On Wednesday, July 24, the House of Representatives, in a surprisingly close vote, defeated an amendment that called for the defunding of the National Security Agency’s warrantless and bulk domestic spying program. I say surprisingly close because the White House and the leadership of both mainstream parties opposed the amendment. The House could have lived up to its responsibility to defend the Constitution but instead chose to continue being a party to the shredding of the Fourth Amendment.
President Obama and political leaders claim that it is necessary to sacrifice much of our privacy in order to keep the U.S. secure. Benjamin Franklin didn’t agree. He said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
As a reminder, the Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
In June, after President Obama touted the key role of the NSA surveillance program in stopping terrorist plots, Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said they have seen no evidence that the NSA program “has actually provided any uniquely valuable intelligence.” They added: “As far as we can see, all of the useful information that it has provided appears to have also been available through other collection methods that do not violate the privacy of law-abiding Americans in the way that the Patriot Act collection does.”
On July 31, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis conceded that the claims about the usefulness of the program in preventing attacks had been overstated. Why then does the government continue to spend billions on a program that violates the Constitution and doesn’t deliver the goods?
Perhaps because the bulk collection of records may also allow the government to identify whistleblowers and sources used by investigative reporters. It appears the Obama administration is comfortable with leaks that portray it in a good light whereas it goes ballistic over leaks that report on its problematic actions.
The Obama administration, self-proclaimed as the most transparent in history, has indicted six former or current government employees who became whistleblowers, twice as many as all previous administrations combined. In a May 21 article in The Hill, James Bachman wrote: “These whistleblowers have revealed government waste, fraud and abuse, acts of aggression, torture and war crimes. Yet, it is those who have revealed the criminal activity that have suffered prosecution by the Obama administration while those who have actually committed the crimes have gone unpunished.”
On July 9, McClatchy News broke a story on the Insider Threat Program, enacted through a little-known executive order signed by President Obama in October 2011. This executive order requires government agencies to “implement an insider threat detection and prevention program” — in effect, ordering all government employees, regardless of security clearances or the sensitivity of their work, to police fellow workers as potential security threats, and report the suspicious behavior to superiors.
This program is not consistent with our values. If we become a nation where fellow employees and neighbors spy on one another, the social fabric of our nation would be destroyed. Indeed, this program sounds similar to things that the East German Stasi and the KGB of the Soviet Union did during the Cold War.
We must demand that Congress stop these violations by the NSA. Otherwise, in a few years we could be saying: First they came for the whistleblowers; then they came for the reporters; then they came for protestors; etc.