Mon 16 Sep 2013
Writing last week’s posting required a struggle against paranoia. The posting criticized the Obama Administration’s then-proposed air attack on Syria, and every time I Googled “Syria” or “al Qaeda” or “Iran” or “Assad” or “chemical weapons,” I wondered if I had just triggered National Security Administration (NSA) scrutiny of my Internet use, as well as my phone calls.
Whether the Obama Administration likes it or not, Edward Snowden (right) performed an invaluable service when he informed Americans about the vast amount of domestic spying — most of it without court authorization — being carried out by the NSA.
Snowden, who had worked for an NSA contractor, is paying for his good deed by having to take asylum in Russia to avoid federal prosecution in this country.
Like former President Jimmy Carter, I am grateful that Snowden blew the whistle on the US intelligence community’s illegally spying on millions of Americans under the supposed excuse of looking for terrorists, and I wish him well.
“In the weeks after 9/11, President Bush authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct a range of surveillance activities inside the United States, which had been barred by law and agency policy for decades,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes on its website. The foundation has repeatedly filed court challenges to the government’s invasion of the public’s privacy.
“When the NSA’s spying program was first exposed by The New York Times in 2005, President Bush admitted to a small aspect of the program — what the administration labeled the ‘Terrorist Surveillance Program’ — in which the NSA monitored, without warrants, the communications of between 500 and 1000 people inside the US with suspected connections to al Qaeda.
“But other aspects of the Program were aimed not just at targeted individuals, but perhaps millions of innocent Americans never suspected of a crime,” the foundation adds.
“First, the government convinced the major telecommunications companies in the US, including AT&T, MCI, and Sprint, to hand over the ‘call-detail records’ of their customers. According to an investigation by USA Today, this included ‘customers’ names, street addresses, and other personal information.’ In addition, the government received ‘detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.’
“A person familiar with the matter told USA Today that the agency’s goal was ‘to create a database of every call ever made’ within the nation’s borders. All of this was done without a warrant or any judicial oversight.
“Second, the same telecommunications companies also allowed the NSA to install sophisticated communications surveillance equipment in secret rooms at key telecommunications facilities around the country. This equipment gave the NSA unfettered access to large streams of domestic and international communications in real time — what amounted to at least 1.7 billion emails a day, according to The Washington Post.
“The NSA could then data mine and analyze this traffic for suspicious key words, patterns and connections. Again, all of this was done without a warrant in violation of federal law and the Constitution.”
Jameel Jaffer, the American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director, said the pervasive spying on US citizens goes “beyond Orwellian.”
Before NSA’s widespread domestic spying was revealed, President Bush acknowledged the government was scrutinizing the international email and phone calls of Americans. As someone who communicates regularly with relatives in Canada and Guatemala, I probably was on the watch list early on.
But what really gave me the heebie jeebies was a comment on last week’s posting from someone — apparently in Australia — who provided the URL to a propagandist for the Syrian government. If the NSA wasn’t already spying on me, that was bound to do it, I reasoned but allowed the comment to go online anyhow.
Ho, hum, the naive will say, if I’m not doing anything wrong, why should I mind the government’s spying on me? First, it’s unconstitutional. Second, like most people I try to maintain some privacy. Third, the US government is increasingly causing trouble for journalists who criticize the administration.
Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye spent three years in prison because of a phone call from President Obama.
The Sept. 8 San Francisco Chronicle carried a worrisome account of a journalist in Yemen, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, whom a Yemini antiterrorism court in 2011 convicted of aiding al Qaeda. Shaye, who wrote freelance articles for The Washington Post and other US news media, had previously interviewed al Qaeda leaders.
In addition, The Chronicle reported, Shaye “broke the story that a 2009 missile strike on a village in south Yemen, which Yemen’s government said it launched as an attack on an al Qaeda training camp, was actually a US bombing and that most of the victims were women and children.”
Following Shaye’s conviction, Yemen’s then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh (right) was about to pardon Shaye and immediately release him from prison, The Chronicle added, when Saleh got a personal phone call from Obama who convinced him to to keep Shaye locked up for three years.
Nor is Shaye the only journalist targeted by the Obama Administration.
In the name of counter-terrorism, the Justice Department last year seized two months of the Associated Press’ phone records and “seized phone records from several Fox News lines — and labeled one correspondent a criminal ‘co-conspirator’ in its successful effort to seize his personal emails,” Fox News reported.
Describing a correspondent for ultra-conservative Fox News as a “co-conspirator” for having had contacts with a government source is chutzpah so extreme it boggles the mind. Of course, the more the NSA — which is part of the Defense Department — pushes the US toward becoming George Orwell’s 1984, the easier it is for Big Brother to harass reporters.