I have nothing to hide. I do not send emails to Al Qaeda sleeper cells in the United States or abroad. I do send emails to Belgrade, definitively a suspect destination. My charitable contributions are to the Red Cross and the United Way and not to the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee or Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya, but I have been known to send contributions to the Serbian Orthodox Church, not a mainstream religion, one to be closely monitored.I have not visited, joined or logged on to the Ashley Madison site for adulterous wayward spouses nor have Isurfed the net for graphic pornographic images or videos. Who cares if I have ordered books from Amazon or bought Broadway theater tickets on line? My digital electronic life is an open book.
Then why am so incensed, so pissed off by the disclosure that the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies both domestic and foreign have for years monitored my internet and telephone communications?
Well for a start, I do not like to be played with andkept in the dark.I have long held suspicions that America was engaged in covert surveillance. I remember Project “Shamrock” which intercepted millions of telegrams in and out of the United States, the eavesdropping of Project “Chaos” and the Pentagon Papers criminal break-ins. I thought that these rogue operations had been put to rest by the Church Senate Intelligence Activities Committee in ’76.
I can live with rogue operations run by rogue agents. You can’t control all of your agents all of the time and when you detect a rogue operation you shut it down and punish the culprits. You can’t very well do that with foreign intelligence agencies but you should at least be able to police your own.
What I can’t abide is the wholesale indiscriminate mining of all electronic means of communication, telephone, faxes, e mails, file transfers, Skype conversations, video exchanges, live chats including computer search histories and the like. This information rape was performed by access with either affirmative or tacit approval to “the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants” collecting data and information “directly from the servers” of major service providers including Verizon, AT&T and Time-Warner.
The leaked documents claim that the program, dubbed “Prism”, was a “back door” to the service providers’ servers through which the information flowed and was stored and was “run with the assistance of the companies” allowing the Government unfettered access to information. The companies have responded with non-denial denials.
No one denies that this unwarranted – I say illegal and criminal – collection of information took place, takes place and is on-going under a cloak of secrecy imposed by false claims of “national security” constraints.
With fear in the aftermath of 9/11 and with outright lies President Bush was able the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq Resolution passed that authorized a disastrous war. As a corollary, the so-called Patriot Act was enacted with Congress’ acquiescence. It is the misuse of that legislation that enabled the present abuse privacy. President Obama continues both policies and even expands some aspects.
The White House callously justifies the cloak of national security secrecy that hid the truth from America by claiming that Congress was fully briefed on the Prism program on at least 21 occasions. A question immediately comes to mind: If Congress was fully briefed why were not the American people fully briefed or, with deference to national security, at least made aware of what was being done to them and in their name?
President Obama, after the horses had left the barn, now “welcomes a debate over the right balance between security and privacy”. His call for a debate is illusory. Many provisions of the Patriot Act are within the purview of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [“FISA”] and the jurisdiction of its Court [“FISC”]. This Court acts in secret, behind closed doors, without oversight, a modern day Star Chamber. How do you debate its actions when they are unknown?
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a “defender of the phone and Internet surveillance programs”, caught with her knickers showing, now considers holding hearings. But she adds “Here’s the rub: the instances where this has produced good – has disrupted plots, prevented terrorist attacks, is all classified, that’s what’s so hard about this.”
She tells us in so many words “What’s the point in holding hearings?” “Trust us, trust me”. She forgets and I do not Senator Frank Church’s Senate Committee that ascertained “the extent to which the nation’s intelligence agencies had been involved in questionable, if not outright illegal, activities”. It’s time for another such Committee, and one not chaired by her.
There are reports that the NSA and the CIA have monitored and listened to the private conversations of Slobodan Milosevic, Angela Merkel, and many friendly and not so friendly Ambassadors to the United Nations. The list is bound to grow as more of Edward Snowdon’s documents see the light of day.
But I do not think much will change. It seems that every country to some extent or other is engaged in the same dirty game, some hiding it better than others. Except for expressions of outrage which will be forgotten in a fortnight there is no will to right these wrongs worldwide and reign in this abuse. Governments both authoritarian and democratic will circle the wagons and maintain the status quo.
But I need not worry. My digital electronic life is an open book. I have nothing to hide, nothing to fear.
DeyanRankoBrashich, an attorney and Op Ed columnist writes from New York and is a contributing writer. A collection of essays “Letters from America” has just been published in June, 2013. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com.