Lemming “suicide” is a frequently used metaphor in reference to people who go along unquestioningly with popular opinion, or a smooth-talking (but forked-tongue) leader, regardless of the potentially dangerous or fatal consequences.
Last week, Glenn Greenwald provided us with hard evidence in the form of a sweeping secret court order that authorized the FBI to seize all call records from a subsidiary of Verizon. The revelation was made public in The Guardian (perhaps the English-speaking world’s last bastion of a free and independent news publication). At practically the same moment, the Washington Post informed us that the National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading US Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time—that’s all of us, folks! This highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before–more on the capabilities of PRISM to follow.
In late 2005, when the news broke that the Bush Administration was conducting warrantless domestic spying on US citizens through our phone and e-mails, a furor broke loud and long. It was for our own safety and security, those public servants insisted; they really weren’t looking at the good law-abiding citizens, only those who made calls to ‘foreigners suspected of links to terrorism.’ Right, the lemmings were supposed to chorus (in fear for their safety and security) as they followed off the cliff. This was an issue turned into hay and fodder for the citizenry cattle in the 2008 election campaign.
If there is any semblance of a sane and literate populace not diminished by short-term memory dementia, let us recall the 2008 Presidential candidate of ‘hope and change’ who promised an end to unconstitutional wiretaps and warrantless spying on American citizens. It was part of the 2008 Democratic platform that insisted on “Constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans.” It declared, “We reject illegal wiretapping of American citizens.” It solemnly affirmed that “we will respect the time-honored principle of habeas corpus.” (Oh… respecting habeas corpus… that other little promise they made.) The electorate believed them, turned out in record numbers, and the Democrats won–problem solved.
Flip forward to 2013, it is that same Presidential candidate, now a second term President, and the Democratically chaired U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence whose FISA order has now been exposed to the light of day—a President who has not only institutionalized this assault on the people’s Constitutional right to privacy and security in their own homes, but doubled-down and increased the movement to turn America into a police state.
Per The Guardian, “Intelligence committee member Mark Udall, who has previously warned in broad terms about the scale of government snooping, said: “This sort of widescale surveillance should concern all of us and is the kind of government overreach I’ve said Americans would find shocking.” Former vice-president Al Gore described the “secret blanket surveillance” as “obscenely outrageous”.
Per The Nation: “While the White House, and allies in Congress (with only a few exceptions), defended the NSA phone program as necessary, legal, not really snooping on content and kind of old hat, PRISM is quite different, as it collects personal content/material. How is this?
Firsthand experience with these systems, and horror at their capabilities, is what drove a career intelligence officer to provide PowerPoint slides about PRISM and supporting materials to The Washington Post in order to expose what he believes to be a gross intrusion on privacy. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the officer said.
The Guardian, again partly via Glenn Greenwald, has much the same (even the same slides?) and it’s hard to tell who got what first or joint or what.”
President Obama’s glib response of needing to spy and watch our ideas form as we type is for our own safety and security. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Chair of that Senate Intelligence Committee tried to minimize the shock with the ‘old hat’ routine: ‘we’ve been doing it for seven years; this was just a blanket renewal.’ As though that made it more palatable and Democrats less to blame–make it a partisan issue.
Last week, I wrote a book and film review on Robert Redford’s film playing in the country’s theatres, based loosely on the novel by Neil Gordon, The Company We Keep. Both the film and the book are excellent forms of art, and are a human interest story of the survivors of the Weather Underground—an organization that had resorted to violence to bring the Vietnam War ‘home’ as a form of resistance to war they abhorred, and to a government gone mad with fascist overreach. But what struck me was just how far we, as a society, have digressed to the Orwellian world of a police state since the 1970s. The issues those dissenting citizens were protesting are still with us today, only much more aggravated and egregious, and yet with citizens having no right to voice any form of disobedience—civil or otherwise—against a heavy-handed and heavily armed government. Remember the Government’s para-militarized assault on Occupy Wall Street? To illustrate how far we’ve progressed to police-state status, President Carter pardoned members of the Weather Underground due to the FBI’s overreach of unwarranted wiretaps to gather evidence to convict them. Today, a Democratic Administration has stretched an already dubious Constitutional piece of legislation – the Patriot Act—to spy on every American’s thoughts as we type them (or say them) with no court order based on evidence of any wrongdoing.
The Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement that the secret court order was unprecedented. “As far as we know this order from the FISA court is the broadest surveillance order to ever have been issued: it requires no level of suspicion and applies to all Verizon [business services] subscribers anywhere in the US.”
‘Public servant’ government representatives are referred to as ‘public’ because they are supposed to operate in transparency and be accountable to the citizenry they serve. ‘Private citizens’ are called ‘private’ because their right to privacy and security in their own homes is supposed to be Constitutionally protected from a heavy-handed government. When a government operates in ‘secret’ and collects spy-data on American ‘private citizens’ without a court order based on evidence of wrongdoing it’s called fascism. Lemmings beware.
For those who nod and yawn that this is ‘old hat’ and fall prey to making it a partisan issue:
“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them” (Frederick Douglass)