Posts filed under Surveillance

The Age of Bronze

As we approach the New Year, we naturally think of ends, and of beginnings; what has changed, and what we have lost. So hey, libertarians, let’s all get together and feel sorry about the golden age of Limited Government and Individual Liberty we have lost. Remember the ancient liberties that we all enjoyed only 60 years ago, back in the 1950s? Back when all military-age men were subject to the draft, people were being interrogated before a permanent committee of Congress over their political beliefs, the FBI was conducting massive illegal wiretapping, surveillance and disruption against nonviolent civil rights activists, the National Security Agency was established as a completely secret surveillance arm of the federal government, it was illegal for married or unmarried women to buy basic birth control, it was made illegal for anyone to buy any scheduled drug without a doctor’s prescription, government was conducting medical experiments on unwilling human subjects[1], Urban Renewal was demolishing the core of every major U.S. city to build government highways and housing projects, and massive community-wide immigration raids were terrorizing undocumented migrants throughout the Southwest.

Or like back in the 1940s when government spending was over 50% of GDP, nearly the entire consumer economy was subject to government rationing, Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps, and a secret government conspiracy was building an entire network of secret cities in order to build atomic bombs to drop on civilian centers.

Or like back in the 1930s when the entire institutional groundwork of the New Deal was being implemented, Roosevelt was making himself president-for-life, government attempted to seize all gold or silver bullion in private hands, the federal government first instituted the Drug War, Jim Crow was the law of the land, Congress created the INS, Jews fleeing the incipient Holocaust in Europe were being turned away by immigration authorities, and psychiatrists were using massive electric shocks or literally mutilating the brains of women and men confined to asylums.

Or like the 1920s when it was illegal to buy alcoholic drinks anywhere in the United States, tariff rates were nearly 40% on dutiable imports, Sacco and Vanzetti were murdered by the state of Massachusetts, the Invisible Empire Second Era Klan effectively took over the state governments of Colorado, Indiana, and Alabama, hundreds of black victims were massacred in race riots in Tulsa and Rosewood, when Congress created the Federal Radio Commission[2], the US Border Patrol, passed the Emergency [sic] Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924, and the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the authority of the state to forcibly sterilize women deemed “feeble-minded” or “promiscuous” for eugenic purposes.

Or the 1910s, when the federal government seized control of foreign-owned companies to facilitate production of chemical weapons, imposed the first-ever use of federal conscription to fight an overseas war, invaded Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico[3], Russia, and Europe, passed criminal anarchy and criminal syndicalism statutes, tried and convicted hundreds of people for belonging to radical unions, imprisoned hundreds of people for protesting the draft during World War I (ordered by the President of the United States and upheld by the Supreme Court in one of its most radical anti-free-speech decisions), deported hundreds of people solely for holding anti-state political beliefs, the Mann Act made it illegal to “transport women across statelines for immoral purposes” [sic], the Colorado National Guard machine-gunned and burned alive striking miners and their families in order to break a UMWA organizing campaign, and Congress created the Federal Reserve, the Income Tax, the Espionage Act, and the Sedition Act.

Or maybe like the 1900s. … .

  1. [1] See also the biological and radiological experiments documented here, and the Guatemala syphilis experiment conducted from 1946-1948.
  2. [2] Created in 1926; later converted into the Federal Communications Commission in 1934.
  3. [3] In 1914, and then again in 1916-1917

There is no such thing as a limited police state

Use of sneak-and-peek secret search warrants in federal investigations 2006-2009.

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin - not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial.

— John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke, U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans
Reuters news wire, quoted by Matt Welch at Reason (August 5, 2013)

Well of course the NSA’s secret data-gathering, spying and warrantless wiretaps have been used to prosecute American drug cases. Every single fascist National Security monitoring program, secret search and seizure method, surveillance policy, financial regulation, foreign-aid slush fund, paramilitary police program and executive power that has been created over the last 20 years in the name of counter-terrorism — including large sections of Clinton’s AEDPA and large sections of Bush Jr.’s PATRIOT Act — has been utilized, over and over again, by federal prosecutors and the DEA in order to gather evidence and coerce testimony in drug cases. Every single National Security state program, regardless of its alleged purpose, has been used to strengthen the narcs’ hand, and to double down on the federal government’s insane and destructive prosecution of a War on Drugs. This one is just as outrageous; but it’s no different, and no more surprising.

Now, even if there were such a thing as a limited National Security state — even if there were some way to create a counter-terrorism-only police state, which would focus on a single threat without creating a general, all-powerful police state in the process — it would still mean shredding civil liberties, targeting people and activities which ought to be presumed innocent, and it would still be destructive and wrong.

But, in any case, there is no such thing. There is no way to focus a police state on only one group of people or one part of life; there are no partial or limited police states. There is only a police state — one which will come for you sooner, or later.

Progressive Politics: Send in all your private phone records to me, Al Franken, Washington, DC.

Via Sheldon Richman on Facebook, comes this story about political Progressivism.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) emerged as one of the most notable progressive defenders of the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance programs on Monday when he expressed a “high level of confidence” that the federal government’s collection of phone and Internet data has been effective in thwarting terrorism.

