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Boardman writes: "It's not merely a question of whether Barack Obama can be trusted to spy on us responsibly. It's a question of whether it's self-preserving, or even sane, to put in place an architecture of oppression that relies on the good faith of this and every future president to preserve anything like traditional American freedoms."

NSA employees in monitoring center. (photo: NSA)
NSA employees in monitoring center. (photo: NSA)

Does It Matter Who's Rummaging Through Our Lives?

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

18 June 13


ational Security Agency (NSA) Covertly Inspects Anyone's Private Life

How many people do you know who, hearing that the NSA has been busy obliterating privacy, have said something to the effect of"Well, duh" or"That's old news," or worse:"Didn't we make that legal?" It's not as though the NSA were carrying out break-ins, is it?

Forty-one years ago, on June 17, 1972, the break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate Hotel evoked similar reactions along the lines of"Big deal" or"Who cares?" The Nixon White House officially dubbed it a"third-rate burglary attempt," with a secret irony that Oval Office operatives could enjoy right through the fall election and President Nixon's sweeping, landslide victory.

Secretly (except from himself) taped six days after the break-in, the president asked:"Who was the asshole who ordered it?" Some take this to mean he didn't know about the break-in in advance; others think it means he was aware that he was taping himself and needed to sound innocent. Either way, he ordered a cover-up that was effective for a time.

Like the current White House, with its record number of prosecutions under the 1913 Espionage Act, the Nixon White House could also behave obsessively about leaks. In May 1969, when The New York Times revealed the secret bombing of Cambodia (not that it was secret to the Cambodians), Nixon ordered more than a dozen FBI wiretaps, but didn't find the leaker. So the White House created its own secret team, called the Plumbers Unit, to stop leaks by wiretapping, burglarizing, and any means necessary.

Thanks to Congress and 9/11, Obama Doesn't Need to Break the Law

But just because the president may not need to break the law, that doesn't mean his administration hasn't broken the law anyway.

The first wave of post-Watergate legislation in the early 1970s did much to make government more accountable and transparent, at least in principle. But the second wave of post-Watergate legislation has had a counter-revolutionary effect, expanding the powers of government and curtailing the freedoms of citizens, most notably in the fear-driven and wildly misnamed USA PATRIOT Act, but in many less sweeping but equally freedom-inhibiting bills as well.

Most characteristic of the relationship of Americans and the law over the past three decades is the response to the Bush administration's illegal wiretapping of Americans – about which the Congress did nothing but make the activities legal and give the phone companies retroactive immunity from prosecution. This is what is generally referred to in popular demagoguery as"the rule of law."

By Now American Discourse Is Deep into Orwellian Obfuscation and Deceit

"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls," President Obama blandly and irrelevantly assured the American people after the NSA sweep of all our meta-data was revealed. The assurance was irrelevant because the issue was the administration's secret interpretation of the law governing the secret workings of a secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court.

According to Obama, in an interview with Charlie Rose, the secret decisions of the secret court operating on the basis of a secret legal opinion all add up to a system that is"transparent." Also, it's not eating your lunch.

Obama also said on June 7:"The programs are secret in the sense that they are classified. They are not secret, in that every member of Congress has been briefed…. These are programs that have been authored by large bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006."

Contrary to Obama's assertion, a number of congressmen said that they had not been briefed. The White House promptly held a series of congressional briefings.

Obama's claim of"large bipartisan majorities" passing the laws under which the NSA and other spy agencies operate is a true enough description of congressional spinelessness. Obama is deceitful in avoiding his administration's secret interpretation of those laws.

Congressmen, Senators Leap on"Do Something About the NSA" Bandwagon

Senator Ron Wyden has been trying for years to get people's attention about their government's spying on them, but he has been constrained by official secrecy laws.

Now the Oregon Democrat is joining with fellow Democratic senator Mark Udall of Colorado to bring forward a bill to"limit the federal government's ability to collect data on Americans without a demonstrated link to terrorism or espionage."

