Op/Ed: Big Bro's Got Your Number
The Chilling Effect
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
It’s hard to know where to begin, because it’s such an astounding concept, except to say that, for a few years now the possibility has been real that this publication’s phone line, and yours, have been tapped.
We don’t say ours has been definitively, but certain signs raise questions, the difficulty discon-necting, the continuation of recor-dings from previous calls when trying to hang up and as the dial tone sounds (as if a third party keeps the line open), then echoes and other anomalies. Having informed Qwest and then Verizon (after switching), both informed us that other customers had complained about similar problems.
Now, with the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the cat's out of the bag. The Obama administration’s National Security Agency has since 2009 enac-ted the most intrusive eavesdrop-ping regimen in the history of the country, ramping up practices begun after 9-11 that seem timid by comparison, and tracking phone calls of millions of Americans (while the Department of Justice has secretly collected journalists’ emails, and with the IRS targeting grass roots activists during and after the 2010 election cycle, the vast majority having been Tea Party groups.
Our position for years has been that it’s healthy and necessary that we, the people, scrutinize and criticize government as a matter of course, at all levels, or fall victim to inevitable abuses documented by history. Everyone from King George to Richard Nixon has taught us this, and it is now, sorry to say, within the realm of logical discourse to place the current administration in that infamous historical category.
Russell Tice, a retired National Security Agency intelligence analyst and whistleblower, told Forbes recently—"What is going on is much larger and more systemic than anything anyone has ever suspected…I figured it would probably be about 2015 before the NSA had the computer capacity...to collect all digital communications word for word …But I think I’m wrong…I think they have it right now.”
Similarly, whistleblower Edward Snowden, hiding out in Moscow and headed for Ecuador, told London’s The Guardian that the NSA “specifically targets the communications of everyone” (that means you and me right here in southwest Montana) and that at NSA he had the unchecked ability to tap into any American’s communications.
In June, after Congress was given a classified briefing by NSA on the agency's previously secret surveillance activities, the results of which Montana Senator Jon Tester said revealed things he had never heard about before, U.S. Rep. Loret-ta Sanchez (D-Calif) said Snowden’s bombshell revelations are only “the tip of the iceberg” and that the briefing “astounded” her and her colleagues. “What we learned in [the briefing],” Sanchez said, “is signifi-cantly more than what is out in the media today.…it's just broader than most people even realize.”
And while an anonymous senior Obama administration official said there was no reason to believe the government could listen in on people's phone calls, as opposed to merely collect data related to their calls (who you call, how long you talk, and how often), the whistle-blowers tell us NSA indeed has the capability to listen in, in real time, as it pleases, not just monitor calls.
The NSA, more over, through an Internet surveillance system called PRISM, sweeps up mountains of private user data from the servers of outfits like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook, who have been ordered by the NSA to comply, and using a secret tool called Boundless Informant gathered 97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks in March 2013 alone, according to documents released by Snowden.
Daniel Ellsberg, of the Nixon era, perhaps the most notable whistleblower ever, wrote in The Guardian that "there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material–and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago." Ellsberg continued: "Snowden did what he did because he recognized NSA's surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity."
We are not entirely surprised though, having been apprised of the predilections of the Puzzle Palace decades ago, their monitoring during the Cold War of all oceanic cable activity and prolific computerized monitoring of phone conversations, even back then, for which they construc-ted a massive paper crusher and incinerator at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, MD, in the days before miniaturization. That effort literally yielded tons of paper data monthly (and helped win the Cold War), more than could ever be analyzed, until recently when technology makes that more possible, a trend ramping into hyperdrive with NSA’s soon-to-be completed Utah Data Center.
Code named Bumblehive, the facility is a massive complex designed to support a vital national interest—cyber security, breaches of which could cripple the nation—and at the same time collect, store, and analyze virtually all terrestrial communications (maybe off-planet too), leaving Americans with the prospect of one day having their private communications being somehow used against them, openly or in secret.
Long story short, the NSA monitors your phone and internet activity. Living in the remote hinterlands of southwest Montana will not shield you from their reach. And that’s just the part a whistleblower forced them to admit. There is no doubt then, with its eavesdropping and data collection powers, that NSA monitors all email, chat discussions, and text messages (even brain waves, were it feasible). Why, after all, limit invasions of privacy to spoken communications when text and email are as or more common?
It has come out, more over, that the Obama administration has used its DOJ to collect reporters’ emails using trumped up claims, to obtain warrants, of journalists being co-conspir-ators in national security leaks (while the actual leakers serve the president). Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who broke the Snowden story for the Guardian, said on NBC’s Meet the Press, June 23, that the Obama administration was "effectively trying to criminalize investi-gative journalism…creating a climate that has become menacing in the United States."
It has also allowed or direc-ted the IRS to place special scrutiny on administration detractors by the hundreds, evoking comparisons among pundits between the Obama and Nixon administrations, a logical historical association given the nature of the abuses of power and related imperiousness—except that now everyday Americans and reporters are targeted, as compared to Nixon’s focus on his opposition party.
The tactics have been to use the power of government as a political weapon, to harass, and snoop, and to gather traffic from fiber optic cables and servers to be scoured at NSA, so that they might examine who you communicate with, what you say, and what you think.
We don't want to exhibit paranoia in the least, but with two years of unusual activity on our phone line, this is a concern that has evolved from the realm of the incredible to the more or less probable.
Our phones frequently connect to a country probably on a watch list, which might explain any surveillance taking place, and the types of domestic conversations we engage in related to editorial pursuits, and the tag words that result, could also trigger surveillance.
Reference, for example, our June cover story, Who Stole the Explosives?, dealing with Fazliddin Kurbanov, the Boise man indicted by Idaho and Utah grand juries on bombmaking and terror-related counts. Then visit www.mtpioneer.com (which once listed our phone number), and while readers find there a focus on current events in southwest Montana and Western history, op-ed pieces like this one dating back several years can be found skewering the national government in no uncertain terms.
Do we definitively say we are being targeted? Of course not, this publication being in the scheme of things a small player (though an internet presence makes potential giants of us all). Not necessarily being targeted though, may be the point, even the intent, to create a chilling effect, a sense of anxiety not unlike that which the IRS has historically imposed upon the American people to assure compliance, with its powers to seize personal records, assets and bank accounts without notice, using its own courts, judges, and armed police force, hardly our founders’ vision—indeed, what they sought to permanently eradicate.
If there is some question as to the government’s activities and capacities, as outlined here, consider the reactions of Snowden and Ellsberg, then put the following succinct assertion to a truth test. See if it passes, or even vaguely resembles the policies promised by this president. It is a summary of testimonies and facts from recent revelations by NSA and IRS employees and supported by once classified NSA documents:
Regardless of who you are, the government has access to your private communications, is monitoring you, and has shown its capacity to target ordinary Americans for their views.