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'Is This the Country We Want to Keep?': Whistleblower Threatened with 35 Years in Prison, Warns of Developing Tyranny

Thomas Drake blew the whistle on a massive domestic information gathering scheme and was called "an enemy of the state."

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Mass surveillance will erode our privacy, and yet privacy is an absolutely essential prerequisite to the exercise of our precious individual freedoms, the inalienable rights we have as human beings to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness. And yet the erosion of privacy also weakens the very constitutional foundations and boundaries of our democracy.

Five centuries ago, Machiavelli explained how to undertake a revolution from above without most people even noticing. On his Discourses on Livy, he wrote that one, quote, "must at least retain the semblance of the old forms; so that it may seem to the people that there has been no change in the institutions, even though in fact they are entirely different from the old ones", unquote. In other words, keep the old government structures; meanwhile, you make profound changes to the actual system, because the appearances are all that most people notice. So, today, instead of seeing the mere corpse of the republic in which we supposedly live, we only see the clothing. Those clothes would appear to look the same as before, even if increasingly worn. We have had a quiet revolution that has not eliminated our elected representatives; it has simply made them largely irrelevant, especially since Congress is largely preoccupied with Wall Street.

It has been a long journey to our current state of affairs, and wars and conflicts have been a major catalyst in that journey, especially since World War II. Most wars fought by the United States have added power to the executive branch while taking away power from the Legislature. I consider—again, being a student of history, I consider the immediate aftermath of World War II as a real turning point, when the American dream began to go south, at the very moment when the U.S. sat astride the world at the pinnacle of power. And therein lies our problem, for this is when the American republic began its transformation to a national security state and then exponentially accelerated as a result of 9/11 into a top-secret America. Eisenhower warned us about the rise in this kind of a complex in his farewell address in 1961. Frank Church feared the future and that given the right circumstances, turning back might not be possible if the national security surveillance complex turned its enormous capabilities on the U.S. with even more advanced technology. We now live in a post-9/11 America, only suddenly to discover that we are not doing the driving, our brakes are failing, and others are in the front and back seat, and some are even following us.

What country do we want to keep?

We increasingly no longer govern ourselves, as in of, for, and by the people. Consider the nonstop number of U.S. military actions around the world these days. And when did Congress last issue a formal declaration of war, the only branch of government, the only body in the United States federal government system that can actually declare war? When was that? Consider the ramming through—is absolutely up-to-date, right now, in this moment, what's going on. Consider the ramming through of the Patriot Act a bare month after 9/11, an act, I would add, that NSA was already violating with even more secret programs when it was obvious that not a single member of Congress read it through thoroughly. Does any single member of Congress read their bills through thoroughly? And have you wondered what is really the secret interpretation by the executive branch of section 215 in the Patriot Act? And what about Section 1031, 1031, the current National Defense Authorization Act bill that would authorize the indefinite detention, I repeat, the indefinite detention of American citizens.

 
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