A number of other lawmakers are offering or promising to offer bills dealing with the NSA and even other spy agencies, among them Representative John Conyers, Democrat, and Representative Justin Amash, Republican, both of Michigan, as well as the entire Vermont congressional delegation (three members).

Most of the congressional rhetoric so far is about tidying up the situation, but not changing it substantially. You can hear their outrage as much as two and three feet away.

An exception is Florida Democratic representative Alan Grayson, who has introduced a simple and straight-forward solution to the ambiguities and complexities of NSA-related issues: if the NSA acts without probable cause, the NSA loses its funding.

Offered as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2014, Grayson's bill states in relevant part:"None of the funds … may be used to collect any information generated by a citizen of the United States while located in the United States … without probable cause…."

"Probable cause" is a constitutional principle (Fourth Amendment) and implies the need for a warrant before the government rummages through your private things.

Unlike any other member of Congress so far, Grayson is proposing the radical notion that, if the government wants to break the law, at least we won't have to pay them to do it.

Once You Build the Architecture of Oppression, Who Gets to Live in It?

The larger point that has yet to take hold of public consciousness is that our government, through the NSA and other agencies, has created what Edward Snowden called"the architecture of oppression."

The architecture of oppression is a phrase that often provokes immediate denial, in the form of a comment about this still being a free country, or saying that Americans are not oppressed. True as that may be, that response misses the reality that an architecture of oppression, once in place, remains benign only as long as it is not widely used.

It's not merely a question of whether Barack Obama can be trusted to spy on us responsibly.

It's a question of whether it's self-preserving, or even sane, to put in place an architecture of oppression that relies on the good faith of this and every future president to preserve anything like traditional American freedoms.

If the real Watergate burglaries of others weren't okay, why should we even consider tolerating the government committing universal virtual burglaries of ourselves?

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+11 # BradFromSalem 2013-06-18 14:12
What Mr. Boardman is leaving out is the role of the Supreme Court in this mess. SCOTUS intentionally avoided any responsibility for maintaining the "spirit" of the US Constitution. They did this by insisting that in order for a suit to be brought against the FISA court and the Patriot Act, someone would have to prove harm. Obviously, when the Court and its actions are held so secret that its orders are that private enterprises or persons involved in assisting the court carry out its activties are bound to lie about their participation. "Quite a catch that Catch-22." "It's the best one we got!" (From the movie Catch-22)
So, the Supremes ducked a question by using an impossible to get around technicality to dismiss a case. The Snowden case by get around that Catch-22 road block.

The only solution is that all this activity occur in the light of day. If the government wants to carry around a database of every number dialed, ettc; just tell us you are doing it. And the only power that a FISA court can have is to sunset each warrant request. In other words, they can rule a warrant request must be as defined in the Constitution and within a maximum of 2 months the details of the warrant become public.

The real issue is all this silly secrecy.
+2 # hwgoldson 2013-06-19 07:38
Agreed!!! If we are truly to have a democracy (something that is far from settled) it must require an informed citizenry. That means an open government. It's time we reject the political fear tactics and demand that we the people be an integral part of the structure
+1 # WBoardman 2013-06-19 12:44
Good point about the Supreme Court.

Here's an argument that the catch-22 may not be
as tight as it may have seemed:
0 # BradFromSalem 2013-06-19 14:49
Thanks. I was actually thinking that Snowden has opened the door for the Supreme Court to look at the FISA set up. My cynicism tells me that they will likely squirm away from it. And if in fcat he has weakened the Catch-22, then doesn't that make him equally a whistle blower as well as a criminal? No argument thta his action were/are criminal, the question is according to Common Law principles going back to the Magna Charta and probably the Bible.
+4 # 4merlib 2013-06-18 22:47
"Once You Build the Architecture of Oppression, Who Gets to Live in It?"

Well-framed, and very cogent indeed!

We need to keep this perspective before us for all time!
+2 # DaveM 2013-06-18 22:48
The trouble in any system like this is that, matter how benign the intention of such a program, it remain benign only to the degree that the most morally weak person who has access to the data has a conscience.

