By Tom Cushing
I Am SpartacusUploaded: Dec 1, 2013
"First, they came for my phone records, and I did nothing …"
While the media have obsessed about one particular, ultimately transitory untruth emanating from the White House, another much more dangerous set of dissemblings has failed to really capture the public's imagination. Mr. Obama's repeated assurances that folks could keep their lousy, last-resort health care insurance, thought to be of the 'white' variety as lies go, fueled outrage (Outrage! I say) when the even lousier ACA website refused to demonstrate that Obamacare's coverages will be better, and more economical. This, too, shall pass but what won't pass is the NSA's unbridled snooping, and the damage it is doing to civil liberties that really IS outrageous.
I've withheld most comment on L'Affaire d'Edward Snowden, to try to decide just how I feel about the rogue analyst whose leaks about official domestic and international spying have revealed some of how far the National Security Agency has gone and is willing to go -- in compiling -- and using personal data of its citizens and others. Some of it has seemed to be in the nature of the rough-and-tumble of espionage; some has been rationalized in that the data are compiled, but never used unless there's an independent reason to go back into it, seeking connectable dots.
But the tepid response of many Americans has left me worried. The cumulative shoulder shruggings have been based on several arguments: from my dear, departed mother's "if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about" to the tech titan's dismissive "there is no privacy -- get used to it." Among policy makers, it has been most curious that the right-wing champions of Getting-the-Government- Out-of-our-Lives have been generally among the most sanguine about these massive, very personal intrusions by Big Government.
Senator McCain's comfort has been typical: "I think we have to understand this issue in the context of what also has been going on," he has said. "… If this was Sept. 12, 2001, we might not be having the argument that we are having today." For his part, The Prez has declared: "… if you actually look at the details, I think we've struck the right balance. Nobody is listening to your telephone calls --that's not what this program is about." And our own Sen. Feinstein echoed: "This is called protecting America." Really?
To his credit, Sen. Rand Paul has been consistent with his Libertarian ideology: "I'm going to be asking [internet and phone customers to join me in a class action lawsuit. If we get 10 million Americans saying we don't want our phone records looked at, then maybe someone will wake up and something will change in Washington." I don't expect him to succeed, but I admire the effort.
I write that because there's increasing evidence that this Agency has way too few checks on its processes to prevent misuse of its proper mission. Unofficially, there are repeated reports of analysts spying on former friends and lovers for their personal comfort and edification. The term "LOVEINT" has even been coined to describe this routine abuse of Agency capabilities. And much worse than that, now comes word, via Mr. Snowden's files, that the NSA is trawling internet histories to discover the porn-viewing habits of targeted individuals. These data are said to be compiled as ammunition to discredit the reputations of said individuals by publically revealing those base recreational habits.
We've seen this sordid show before (the snooping, not old porn). The FBI of J. Edgar Hoover used much more primitive evidence of sexual indiscretions to blackmail its enemies. While there is irony in someone whose ethical wiring was as tangled as his using such data to discredit others, those dossiers gave him incredible, in terrorem personal power accountable to no one, including the Presidents he 'served.' Power corrupts, and the temptation to do such things is nearly irresistible, coming as it does with a slippery best-intentions-of-national-security slope of rationalizations down which to slide. Thus, it should be in the hands of no one person except it is.
Now, I don't know whether I am currently the target of any such investigations, but I have my suspicions that YOU are, dear reader. And I'm also confident that we all will be, at some future point that's not so far away. But because you can't blackmail someone with information that's public knowledge, I want to strike my own small blow for personal liberty and admit it: I've watched porn. I don't know whether you are among the 80% who also have done so in the privacy of your own homes (or among the 20% who lie about it), but there you have it, Mr. Faceless, Bloodless, Checkless Spook. Do your worst.
It should probably be noted that even this data insurgency has its defenders. One editorial noted that that this is nothing new, since the US did reveal Osama bin Laden's porn habit, post mortem. But there's a world of difference between revealing something you learned incidentally, and setting out in an organized way to discover it. Further and more globally, does no one worry about an Agency whose own processes are capable of spawning a whistleblower like Mr. Snowden? Should they be trusted with people's deep secrets, when they've demonstrated that they can't be relied-upon not to reveal them by mistake in hiring or supervision?
For two reasons, I'm reminded of the post-battle scene in Spartacus, with his rebel troops ordered to identify their leader and be set free. One by one they stand and roar: "I AM Spartacus!" First, everyone just ought to admit they've seen porn. But more importantly, this dangerous situation is not going to change until Americans stand in a unified way and holler at their leaders to make it happen. This issue really should resonate with everyone who's not my mom: Conservatives, as above, worried about Big Government, and liberals vexed by the loss of civil liberties that define the American way-of-life. Can we really not work up a good bi-partisan lather over this issue?
I just do not know. Say, perhaps we should just ask the NSA whether we'll be able to muster a quorum certainly they must have compiled enough data to render us an accurate assessment.