Sunday, August 18, 2013

Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance

spying on democracy

Ty:  Follow with me as I read aloud:

In 2002 criminal defense attorney Lynne Stewart was indicted on charges that she provided material support to a terrorist organization, the Islamic Group.  Although the government had been secretly monitoring Stewart's telephone calls, electronic communications, and in-person meetings with one of her clients for three years, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that her case represented the first exercise of his authority to monitor attorney-client communications following the enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act.  The charges were brought after Stewart violated the special administrative measures imposed on her client, Sheikh Abdel Rahman, by issuing a press release about the sheikh.  Stewart was found guilty and was sentenced to ten years in prison.  Although Stewart had issued the press release in 2000, when Janet Reno was attorney general under Bill Clinton, it wasn't until the post-9/11 Bush administration that she was charged.  It turned out that her meetings, telephone calls, and electronic communications with the sheikh had been monitored for years. 

Ty (Con't): That's from  Heidi Boghosian's new book  Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance.  You may know her as the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild or as a co-host, along with  Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights), of Law and Disorder Radio,  a weekly, hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week.   Our new e-mail address is Participating our roundtable are  The Third Estate Sunday Review's  Ava, and me, Ty;  C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review; Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix; Mike of Mikey Likes It!;  Trina of Trina's Kitchen;  and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub.  Mike, what was the effect of going after Lynne -- who is a political prisoner?

Mike: It was to make attorneys think twice about taking cases where the offered a defense to someone the government was going after with full force.  As Heidi points out, it has a chilling effect.  And that was the intent. And the charge of terrorism is supposed to be scary, it's bandied about and supposedly only truthfully but if you look at what the same federal government did when Communism was supposed to be the big scare.  I think we'll find in 20 or 30 years that this was another case of the federal government using this as an excuse to go after people.  In the meantime, as Heidi's book documents, we've destroyed the right and expectation that conversations between a client and an attorney are sacred and private.

Cedric: And you either start fighting back against that or you accept that it's gone for good.

Ty: Anytime anyone feels Heidi's wrong in the book?

Ava: No.  But I can think of one time where I would expand just a bit.

Ty: Okay.

Ava: She's covering 2004 and the way "corporate media," ahead of the Republican National Committee held in New York saw the corporate media push the myth of anarchy and destruction from the protesters.  Now, Ty, you and I were attending college there then.  Heidi is 100% right that The New York Daily News and New York magazine were attempting to alarm.  I'd even include The New York Post.  But the Bill O'Reilly of this moment was, in fact, on Air America Radio.

Ty: Randi Rhodes.

Ava: That is correct.  The brain dead Randi Rhodes spent three weeks, remember, every day, on air, ranting and raving about how anarchists were going to destroy NYC and insisting that she didn't want the protesters in her city.  I doubt Heidi was listening to that -- judging by the ratings, few were.  But Randi Rhodes was leading the pack in portraying "protesters as deviants."  She really needs to be held accountable for those three weeks.  It was the first of many times she'd fail the left.  Although maybe the first time was when she told Ralph Nader not to run and that "we can't afford you."  No one elected that moon faced freak to speak on our behalf.

Ty: And she had like four hours back then.  Three in the afternoon to seven, she'd come on right after Al Franken and start that alarmist ranting.  Randi Rhodes is a moron.

Ava: Who sounds elderly -- her voice -- these days.  She's got the old woman sound now in her voice.  We were in a taxi in DC and caught her calling Egyptians "freaks" and making fun of Egyptians' names.  The cab driver was cursing her out.  As usual, she had no idea of what she was talking about but was sure to sprinkle hate onto everything.  She blamed the people for the military coup.  It was nothing but nonsense except for Randi calling Egyptians "nut cases."  She's a hate merchant who belongs on the same channel -- as she is today -- as Rush Limbaugh.

Ty: Good points.  Let's move to drones.  Barack's Drone War kills innocents in Yemen and Pakistan and The Drone War is what we generally think about these days when we think about drones.  But there are non-weaponized drones as well.  Trina, talk about that.

Trina:  Sure, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 lets DoD and the airforce work with the FCC to use drones in our airspace, here in the US.  They are used for spying.  They may laser radar -- Heidi notes this "severely challenges traditional expectations of privacy and protections against unreasonable search and seizure."

Ann: I found that to be so disturbing. The entire book.  I think it's an important read and encourage everyone to read it.  But there's no privacy in your own home in America, there's nothing.  The right to privacy basically no longer exists.  The government is out of control.  Where does privacy exist in the US today?

C.I.: For the NSA.  They apparently have a right to privacy.  Hence the witch hunt of NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden.

Ann: And that really is it.  The government claims a right to privacy -- one that the Constitution doesn't note -- while destroying our Constitutional right to privacy.

