May 26, 2011
In an interview with Wired, Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, adds yet more confirmation to what many of us have known for years – the government has built a secret surveillance structure far more portentous and dangerous than anything devised by the PATRIOT Act now up for renewal.
Wyden points to the so-called “business-records provision” of the PATRIOT Act which empowers the FBI to force businesses, medical offices, banks and other organizations to turn over any “tangible things” it deems relevant to a so-called security investigation.
“It is fair to say that the business-records provision is a part of the Patriot Act that I am extremely interested in reforming,” Wyden told Wired. “I know a fair amount about how it’s interpreted, and I am going to keep pushing, as I have, to get more information about how the Patriot Act is being interpreted declassified. I think the public has a right to public debate about it.”
“Surveillance under the business-records provisions has recently spiked,” writes Spencer Ackerman. “The Justice Department’s official disclosure on its use of the Patriot Act, delivered to Congress in April, reported that the government asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for approval to collect business records 96 times in 2010 — up from just 21 requests the year before. The court didn’t reject a single request. But it ‘modified’ those requests 43 times, indicating to some Patriot-watchers that a broadening of the provision is underway.”
During the Bush years, it was revealed that the NSA had engaged in a massive dragnet of electronic communications without court order in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment. In 2006, Bush waved off criticism of NSA snooping and said the program was “necessary to win this war and to protect the American people” against terrorism.
In 2006, the NSA argued that it is above the law and the Constitution and said a courtroom challenge to its surveillance program would expose sensitive state secrets and demanded it be thrown out.
In a filing with the Detroit court, Justice Department lawyers pointed to history in defending the NSA surveillance program, noting President Woodrow Wilson’s authorization for government agencies to intercept telephone, telegraph and cable communications during World War I and President Franklin D., Roosevelt approving the interception of “all telecommunications traffic” after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Gail Gibson wrote for the Baltimore Sun.
The NSA was created by secret presidential directive in 1952. It soon grew into a vast intelligence-gathering machine – and super-state structure – which intruded into the private lives and communications of all Americans.
The NSA program Operation Shamrock intercepted millions of telegrams to and from the United States. The NSA placed the names of law-abiding American citizens on watch lists and then disseminated their private communications to other government agencies such as the FBI and CIA, explains the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.
As revealed by the Church Committee in the mid-1970s, the FBI and CIA repeatedly violated the rights of Americans engaged in constitutionally protected political activity.
During the NSA controversy in 2006, William M. Arkin, writing for the Washington Post, noted that government organizations have developed hundreds of software programs and analytic tools to “harvest” intelligence, and they’ve created dozens of gigantic databases containing the names of countless Americans.
“These cutting edge tools — some highly classified because of their functions and capabilities — continually process hundreds of billions of what are called ‘structured’ data records, including telephone call records and e-mail headers contained in information ‘feeds’ that have been established to flow into the intelligence agencies,” Arkin wrote. “The multi-billion dollar program, which began before 9/11 but has been accelerated since then.”
Wyden and his colleague Sen. Mark Udall have offered an amendment on Tuesday to the PATRIOT Act reauthorization.
The amendment takes the Obama administration to task for “secretly reinterpret[ing] public laws and statutes.” It would oblige the Attorney General to “publicly disclose the United States Government’s official interpretation of the USA Patriot Act.”
The bill mentions “intelligence-collection authorities” embedded in the PATRIOT Act that the Obama administration briefed the Senate about in February.
Sen. Ron Wyden neglected to provide more detail on the government’s massive surveillance program because it is highly classified. His measured comments, however, are a haunting reminder that the government has erected a huge and largely secret high-tech surveillance and control grid.
It was not designed to ferret out al-Qaeda bad guys who hate us for our freedoms. It was engineered and constructed at tax-payer expense to monitor the political activity of the American people in much the same way the Stasi was created by a communist state to monitor the political activities of the people in East Germany during the so-called Cold War.