KERN: Obama, NSA and FISA: How stupid are we?

With the cascade of lies about our government coming from officials, they must think we're stupid. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2013 — While listening to administration officials talk and testify here and there, it’s becoming obvious that someone needs to ask, “How stupid do they think we are?” The corollary is also good: “How stupid are we?”


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President Obama told Charlie Rose that he has “no problem with what NSA has been doing.” He continued that if the FBI “now wants to get content, if, in fact, it wants to start tapping that phone, it’s got to go to the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court with probable cause and ask for a warrant.”

Obama was talking like a lawyer: “if, in fact, it wants to” is ridiculous. This isn’t a court of law, and Obama is not on trial. There is no need to wriggle away from the question. There will be plenty of time for that if there ever is a trial.

When Rose asked whether FISA ever turns down any requests, the president evaded the question. But the fact is that, in 2012, 1789 requests were submitted for electronic surveillance warrants out of 1856 total requests. The court memo pertaining to these requests notes that, “The FISC did not deny any applications in whole or in part … The FISC made modifications to the proposed orders in 40 applications.” So, they modified 2 percent of the requests, and granted them all. Even if the FBI, etc., goes to the FISA court with warrant requests, how is this “transparent?” The Court can keep everything secret, under USC 50, Section 1803.

Americans don’t know how much the government assumes it can do, and how much power Congress gives it. We’re starting to hear about the Patriot Act’s many gotchas, but we don’t realize how far back this over-reach goes. In very recent history, then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole’s knee-jerk reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing, the “Anti-terrorism and effective death penalty act of 1996,” set up special criteria, special courts, special lawyers, and special rules of evidence.


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If the Justice Department says an organization to which you belong is a “terrorist organization,” you can be hauled off to answer for your crimes. You can’t have your own lawyer ― only lawyers assigned by the court (those lawyers that are approved by and employed by the prosecution) can represent you. The proceedings are closed to the public. You, the defendant, do not have the right to face your accuser, nor do you have the right to examine the evidence against you, nor do you have the right to even be told what the exact charges are. The Sixth Amendment is out the window. And the court has the right to deny this information even to “your” lawyer!

In June, General Keith Alexander defended the sweep of Verizon’s customer data, using a version of the “if it saves one life, it’s worth it” rationalization. He misdirected us; he said that some 50 potential terror plots were thwarted, but he didn’t say that the Verizon sweeps had anything to do with any of them. He didn’t mention how many were in America. He didn’t say what these threats were, either. We all know that there’s a big difference between shooting out a transformer on a power pole, and setting off Mt. St. Helens. Intentionally sneezing on a TSA agent at the airport is considered a terrorist attack. Did they find out that a guy with a cold was going to sneeze, and jump in at the last minute, with a tissue?

What’s he talking about? Where? And how many such plots were thwarted through conventional, legal means? And how many would not have been thwarted without all the unlawful and abhorrent actions government’s taking? And just where in law does the end justify the means? There is no limit to what the government could do, “if it saves one life.” And there is no limit to what it will do, if we continue to let it.

The president assured us that surveillance was on only “non-Americans.” But Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that there was no way to identify who was on the line, so how could the snoops differentiate? Of course, in March, Clapper said they weren’t doing it at all. Lies, atop lies.


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Clapper said in March, “It’s a world in which our definition of ‘war’ now includes a ‘soft’ version. We can add cyber and financial to the list of weapons being used against us. And such attacks can be deniable and non-attributable.” He was ostensibly talking about those who attack the U.S., but he perfectly described the IRS and NSA attacks on us.

Americans who trust their government are fools. We should have learned in the 1970s, with Watergate. Or the ‘80s, with Iran-Contra. Or the 90s, with Waco or Rwanda or Bosnia; or in this century, with the “stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction …”, or now, with the IRS, Benghazi, the AP records, spying on James Rosen, Verizon/NSA, or whatever we haven’t found out about yet.

Except that now, the targets of government’s treachery are U.S. citizens, and now, as at Waco, it’s deliberate. We have met the enemy, and it is our own government. We have been attacked, repeatedly. How long can we huddle in an unorganized, blind defensive position, hoping the attackers will wake up one sunny day and read the Constitution?

When do we fight back, and how? This, as they say, isn’t about voting.



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Tim Kern

Tim Kern taught economics for fifteen years, and discovered that understanding life is easy; it’s recognizing reality that takes practice. He holds a music degree, and later earned an MBA in finance from Northwestern University. He has lived across the US, and now makes his home in Anderson, Indiana.

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