February 18, 2008
How stupid do they think we are? According to Nick Juliano, writing for Raw Story, they think we’re pretty darn stupid. “As President Bush continues to demand legal immunity for telecommunications companies accused of violating customers’ privacy, the government and its private-sector facilitators are reported to ‘regular[ly] foul up’ surveillance orders and filter untold numbers of innocent Americans’ communications into government computers,” writes Juliano.
Because of an “apparent miscommunication” between the FBI and a private internet provider, e-mail messages across an entire computer network were collected by the government, reports the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau, who first uncovered the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program.
E-mails from “perhaps hundreds of accounts or more” were sucked into FBI computers, Lichtblau reports, “instead of simply the lone e-mail address that was approved by a secret intelligence court as part of a national security investigation, according to a internal report of the 2006 episode.”
Hundreds? Try millions. And it’s anything but a mistake. It really is getting old, this “oops, our bumbling government screwed up again” propaganda.
According to the New York Times, probably the most successful propaganda sheet in the country — think Judith Miller, aluminum tubes, and a million plus dead Iraqis — these supposed mistakes are the product of miscommunication as the government sharpens its “technological tools.” As if to demonstrate we are indeed considered chumps and clueless bystanders, Eric Lichtblau quotes “an intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity,” and blamelessly declares: “It’s inevitable that these things will happen. It’s not weekly, but it’s common.”
In fact, unrestrained surveillance is almost as old as dirt, spanning back to the beginning of the country but really gaining steam at the turn of the last century when the government vigorously snooped on unions, political radicals, and immigrants before and after World War I. Chances are the average reader of the New York Times has never heard of the American Protective League, an organization that developed a liaison with what would eventually become the FBI. It was the InfraGard of its day, teaming up with business to rat out people deemed anti-American. It wasn’t a bumbling government that organized the Committee on Public Information, not only designed to brainwash Americans into supporting the First World War but also going after antiwar activists of the day. It sure helped when Congress passed the Sedition Act in 1918 to crack down on dissent and anti-war protests. Like the Patriot Act, this law was no mistake.
After the “war to end all wars” — or rather create more wars for more profit — Congress put together a “special” committee, known as the Dies Committee, to track and snoop subversives, that is to say people who opposed militarization and were a bit too energetic in organizing unions. The FBI, hardly fumbling, played a crucial role as the House Un-American Activities Committee convened. Agents snooped, opened mail, read telegrams, and pressured employers not to hire people deemed too radical. All of this furious activity led to the creation of COINTELPRO a few years later. The FBI infiltrated the civil rights and antiwar movements. J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director, sent informants to church meetings, intercepted mail and phone calls, conducted break-ins, and planted news stories to defame civil rights leaders.
But it wasn’t simply the FBI, assisted by local law enforcement, who surveilled, harassed, and maligned — and some believe even assassinated — activists: the military got in on the action as well. In the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. Army began secretly and illegally monitoring protests and anti-war groups. Of course, the picture would not be complete without the CIA’s “Operation Chaos,” designed to subvert entirely legal antiwar activity, never mind the CIA’s useless charter prohibited such behavior.
It should be noted that the NSA, now so often in the news, helped out the CIA by feeding it information on U.S. citizens. In 1975, the New York Times reported that the Rockefeller Commission learned that the NSA, “under ‘Project Minaret,’ received ‘watch lists’ of U.S. citizens about whom other agencies such as the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the FBI wanted information…. The legality of the operations is questionable. The committee arranged for Attorney General Edward Levi to appear … to discuss the matter. [Then NSA Director Lew Allen] admitted that the NSA had obtained no warrants for any of the monitoring.” In short, the NSA’s violation of the Fourth Amendment is nothing new or particularly surprising, going back at least thirty years. In fact, as noted above, such violations go back at least a hundred years. Due to advanced computer technology, these violations — virtually an uninterrupted tidal wave of violations — are simply more effective and widespread today.
Finally, since we know so little about the NSA and its technology — and the New York Times admitted they withheld “a number of technical details” about the latest NSA snoop program — we will probably never know if the NSA and FBI are making the sort of “mistakes” Eric Lichtblau insists they make routinely.
It is wise, however, to keep in mind something Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”
Ditto surveillance for political reasons.