The elephant in the room

Helen Thomas says, “I want you in the streets. I have aroused you all to revolution and yet you’re still sitting there.”

And so we are. We sit here reading, using the internet, a thing feared by our government. Because the government know, as we do, that you can find things out on the internet. You may get confused, you may get some misinformation if you’re not careful, but you may also read things never heard on the tv. And then you will be “informed”.

Information is power, and power is noticed. The information being shared today is an underground revolution. Whether it ever breaks out in the streets depends on what our government does, for large portions of the population have been lulled to sleep. But not all of us are asleep. We are awake, and we are paying attention.

Our government commits crimes, and they commit so many of them, so brazenly, and with barely an effort to conceal the evidence, that an interested person has to go out of his or her way to avoid noticing. People who read widely on the internet become witnesses to these crimes simply by virtue of paying attention. We see the crimes and we see the cover ups. But witnesses need protection, and none is offered to the American citizen. On the contrary, our government erodes our civil rights.

That’s why we must wonder whether paying attention puts us in danger. We continue to exercise our civil liberties and first amendment rights, but Congress and the Bush administration have already auctioned off many of our rights in exchange for “security”. They snoop, they use data mining, and they watch. They surely have lists. I saw an article in The New Yorker on Mike McConnell, and he was just indignant at the suggestion that our government would do anything to illegally monitor Americans.

As the vote on the legislation approached, the Administration let it be known that threats from Al Qaeda had increased in number; there had even been signs, it claimed, of a plot to attack Congress. Many lawmakers felt manipulated and suspicious. In a meeting with McConnell, I said, “According to Senator Harry Reid, the legislation ‘authorizes warrantless searches and surveillance of American phone calls, e-mails, homes, offices, and—’ ”

“Totally untrue!” McConnell exclaimed. “I’m telling you, if you’re in the United States you have to have a warrant. Authorized by the court. Period!” Critics argued, however, that the proposed law left a loophole. If the Attorney General and the D.N.I. decided that a foreign target was a subject of interest, the law permitted them to conduct surveillance on any Americans who might be in touch with that person, to break into their homes, to open their mail, to examine their medical records—all without a warrant. Legislators worried that the law would permit the intelligence community to “reverse-target” Americans who happened to be making international calls but who had nothing to do with terrorism.

“That’s a violation of the Constitution,” McConnell said. “We can’t do that, wouldn’t do that.” Naturally, some innocent Americans would be overheard, he conceded. “What do you do about it? It’s called ‘minimize.’ Courts reviewed it—it works. You get an inadvertent collection? When you recognize what it is, you destroy it. Exception: let’s suppose it was terrorism or crime. In that case, as a community, it is our obligation to report it. But to claim that this community is monitoring the e-mail and telephone calls of millions of Americans, and that we’re doing reverse-targeting, is clearly absurd.” (page 4)

With all due respect, McConnell’s high umbrage is a big stinking pile of malarkey. He has an answer for everything, but the bottom line is they want permission to do whatever the hell they feel like doing. Period. The reporter of this story, Lawrence Wright, tells McConnell that he was under surveillance for researching and writing about Al Qaeda. Look how blithely McConnell brushes off Wright’s concern that his daughter was put on the FBI’s link chart as an Al Qaeda connection.

I then told him about the F.B.I. officials who visited my house. “They were members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force,” I said. They wanted to know about phone calls made to a solicitor in England who represented several jihadis I had interviewed for my book. “The actual calls involved her telling me, ‘Please don’t talk to my clients,’ ” I said.

“Now if you ever became a target for surveillance, they would go get a warrant and tap your telephone,” McConnell said. “But they would have to have probable cause to do that.”

“What bothers me is that my daughter’s name came up in this,” I said. The agents had told me they believed that she was the one making the calls. That was ridiculous, but it placed her on the F.B.I.’s link chart as an Al Qaeda connection. “Her name is not on any of our phones,” I continued. “So how did her name arise?”

“I don’t know,” McConnell admitted. “Maybe you mentioned her name.”

“That troubles me,” I said.

“It may be troublesome, it may not be,” McConnell said. “You don’t know.” (page 12)

“You don’t know.” You don’t know what the hell the intelligence agencies are doing, you don’t know whether you need to be concerned (though naturally you will be completely alarmed), you don’t know whether to keep working for fear that you could be putting your family in danger, you don’t know whether to shit or go blind. You got a problem with that? Well, then you must be doing something wrong.

McConnell and the Bush administration argue that they need all this permission to keep us safe. But in reality, they need it because they can’t hide their crimes so easily anymore. They require tools of intimidation and ways to silence the witnesses. Surveillance will do that. If you saw a thug commit a crime, and then you saw the thug driving by your house slowly everyday, staring at you, would you want some protection? What if the thug was a cop? Now what do you do? That’s about where we’re at.

According to The New Yorker article, people in the intelligence community talk about security and privacy being a zero-sum game. That’s bullshit. It’s zero-sum for them. If we have no privacy, they have security. It’s heads they win, tails we lose logic. To an average American citizen privacy and security are positively correlated. When your privacy goes up, so does your security. The government uses the bogus war on terror to stampede people into giving up their privacy, and this has made us all profoundly less secure.

Yesterday I heard a conservative voter from Kansas being interviewed on the radio. This woman held an exceedingly shallow understanding of the candidates. Huckabee was a Christian, and she was a Christian, so she liked him. Romney had the business sense that Bush has (??), so she liked him. McCain was a military man, so she liked him. This was her level of analysis. She sighed in distress that she hadn’t heard more specifics from McCain, or Romney or Huckabee. She wanted specifics, like what would they do about immigration? How was she supposed to decide? They were holding out on her.

Apparently it has not occurred to this woman to take matters into her own hands and do a little research. That would require a small effort on her part, and she would rather be spoon-fed pabulum from the tv. The candidates and the media owed her this much, that she not have to think. Then she complained that Mitt Romney offended her when he began a speech with a rallying cry about our country being broken. She does not think this country is broken, and how dare he besmirch the good name of the United States by implying that it is. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. She is asleep.

The woman proudly shared her opinion and her troubles with the nation. NPR treated her with the utmost respect, as though her opinion was valuable, when clearly she expended precious little effort to form it. She was just another good American from the heartland trying to do the right thing, and she has dutifully digested everything she’s been told on tv for the past twenty years. She will probably believe anything as long as it comes from the mouth of a respectable tv personality.

NPR knows the woman is ignorant, and many listeners know she is ignorant, but she is allowed to continue in her ignorance unmolested. NPR broadcast her ignorant opinion across the country without challenging any of it. They thanked her. That’s what the first amendment means today: you are free to be an ignoramus just as long as you don’t put any pressure on the system. As long as you just lie there and take it. If you are poking and prodding and kicking and screaming on the other hand, watch out. Your rights may be in jeopardy.

Let’s just get one thing straight. Anyone who truly cares about the truth will have spent some time doing a little online research. It’s been over six years since 911 and almost five years since we invaded Iraq. The people who have not looked into these events and have not done a little independent research in the intervening years really don’t care what happened. They know very well that people have raised questions, but they don’t want to take any time out of their lives to look at those questions honestly. They don’t really want to know the truth. It’s just too risky. God forbid they might have to reassess their deeply held beliefs in American Exceptionalism. It’s non-negotiable, just like the American “way of life”. So instead, they disparage those of us who dare to look. They say we don’t share the same “values”. That’s right. We don’t. Some of us value the truth.

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