I have been harassed for over a year by an individual who escalated from fairly standard intenet trolling to hacking internet accounts and posting threats under my name. This person is a military intelligence officer. Thus far, his superiors appear to be protecting him, while I am facing criminal charges due to his activities.

My concerns seem like to be cleared up since his identity has been discovered. But I cannot help but wonder how many more like me there are, "unofficially" being tormented by individuals who have access to their personal data and are determined to use it as a cyberattack tool

Attorneys and other personnel who may be interested in assisting me with the present matter or the civil suit that will follow may contact me an This just might be very big.
+3 # Nominae 2013-06-18 22:55
Indeed, the Obama "rationale" for this "architecture of oppression" is a carbon copy of his "rationale" for his NDAA authorized power to kill American citizens at anytime, in any place, with zero due process of any kind.

He "assures us" that he himself would *never* use that dread power. Really ? Then why does he *want* it ? Why is he counter suing Christopher Hedges et al in Federal Court to *preserve* it ?

And, if he really WAS a complete angel somehow under the delusion that he needed both Horns and a barbed tail (although he woud never USE them), how are Americans to be convinced that FUTURE presidents just may NOT BE similar "angels" ?

Even Obama knows that this pap will not fly with American Intellectuals, but that is *not* for whom this BS is designed !

It's designed for Joe Low Information Voter. And so far, Joe is as happy as a clam.
+1 # Walter J Smith 2013-06-18 23:03
The author is so devoted to his bipartisan boosterism he couldn't bring himself to say that before the democrats woke up on this, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced legislation to do about the same thing:

It was the bipartisan hacks who got us into this mess, and who got us into the ungoverned & untaxed Wall Street-strangle d economy mess, and into the global meta-pollution messes, and into the now six decades old and growing nuclear standoff mess with Russia, China, Iran, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and who knows what else that same crowd of bipartisan hacks has brewing.

Three cheers for the bipartisan hacks.
+3 # WBoardman 2013-06-19 11:22
"bipartisan boosterism"?
What does that mean?
Read more carefully, please.

Walter Smith seems not to have understood my skepticism.
Mercutio was right: a plague on both their houses.

I omitted the Sanders bill because it was more of the same, a bandwagon-jumpi ng effort to tinker at the edges.
That's why he's included in a dismissive throw-away reference, because he's in the group "you can hear their outrage two and three feet away."

There's no evidence that "the democrats woke up on this," or that much of anyone else did.

Grayson is the exception, that's the point.
+5 # Milarepa 2013-06-19 01:03
Tragically, the lessons of Nuremberg appear to have been forgotten. A criminal government like the Nazis can only create criminal laws. Individual moral conscience supersedes criminal legislation, that's what the Nuremberg trials established. The US is well on its way to turning into a criminal government, precisely through secret machinations. If the so-called Patriot Act and other legislation like it is being used to suppress individual moral conscience (as with Ellsberg, Assange, Manning, Snowden and others) then, yes, a criminal architecture has been put in place. It's hard to see how this road, once taken, can be abandoned. The ruling power class is much to comfortable using what it has put in place. Today I'd say the US, morally speaking, is in the position of the Roadrunner who has overshot the brink of the abyss. He is treading air for a second or two - then the fall. Morally speaking, that's what's happening to the United States.
+1 # RMDC 2013-06-19 04:49
The "architecture of oppression" began in the late 1800s when the US regime began to develop spy agencies like the Secret Service and shortly later the FBI to spy on, disrupt, subvert, and destroy labor unions. At the very start of the attempt of people to organize and express some power in the so-called "free market," the US regime -- always a front for capital -- took off the gloves and began to develop its "architecture of oppression." It has never stopped.

the digital revolution gave a huge boost to the deep fascism in the US regime. The FBI's COINTELPRO (counter-intell igence program of spying on, distrupting and "decapitating" the people power movements of the 50s and 60s) relied on what the spies call "humint" -- human intelligence -- infiltrators, real phone taps, planted microphones, and real murder. Humint is by its nature very small.

