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-21 15:11
As David P accurately stated earlier, it is the nature of any position of power to try and maintain its power.
This applies to power grabbing for the POTUS and also to the 1 percenter trying to sell snake oil under the trickle down economy ("Let us have the whole cake and there will be more crumbs for you guys").

Calling Obama Mussolini makes no sense at all.
Mussolini stated that fascism would be better called "corporatism" for it is the nexus of the state and the corporations.
Now, between Obama and Romney, who do you think would be most subject to establishing corporatocray?
-13 # jlstiles 2012-10-20 11:42
Notice how the blind sheepish Obama lovers are not here. This is why I would not waste my vote on the Obomney campaign.
+1 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-21 16:18
We are here alright, although we are not blind or sheepish.
Get out and vote, and if you are in a swing state, think twice before voting Jill Stein (and I do like her above Obama) and getting Romney for POTUS.
+12 # James Marcus 2012-10-20 11:53
If our Nation is defined by our Constitution (including the bill of rights), then the NDAA, and all associated Acts of Surveillance, constitute Treason. TREASON! (The subversion of the Nation)
+5 # James Smith 2012-10-20 12:39
By the very acts you mention your post might be considered treason. I have no doubt that some of mine are or at least considered t be sedition. Fortunately, I am forever out of the reach of the American government. Nor do I have any plans to expose myself to being under their control ever again.

My largest concern now is to persuade my family to get out, too. I don't think it will be long before foreign travel will be restricted "for your own protection," of course.

Think it can't happen? Think back even 20 years. How many of you could have imagined what has already happened? The trend is accelerating, too.
+3 # Dave_s Not Here 2012-10-20 13:32
"Fortunately, I am forever out of the reach of the American government"

Only when you're dead, buddy.
+8 # Rita Walpole Ague 2012-10-20 11:56
Early in the 2000's, Colorado Springs was one of two cities in the world(the other one - Athens, Greece) to tear gas peaceful peace demonstrators, including small children, who were protesting against the U.S. lied into entry into the war in Iraq. Shortly thereafter, a FOI suit found Denver and Colo. Spgs., etc, peace and justice actists, being surveilled with warrantless wiretaps, computertaps, and constantly re. location, regardless of whether or not international contacting was involved.

Over and over, I've been advised that today, in our 1984 'POLICE STATE AIN'T GREAT' U.S. of (greed and power) A. (ddiction), I have refused to allow such evil violations of freedom(s), rule of law, etc. to intimidate, frighten, silence/deactiv ate me, but instead, my mantra is: I HOPE I BORE 'EM TO DEATH !

More absolutely determined and full of courage we must be, with no blinders on, in order to OCCUPY LIBERTY and JUSTICE FOR ALL, and.....

+11 # James Smith 2012-10-20 12:34
Does anyone here still believe the USA is a free country? With the provisions of the "Patriot" Act and other incursions upon civil liberties, the USA has become a police state.

As far as Obama's actions, he has been no different that any other president. What president has ever given back powers assumed by a predecessor? They all use it as an "established precedent" and as an excuse to assume even more power.
+6 # cordleycoit 2012-10-20 13:14
As a person whose career was stifled by the CIA and DI6. They were viewing my raw footage in the lab.There is a lot of harm can be done by intercepts. I was damned near beaten to death by the psychos in the IRA and was unable to continue as an action cameraman. That was in 1963 to 1978.I could not expose people I filmed to harassment and threats by the thought police. This latest action simply places a blanket over all creative work.
+5 # James Marcus 2012-10-20 13:16
I agree completely. And either way, in November, Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum will take us further down that path. The Bankstas own them both; and the Congress, Supreme Court and Major Media.
But, to where have you relocated that is safe?
0 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-21 16:22
Costa Rica?
Not safe enough, though.
+3 # Kathymoi 2012-10-20 15:41
There are people employed by the US military to read, record and report citizens' e-mails and facebook posts to "see how they are feeling about the U.S. in a general way." It's their job and they just do it the same as if their job were to wash dishes in the military kitchen but with much better pay.
+8 # Kathymoi 2012-10-20 15:42
Thank you to the group of plaintifs for doing this on behalf of all citizens.
+5 # Kathymoi 2012-10-20 15:45
We are at a time when the government and business are setting themselves up as a team in a way that diminishes the rights and the power of the public, the 99%, to do anything to protect ourselves. This is one of the steps, and we need to expose and combat all of them. Silence and acquiesence are not good policies for the 99% at this time.
+8 # Quonomo 2012-10-21 05:52
1984 deja vu. Problem is they have the technology to do now what George Orwell could only speculate.

Democracy has already been cooked and it is now merely a shit sandwich. Voting is masturbation. It feels good but you are still on your own. Talk of a third party is just foreplay to it.

"The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed--woul d have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper--the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you." George Orwell's 1984.

My father was a military man. When I was 10 years old he told me if I ever saw Martial Law get out of the country as fast as you can because nothing good is going to happen. I think we are looking at it in slow motion. Until the Patriot Act and all similar legislation is repealed or the second law of thermodynamics, entropy, takes it out. We are doomed.

They call FEMA Camps and hundreds of thousands of plastic coffins just the delusions of the fringe.

Remember --- War Is Peace ---
+5 # mrbadexample 2012-10-21 10:07
The stories Naomi Wolf is reporting from the Guardian--the surveillance of correspondence of all phone and internet transactions, the development and use of facial recognition software for real-time data collection on people engaged in first-amendment protected activities, etc.--should be on the front page of every 'news' outlet in this country. This is appalling and unconscionable, And nobody can hide behind a party on this perfidy--Obama is finishing off the security state that W started.

People need to be in the streets REGARDLESS of who 'wins' on November 6.

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