I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people, Franken told Minneapolis-based CBS affiliate WCCO. The junior Minnesota senator, who’s only been in the Senate since 2009, said he was was very well aware of the surveillance programs and was not surprised by a recent slate of bombshell reports by both The Guardian and The Washington Post.

I have a high level of confidence that this is used to protect us and I know that it has been successful in preventing terrorism, Franken said.

— Tom Kludt, Al Franken Defends NSA Surveillance: It’s Not Spying, They’re Protecting Us
in TPMLiveWire (Tuesday, June 11, 2013)

Of course he has. Because he is privileged to be part of the us that is being protected, not the us that is being spied on. The reactions of many political Progressives to this scandal — including many political Progressives who had presented themselves for years as civil libertarians — are outrageous; but they should not be even a little bit surprising. They are yet another illustration of why serious social change can never come about through electoral politics; because the only mechanism that electoral politics has for change is to make a different party into the governing party. But when a party becomes the governing party, the party that they belong to has always proved to be of far less practical significance than the fact that they are, or see themselves as, governing. Their first and last loyalty will never be to a professed set of principles or a party platform, but rather to the uninterrupted continuity of government, and the successful management of the core structures of state power. The first and last loyalty of the party in power in America will always be to power, both for their party and for the American government — not to the causes or the principles or the people that they claim to speak for.

Also.

Monday Lazy Linking

Tyranny means never having to say you’re sorry (Cont’d)

In which Richard Falkenrath — proud perambulator of the Beltway revolving door and purveyor of advice for state-security police throughout the U.S.[1] — explains why he, and law enforcement investigators and intelligence officers in the U.S. — admire, and even envy the political environment in the United Arab Emirates, whose oligarchy of petty tyrants and absolute monarchs recently banned BlackBerry mobile phones, because Research in Motion won’t alter their specs to suit the Emirs’ desire to break into BlackBerry customers’ phones and secretly snoop on what they are saying.

Monitoring electronic communications in real time and retrieving stored electronic data are the most important counterterrorism techniques available to governments today. Electronic surveillance is particularly vital in combating global terrorism, where the stakes are highest, but it is a part of virtually all investigations of serious transnational threats….

The United Arab Emirates is in no way unique in wanting a back door into the telecommunications services used inside its borders to allow officials to eavesdrop on users. In the United States, telecommunications providers are generally required to provide a mechanism for such access by the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and related regulations issued by the Federal Communications Commission. … The F.C.C. is not, however, a national security agency: it is an independent, bipartisan commission whose members serve fixed terms. The commission interprets a variety of statutes and balances many different interests, including the business success of telecommunications providers and the convenience of consumers, and its rulings are subject to legal challenge in the courts.

As a result, there remain a number of telecommunication methods that federal agencies cannot readily penetrate. Given the way the F.C.C. operates, the prospect of it taking a swift, decisive action to make these services accessible to the government is almost inconceivable. Hence the envy some American intelligence officials felt about the Emirates’ decision.

Research in Motion is learning a lesson that other companies have learned before . . . no provider of information services is exempt from the power of the state.

No doubt.

Anyway, as Jacob Sullum comments on this paean to political will and unconstrained executive power:

Yes, dictators sure are good at avoiding legal barriers to surveillance. They are also never stymied because governmental intrusion into ostensibly private communications offends liberal sensibilities, as Falkenrath dismissively describes civil libertarian concerns about snooping in the name of national security. Here are some other obstacles the UAE avoids, according to the State Department’s most recent report on the country’s human rights record: elections, representative government, an independent judiciary, governmental transparency, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. The State Department adds that there were unverified reports of torture during the year, that security forces sometimes employed flogging as judicially sanctioned punishment, that arbitrary and incommunicado detention remained a problem, and that legal and societal discrimination against women and noncitizens [who represent 80 percent of the population] was pervasive.

Neverthless, says Falkenrath, the Emirates acted understandably and appropriately in banning BlackBerries. The lesson of this episode, according to Falkenrath: Governments should not be timid about using their full powers to ensure that their law enforcement and intelligence agencies are able to keep their citizens safe. Some governments, of course, have fuller powers than others, which makes their citizens (and noncitizen residents) extra safe.

It takes a certain kind of mindset to crow about the will and ability to bulldoze right over many different interests, among them the business success of telecommunications providers, the convenience of consumers, and the possibility of legal challenge in the courts, if any of them threaten to get in the way of secret government, executive power, and the overriding interests of State security — to portray unaccountable tyrannies as if they are acting carefully and responsibly in the interests of their citizens, precisely to the extent they exercise their political tyranny unaccountably to obliterate barriers to surveilling and arresting those very citizens. The mindset is no less tawdry and mean for being so common among the most powerful, influential, and well-connected people on earth. And given that this attitude is as common as it is among law enforcement investigators and intelligence officers, the very last thing that us citizens ought to be feeling is safe.

See also GT 2008-02-15: Tyranny means never having to say you’re sorry on another bit of power=envy directed at the arbitrary and unaccountable ruling class of the U.A.E.

  1. [1] Falkenrath is a former flunky for Bush’s Department of Homeland Security; now he’s working as a flunky for Michael Chertoff’s state-security consulting firm, and writing New York Times Op-Ed pieces on behalf of the professional interests of his state-security police colleagues.