With the digital revolution, all people can be monitored all the time. Computers never sleep and they can be everywhere at once. Everything everyone does that goes through some electronic device is recorded and stored in databases belonging to the NSA, FBI, DOD, CIA, DHS, and so on.

The goal of the programs Snowden exposed is the same as the goal of COINTELPRO -- to "decapitate" democracy in the US and the world. "Decapitate" is J. Edgar Hoover's term. He used it in memos giving his agents instructions on how to destroy the civil rights movement.
+1 # Rita Walpole Ague 2013-06-19 05:36
Rule of Law thrown in the toilet - and now, flushed down, along with any hope whatsoever for liberty and justice for all.

The Irish cousin nailed it when saying:

+1 # Texas Aggie 2013-06-19 06:20
That this information WILL be misused is obvious since similar things are already happening. We have one example in Scott Walker's pettiness in withdrawing a nomination to the student position on a governing board when Walker discovered that the student nominated had signed a petition against him.

Then there are all the opportunities for misinterpretati on that the spy services are so prone to in their paranoia. How many innocent people were kidnapped and extradited to Syria or Egypt to be tortured under Bush's program of extraordinary rendition? How many innocent people has the FBI hounded in recent memory and caused so much personal damage? How many protestors with absolutely no intention of causing trouble have been preemptively arrested and abused because the FBI doesn't want anyone to rock the boat?

This Total Information Network™ behavior was started by Poindexter and, despite protestations to the contrary, has been progressively developed ever since.
+3 # walt 2013-06-19 07:41
This all results from two great tragedies...

One is that we allowed our government more freedoms than they should ever have had in spying on Americans.

The second is that there is a large number of citizens whose response is that it's all OK because they have nothing to hide.

Such is the beginning of a complete take-over of freedoms we cherished under our constitution.

Sadly, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We even allowed a president and vice president to lie us into the Iraq invasion using lies and we still we have done nothing about it even when the GOP House screams we have to pay for it now.

Will Americans ever wake up and demand action?
-3 # bmiluski 2013-06-19 09:23
Are you people kidding? Spying has been going on since humans walked the earth. This is just a new version. You want to get rid of or control spying......the n change our DNA cause it's in us and we can't help it.
+4 # WBoardman 2013-06-19 11:29
This is not an argument.

The issue is what the government is now doing,
most of it with our authorization.

If that's OK with you, fine for you and too bad for me.

But governments don't have DNA and is we think their behavior is criminal, then we should criminalize it.

You are not helpless, and you really shouldn't pretend that everyone else is.
0 # bmiluski 2013-06-19 13:29
The government is made up of people. It is NOT its own entity. And it's the people that have the snoopy DNA.
+1 # jwb110 2013-06-19 10:02
Once You Build the Architecture of Oppression, who gets to live in it. Truer words were never spoken.
One no one has addressed is that this info is stored and can be retrieved at anytime. That leaves open the possibility of witch hunts and leverage in policy, elections, character assassinations, pick something......

And no matter how much spin comes from the Gov't this is Oppression.
0 # bmiluski 2013-06-19 10:41
Well how oppressive is it that someone in China knows what sort of food you eat and what kind of clothes you wear and what you like to do for pleasure? Cause that's been going on since the very first time you went on the internet.
+1 # WBoardman 2013-06-19 11:31
Another non-argument.

Also dubious factually -- since China likely has less interest
in this sort of information that American corporations.

And Chine has much less incentive to manipulate
such information than American corporations.
+1 # bmiluski 2013-06-19 13:39
Do you really think that Chinese manufacturers aren't doing market research? Do you really think they're not trying to figure out how to make what you buy cheaper so they can sell it to your Walmarts, K-Marts, etc.
+1 # DurangoKid 2013-06-19 10:08
Once again, the fundamental point everyone seems to be missing; the president is not the presidency. The two are separate and distinct. The presidency is an institution served by the president. The institution serves the accumulation of capital. Long before presidents are elected to office they must demonstrate they will serve the presidency. Candidates that want to change it are weeded out regardless of their campaign rhetoric or party affiliation. "Change you can believe in" is a marketing slogan, nothing more.