Trina: Which is why, as Heidi notes in the book, even the conservative Heritage group began voicing concerns last year and calling on Congress to lay down some guidelines. This is me, not Heidi, Congress, of course, has done nothing.  Congress has become its own little exclusive club that really -- especially the Senate -- doesn't care about the American people and only cares about itself.  And I would further argue that reality -- not the 'gridlock' -- is why Congress polls so low.

C.I.:  Well we were at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing not long ago that, when the horrible Barbara Mikulski wasn't attempting to stop questions about illegal spying, found the senators on the committee focusing on whether or not they were being spied upon.  There was no concern for the American people being spied upon.

Ty: Should Mikulski be in a position like Chair to begin with?

Ava: In terms of her inability to let others on the Committee speak?  She would interrupt others repeatedly.  She doesn't know how to shut up.

Ty: Well --

C.I.: Ty, I'll jump in, I know what you're getting at.  The never married Mikulski has been rumored to be a closeted lesbian for decades.  In this day and age, Tammy Baldwin, the country's first openly gay senator, is not a so-called 'security risk.'  She's out of the closet, who's going to blackmail her?  But a 77-year-old woman who has never admitted to the country or her family that she's gay -- her very religious family?  Yes, if Mikulski is gay, she would be a security risk because clearly she'll go to great lengths to hide her true sexuality.  So if she's gay, she shouldn't be the Chair of any Committee.

Ty:  Like Tammy Baldwin, I'm openly gay and the nonstop rumors about Mikulski do disturb me.  Sorry.  She's nearly 80 and she's never come out.  If she's gay, she's open to blackmail if you ask me.  Now Heidi's on this week's CounterSpin so let's note a section of that.

Peter Hart: Now the book was obviously much in the works before Edward Snowden made these issues front page news but I see in the book a connection to his actions and one incident you recount in the book.  A group breaks into an FBI office to gain documents about spying on political groups which leads to policy changes that basically eliminate that spying program.  In so many ways, it seems like, reading through the book, Edward Snowden, his story, recalls lessons from the past.  Talk a little about that.

Heidi Boghosian:  That's true.  And although the context is different, I think the underlying principles are the same.  You're talking about the incident in the early seventies in which a group of concerned citizens broke into a local FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania and found a trove of files indicating that the government had been spying on lawful Americans -- notably outspoken activists.  People like Martin Luther King Jr., peace activists, anti-war activists.  But they took these files and mention of it to the media.  Immediately, the American people reacted with outrage.  And what happened was, we had a series of Congressional hearings called the Church Committee, headed by Frank Church, and the FBI ended COINTELPRO and set in place a series of protections that basically curbed the FBI from unlimitless surveillance and it laid out guidelines by  which agents would need probable cause that criminal activity might be afoot in order to open an investigation and put a bar against spying on religious, political, other leaders in social movements unless they could prove that there was something wrong.

Ty (Con't): Let's talk some about that.  Cedric?

Cedric: Alright, that's March 8, 1971 and Media is a town in Pennsylvania.  Less than 6,000 people in the 2000 census. The Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI staged a break-in of the local FBI and found all these files on groups and individuals.  This exposed the FBI's COINTELPRO.  She, Heidi Boghosian, notes, "The files detailed the ways that FBI agents provoked U.S. citizens to commit unlawful activities to justify harsh police responses, as well as the fact that they broke into the homes and offices of group members and used informants to provoke internal feuds."  The break-in led to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover announcing April 28, 1971, a little over a month after the break-in, that COINTELPRO had been shut down.

Ty: And lessons there?

Mike: We need whistle-blowers.  Not government approved whistle-blowers who run through a chain of command.  We need whistle-blowers who inform the public.  I have no idea, for example, what may or may not come from Ed Snowden's revelations, but the reality is he has forced the discussion and that's what needs to happen.

Ava: Another lesson is that government is, at best, paternalistic and when government thinks that they can operate in silence, they will break existing laws for our 'good.'  COINTELPRO was an FBI program.  It was not a secret program to Congress or the presidents.  They were all fine with violating the Constitution up until the program was exposed.

Trina: I would argue we need "If you see something, say something" signs in every government office and we need to recognize that informing the American people is an inherent obligation of any government employee so that there is no punishment when someone -- employee or contractor -- steps forward to say, "You need to know the government is doing" whatever.

Ty: Which is a good time to note this from the book:

The U.S. military also engaged in political surveillance.  In 1970, attorney and former U.S. Army captain Christopher Pyle convinced more than one hundred former military intelligence agents to reveal publicly that they had spied on U.S. citizens.  These declarations led to an investigation by the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, and an ACLU lawsuit, Laird v. Tatum, charging that the army prevented its surveillance targets from exercising their rights of free speech and association.  As a result of these public declarations and the ensuing investigation, the military ended its political surveillance program.

