New Hope for Defending Democracy
Continued from previous page
Putting the relevance of NSA spying in the context of whether it benefits or harms the Republican party, and falsely claiming that there are meaningful legislative or judicial checks on Executive power, is absurd. It points up our psychological difficulty in accepting the fact that the government we have been taught since birth protects democracy is today the greatest threat it faces.
It requires profound changes in the mindsets that map our lives to realize that we are now paying our leaders vast sums to deceive, lie to, spy on, monitor and track us; that our own government threatens freedom of the press and information far more than any foreign foe; and that Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, who believe that the U.S. government should not murder innocents abroad and spy on Americans at home, shame the rest of us with their moral commitment to try to save democracy.
And the Executive Branch is geometrically increasing its threats to democracy at the very moment the U.S. president has told us that serious external terrorist threats have significantly declined, pose a far smaller threat to our lives than our own automobiles, and are best dealt with by careful police work conducted jointly with foreign allies. Domestic surveillance is clearly increasing because powerful Executive agencies seek more power, budget and staff, not because they need more money to protect us. There is nothing new about this. It is what unaccountable bureaucracies do.
The “Fiction That Everybody in Congress Knows"
But democracy depends on the other branches of government, and the Fourth Estate, checking its power. And nothing shames America’s leaders more than their knowingly perpetrating the fiction that Congress, the judiciary and mass media are doing so.
On June 5, 2013, for example, President Obama stated that ”the programs are secret in the sense that they are classified. They are not secret, in that every member of Congress has been briefed,"
Asked about this two days later by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, Rep. Keith Ellison replied, "I am not aware of this program that was revealed today. So I think it's a fiction, it's a fiction that everybody in Congress knows. We don't know what we don't know."
And those members who serve on the Intelligence committees learn only what the Executive allows them to know, "don't know what they don't know," and are muzzled from doing anything meaningful about even the limited information they receive. As Jeremy Scahill has explained, "there are a handful of U.S. senators that are allowed to go to what's called a secured classified intelligence facility, a SCIP, and to review certain memos, not all, but certain memos the White House has deemed appropriate to share with Congress." And they must come alone without staff, and "they're not allowed to bring a writing utensil. They can't bring paper. They're not allowed to bring anything with a battery. And they look at certain memos, not all that the White House has agreed to show them. And then, they're not permitted to share what they've seen with anyone. Not their constituents. Not other lawmakers."
There may be no more dramatic revelation of the truth of unaccountable Executive power than when Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden stated in 2011, "I believe that the American people would be absolutely stunned, I think members of Congress, many of them, would be stunned, if they knew how the PATRIOT Act was being interpreted andapplied in practice. I'm going to insist in significant reform in this area."
He was right. But unlike a patriotic and courageous whistleblower who has risked his very life to bring this information to the American people, even an elected legislator who knew it was a "stunning" abuse of power did not dare reveal it to the American people.