To be effective a president must seek to extend the reach of presidential power. Extending that power usually means diminishing someone else's power. That someone is anyone outside the Executive Branch.

Part of that power is to control the national narrative that defines us as a nation. Part of that narrative is the US is peace loving, classless, lawful, etc, etc. None of which is true. Part of the program is to monitor all communication to detect people who don't buy the Big Lie. They must be marginalized to keep the majority of the sheeple in line. New lies are manufactured to counter what little slivers of truth emerge from time to time. It's important to the 1% that nonconforming versions of the national narrative be repressed. It's a big job. One metric of how scared is 1% is how badly they want to know what we're talking about.

BTW, the courts have ruled your expectation of privacy on the web is the same as a post card.
+1 # rja 2013-06-19 15:52
I wonder if there isn't another solution to all of this as well - one that would serve to better ensure all-around individual privacy. As I understand it, the NSA was able to force companies such as Google, Microsoft, Verizon, etc. to turn over the data they mine. Why not put a stop to data mining - period. It is not only the Government that is violating our privacy but digital enterprises as well.
Why should any company - without our direct approval - sell personal information about their subscribers? Why have we made the NSA's job easier by allowing them to mine the data mined by commercial enterprises?
-4 # tabonsell 2013-06-19 16:31
I think two intelligent and talented Democratic senators may not understand the issues if their proposal is to "limit the federal government's ability to collect data on Americans without a demonstrated link to terrorism or espionage."

The controversy that columnist Gene Lyons calls the "Edward Snowden-Glenn Greenwald Chicken Little Brigade" also misses the point. The program half of America has its panties in a twizzle about is to discover links to terrorism or espionage.

NSA doesn't collect personal data; it gathers a list of phone calls that contain only numbers. Those numbers are the phones that originate the calls and the phones that receives the calls plus the amount of time the calls lasted. No other information is involved or collected.

That list can be run through a computer that isolates only those phone numbers that are foreign. The rest are ignored and of no use to intelligence gatherers. It is only those calls with foreign phone numbers involved that may come under suspicion and only then if there is additional reason to seek a court order. The method already limits the government's ability to collect data and none is collected on Americans unless they are half of the foreign calls.

Lyons has it right; this does involve a "Chicken Little Brigade."
0 # 2013-06-19 19:37
Never fear:- with 4bn items a day to read and sort, they won't see much at all.

The lucky alternative this may bring the substitute correction to the Romney expressed 47% of non-working rate in working class Americans by employing all the people displaced by automation in Corporate America.

USA can morph into a Socialist Democracy where 50% of workers are Government Employees or bludgers.
0 # dcred 2013-06-20 12:47
Well duh! (no offense) I’m much afraid you talkin t.o. iceberg, Slim. What about the NDAA detention provisions (which BO also said He’d never use but sig anyway---b/c genz told him to?); USMilitary-corp o coordinated preps for “civil unrest” (reported on by RSN or maybe T/O, or Truthdig---alwa ys too much to keep tracof why don’t they coordinate n save us so much time??---just this week); branding of anti-pipeline protest as Terrorismo, w/o consequence in the kept press, naturally; ‘militarization of police forces’ everywhere; the FEMA camps; und so weiter, und so fort…?
Like, why did they strip BManning naked & keep him in a torture cell for all to see---after the prez pronounced him guilty (“He broke the law”)? And the whole estab led by SenD. Fineswine, intel chiefess so quickly n loudly shrieked pronouncement of Treason on Snowden--- making him eligible for a JSOC drop-in shootiminna face, hide the body, like Osama?? You wanna bet against it?
Please, let’s all make a much greater and more focused effort to be real about what we’re really dealing with---includin g not least including the perfect contentment of the real shot-callers to have a couple smooth-talking slick black face-men out there fronting it all…

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