Domestic spying in USA

28 Dec, 2010


George Orwell wrote in his novel 1984: “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live - did live, from habit that became instinct - in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinised.”

Modern day US has become a realisation of the Orwellian scenario. In its issues of December 20 and 21, 2010, the Washington Post has revealed the vast, uncontrolled and dangerous dimensions of current surveillance of the US citizens. They are being watched to an extent that is mind-boggling, disturbing and even shattering. The line between civil and military surveillance has been obliterated and the US has been declared a war zone. The extent and vastness, the pettiness and brutal invasiveness of these surveillance programmes makes one think very hard - if the US becomes a paranoid totalitarian state, as seems inevitable, what will the world do? Nazi surveillance pales into insignificance before the technological pervasiveness of US domestic and international spying - privacy no longer exists although many citizens are unaware of it.

Central to this unprecedented escalation of spying is the fraudulent concept of terrorism, which is being used simultaneously to enslave the US public and to use it as cannon fodder for foreign wars aimed at securing global resources for a handful of the wealthiest families on the planet.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was passed in 1978. It allowed the American agencies to keep an eye on written, telephonic, and other communications within the US. After 9/11, the US authorities started surveillance of the citizens and others, but concealed this fact from the public. An unlawful aspect of the new surveillance activity pertained to what has been called data mining. Under it, the US agencies started accessing and storing records of emails and telephonic conversations, including their length or duration, of tens of millions of the US citizens. This meant that the agencies were in possession of information pertaining to personal contacts, friendships and personal relationships that they were not supposed to possess under the American Constitution.

In December 2005, the New York Times revealed the existence of such a programme, and also that differences had developed in the Bush administration over this sensitive matter. Bush promptly defended such internal surveillance. Although his administration never formally admitted the existence of such surveillance, he defended such activity. Such surveillance is an open violation of the fourth amendment to the US Constitution.

The Protect America Act of 2007 was passed by the Senate on August 3, 2007. The new law permits the US agencies to look into or intercept electronic communications without a warrant. A deliberate ambiguity was left in the law: If it is thought “reasonable” that the other end of a communication is probably outside the US, then the agencies may intercept it. On account of this ambiguity, the agencies may intercept any communication involving the US and non-US citizens because all email communications at least take place through business centres located inside America. As Joe Kay put it: “Some sections of this bill in themselves constitute an enormous and unconstitutional increase in spying, but this law gives far greater powers to the US government to spy on its citizens.” In March 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported on the role of NSA (National Security Agency), which was previously limited only to foreign surveillance: “The central role the NSA has come to occupy in domestic intelligence gathering has never been publicly disclosed. But an inquiry reveals that its efforts have evolved to reach more broadly into data about people’s communications, travel and finances in the US than the domestic surveillance programmes brought to light since the 2001 terrorist attacks.”

The Washington Post has now pointed out the existence of a “web of 4,058 federal, state and local organisations” that deals with “counterterrorism”. This is astonishing because, by any reasonable guesswork, this number far exceeds the number of so-called terrorists in the entire world. The number of people holding “top-secret security clearances” has been put at 854,000, more than the population of Washington DC. The NSA intercepts over 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other communications every day and stores them. As Lt Gen (retd) John R. Vines puts it: “I am not aware of any agency with the authority, responsibility or a process in place to coordinate these interagency and commercial activities….The complexity of this system defies description….We consequently can’t effectively assess whether this system is making us more safe.”

Homeland security officials now search and copy laptops of individuals, who have done nothing wrong! Laptops may contain “financial records to love letters to family photos” that no one would want to share with government officials. As Glenn Greenwald puts it: “Its government officials who are supposed to operate out in the open, while ordinary citizens are entitled to privacy. Yet, we have reversed that dynamic almost completely.” He adds: “The government now watches much of the citizenry behind a fully opaque one-way mirror.”

The main target of the 4,058 counterterrorism organisations are those who show dissent and, by and large, the Muslims living in the US - “The Islamic flag will fly over the White House - not on my watch! My job is to wake up the public, and first, the first responders,” says a security consultant Montijo.

Another security expert Shoebat has advised agencies to “monitor Muslim student groups and local mosques and if possible tap their phones. You need to look at the entire pool of Muslim community,” he says. The line between Muslim and terrorist is now blurred and the day is not far when the ReX 84 exercise, in which FEMA practised interment of 400,000 individuals, will be transformed into reality - dissidents and Muslims are likely to be interned in huge numbers in camps built for the purpose. What else have these camps been built for?

The writer is vice chancellor, University of the Punjab. His book titled ’The Grand Deception’ is currently in press.

Go to link