Ty (Con't):  Mike, you spoke earlier about terrorism and how freely the government tosses the term around.  Talk about the book and how it details some of that harm.

Mike: Sure.  First off, it stifles debate and discussion in a free society.  Question terrorism charges or talk and you're worse than 'un-American,' you're inhumane because 'everyone could die!!!!!'  But in addition to that, Heidi notes the Pulitzer Prize winning work of journalist Tim Weiner in documenting the way in which the government's focus on terrorism has allowed the prosecution of white-collar crimes and criminals to drop and allowed for the economic crisis to spring up to begin with.  So we all pay a huge price.

Ty: We all pay a huge price.  One of the lessons of this book, so let that sink in.  Diverted resources means many things are not being addressed.  Sometimes, there is a check on the illegal spying.  Sometimes.   Ann, why don't you grab that?

Ann: Alright.  In 2012, Heidi notes, the Supreme Court did their job.  They issued a ruling on a case as to whether or not law enforcement could track people via GPS without a court order.  The Court ruled that a court order was necessary.  That's a victory.  But I would add that we don't know that they're following the law.  They've already broken so many laws so why would we just believe that they're following this court verdict?

C.I.: Especially in light of Barton Gellman's Washington Post report last week of nearly 3,000 privacy violations by the National Security Agency in just one year.  And we know that because of Ed Snowden.  Gellman was working from Snowden's disclosures.  And then you had Carol D. Leonnig's report on how FISA states that it does not have the power to investigate compliance on the part of NSA.

Trina: And if you can't investigate compliance, you can't ensure compliance.  So we're supposed to fly blind and just trust the NSA which has repeatedly violated our rights.

Ava: When the news C.I. raised broke -- Nope.  I'm saving it for our TV commentary.  Okay, I'll instead say that Trina's exactly right and it's amazing that the secret court was created and the NSA allowed when neither has footing or foundation in the Constitution.  There is no oversight over either body and that's why we have corruption.

Cedric:  Exactly.  The Congress has no real appreciation for the Constitution and they repeatedly violate it and create bodies to 'save' us that do not save us at all.  They operate under the mistaken belief that they know better than the Constitution.  They'll be around for about 100 years if they're lucky, but they know better than a series of laws that have been around for centuries.

Mike: Yeah.  Yeah, I love that Cedric, that says it perfectly.  The Constitution outlines the needs for checks and balances.  And then you get a problem surfacing and instead of asking how to address this within the Constitution these Congressional idiots decide to just create something new 'for us' and no need for checks and balances because Congress has no respect for the people or the Constitution.  And I think my mom's right -- Trina's my mother, for those who don't know -- when she said that this is one of the reasons polls find the American people so distrustful of Congress.

Ty: Okay, Dona's waving to indicate that they finished up their book discussion which means we need to wrap up our discussion.  Cedric, I think you spoke the least, so why don't you sum up for us?

Cedric: Okay. Heidi Boghosian's new book is  Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance and it's a must-read.  Especially today with the NSA revelations.  She charts the history of the American government spying on the people.  It explains that we've been down this road before and notes the ways in which We The People fought back -- that includes whistle-blowing and real action in Congress, like the Church Committee.  So it's not merely a document of the past, it's a road map for the future.  That's why "public resistance" is in the subtitle.  It's a must-read and we all agree on that.  Let me be really clear, the other book discussion?  It's on a really fun book and we loved that book.  And everyone rushed to sign up for that book discussion.  We didn't.  Not because we don't love music but because we feel this topic and Heidi's book is important.  That's probably why Ty brought up the sexuality of a senator and I'm sure it's why Ava worked in Randi Rhodes.  We tried to make this a discussion that was lively and would inform you about the book as well.  If you bother to pick up the book, I think you'll agree with us that this is a must-read.  It's got my vote for book of the year in Martha & Shirley's annual look at books.

Ty: Thank you, Cedric, and I actually have to go quickly to Ann because I forgot she wanted to make a note on the book formats.  Ann?

Ann: Cedric read in print, I read in the Kindle Cloud.  [Ann and Cedric are married -- for those wondering why she's comparing her digital to Cedric's print version.]  If you get the digital book, as I did, please note that the end notes are hyperlinked.  I really did enjoy and appreciate that.  I was not concerned with accuracy -- Heidi's someone we've noted at this site many times and she's had a 'truest statement of the week' or two -- but there were times when I was completely new to a topic and wanted further information.  So if you're not sure whether to go with print or digital, that might help you decide.

Ty: Thank you for that, Ann.  This is a rush transcript and, again, the book is Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance.

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