We all know that our phone calls are being monitored by the NSA – location, length of call, who we are calling and when. Likewise, our emails are being scanned by the NSA and our email providers alike. Recent court filings revealed what everyone already knew anyway – that Google reads Gmail users’ emails for targeted advertising. No one was surprised yet the overt admission by the company seemed to fan the flames concerning internet privacy and government/corporate spying which have grown to a wildfire in the past few months.
So no one should really be surprised to learn that this new-wave of tech/internet spying isn’t the only way we’re being monitored. The ACLU released documents this week of examples of the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, which, according to the ACLU is “a vast information sharing program that encourages the collection and sharing of “suspicious activity” among private parties and local, state and federal law enforcement.” Basically, a database for those crazy terrorists lurking around every corner – you know, the guy taking pictures with a camera phone on a train, or the suspiciously “dark” looking man buying a lot of water, or maybe that lady taking pictures of the post office. The POST OFFICE! Who knows what dubious and sinister plot she could have planned!
This would be funny, if each of those weren’t actual examples of the ACLU report. These “suspicious activity reports” are meant to ferret out terrorists and threats to homeland security, people like Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (the Boston Bombers) however, what this deluge of mostly useless information manages to do is to bury the real security threats. According to a report released by The George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute (co-authored by a policy analyst, a homeland security wonk, and the commanding officer in the LA Police Department’s Counter Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau), these suspicious activity reports have inundated law enforcement. One of the co-authors, Chief Michael Downing of the Los Angeles Police Department, said that these SARs have “flooded fusion centers, law enforcement, and other security entities with white noise.”
This torrent of information – whether from SARs or the NSA’s dragnet surveillance policy – is simply too much to handle. James Bamford, an investigative reporter who has covered the NSA for the past three decades and was instrumental in exposing its existence in the 80s said in a Democracy Now! interview that this new NSA policy of information gorging has made it even more difficult to find the real security threats. He said:
“You know, we’ve had this going on for seven years, this internal domestic metadata telephone collection and, up until 2011, the email collection also. And yet, we’ve had—after 9/11, we had the—we had the underwear bomber, the person that was flying to Detroit that was going to blow up a plane Christmas Day, the Times Square bomber, the two people in Boston that just committed the bombing on the marathon day, and so forth. Now, all those people were communicating internationally, basically. They were all communicating either to Chechnya, or the Times Square bomber was communicating to Pakistan, and the underwear bomber was in Yemen and communicating with other countries in the Middle East and also to Nigeria, for example. So if the NSA had been taking all this attention and paying attention to foreign communications and international communications instead of domestic communications, it might have discovered those. But to have a track record where you’re not able to discover those, because you’ve got too much electronic hay on the electronic haystack and—impossible to find that little needle.”
“I show my portfolio. I show ’em what I was shooting. I may have shown ’em what I shot that day. And after five minutes of this, what felt like a really tense interrogation, they got really friendly. They realized I was harmless,” Bergman says.
A year later, one of the same agents called him again, following up on another report. Bergman said the agent already knew he wasn’t a threat, but he couldn’t close the file until he’d asked him certain questions.
“He said to me, ‘Do you hold any ill will toward the United States of America?’ And I said, ‘No, no I don’t.” And he says, ‘OK.’ “
“Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they adored the Party and everything connected with it… All their ferocity was turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought-criminals. It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children.”
It is true, time is of the essence. Big Banks and Big Oil control the White House. Our civil liberties are being stripped down further and further with the FISA Amendment, the National Defense Authorization Act, and the Patriot Act. We are being monitored through our phones, our emails, and our everyday correspondence. The U.S. is carrying out special operations in over 100 countries around the world – over 60% of the world’s nations. We have drone wars in Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and throughout Africa. Our defense budget grows astronomically high, yet we continue to close schools, cut education budgets, attack teachers, and cut programs for the poor, the elderly, the sick, and our veterans. The Keystone XL pipeline may have been slowed, but we continue to hurdle toward irreversible global climate change.
We cannot leave the fight against these injustices to a few. It must be all of us that join in the fight. Chris Hedges said it best: “If we don’t rebel, if we’re not physically in an active rebellion, then it’s spiritual death.”
*Photos from ACLU.
Also published on CounterPunch.