Your Government Spies on You and Lies About It: Now What?
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Now that Americans know the federal government domestically spies and lies about it—thanks to a litany of “misstatements” by top officials that have been debunked following disclosures by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—very big questions emerge about what kind of country we are going to be.
Americans keep hearing more news reports about the national security state’s growing reach. Reuters just broke the story of more police efforts to use data collected in the NSA’s domestic digital dragnet for FBI drug investigations. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that other federal agencies are clamoring for the NSA’s data and are engaged in turf battles over it.
The parade of domestic spying stories has been met with a stream of official denials, which have been unmasked by the media as lies. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said that the NSA didn’t read Americans' emails, but Snowden’s disclosure of the XKeyscore program—including the user manual showing that functionality—disproved that.
ProPublica.org put together this video montage debunking six more domestic spying lies: Is the NSA spying on Americans? (The NSA said no.) Does it only collect data from bad guys? (The NSA said mostly). Does the NSA keep data on citizens? (The NSA said no.) Is NSA data collection any different from a local grand jury? (The Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman said no.) Is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court transparent? (Obama said yes.) And what other lies did the NSA present to Congress in “fact sheets” prepared for oversight committees? (It won’t say.)
The domestic spying and lying should not surprise anyone, given the growth of the national security state and a private sector that has been selling militarized gear and tactical training to local police ever since 9/11, according to the Washington Post’s Dana Priest and William Arkin, who trace these trends in their series and more extensive book, Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State.
Priest and Arkin’s 2011 book—which doesn’t even discuss the NSA dragnets exposed by Snowden—details how law enforcement’s mindset has been hijacked by the post-9/11 belief that all levels of government can never have enough tools or firepower, which, in 2013 includes the ability to assemble digital dossiers on every American. For example, the military’s NorthCom command, based in Colorado, has its version of Google’s streetview camera and mapping for every block in America, which is eerie for privacy advocates and not even in the headlines.
What’s missing from today's jarring headlines is the big picture context: how the national security state has changed America.
Before 9/11, the military was supposed only to operate overseas, Priest and Arkin note. Not anymore. Before 9/11, the military did not run covert operations for the CIA. Not anymore. Before 9/11, there was no joint FBI/Department of Homeland Security database filled with hundreds of thousands of citizens who were seen by police doing suspicious things, such as pulling their car over to take a picture of a pretty waterway near a bridge. Not anymore.
These and other examples confirm a security state run amok. They're accompanied by a battlefield mentality and militarization of local police, which we see infiltrating protest groups, forcibly breaking up protected First Amendment speech, and treating protests like combat zones, all of which was already happening before Snowden’s disclosures about the digital dragnet.
But even as Times runs reports titled, “Spy Agencies Under Heaviest Scrutiny Since Abuse Scandal of the ‘70s,” there’s little evidence that Congress is willing to rein in what looks like a cyber version of 1950s McCarthyism, where a paranoid federal government searched for a menace everywhere.