5 Ways America Is Betraying Its Best Values in Conflicts With Rest of the World
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During the past year, the imposition of secrecy on government activities of all sorts has only become more pronounced. To offer just one egregious example among many, consider the government’s behavior in the case of former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling. At its request, a federal judge has now agreed to allow it to invoke the “silent witness rule.” In other words, she will let government documents be shown to the jury without being made public, on the grounds, according to prosecutors, of “national security.”
After a decade in which the customary practice in matters of “security” has been to sweep all too many government documents of significance into the shadows under that rubric of national security, this should hardly be surprising. Americans now know ever less about what the government they elected does. If it were not for the FOIA lawsuits of the ACLU and others, very little of what we do know about torture, warrantless surveillance, and other instances of government malfeasance would ever have seen the light of day. Consider the increasing number of whistleblower prosecutions as one more way to try to shut government activities off from the eyes of the citizenry.
4. Ever More Distrust (Ever Less Privacy)
For years, the prospect of warrantless wiretapping in the name of national security has had a chilling effect on Americans who have opposed government policies in the war on terror. In 2008, President Bush signed a new FISA Amendments Act (FAA), which authorized the government to snoop on citizens with minimal oversight from the already secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts. (They were set up in 1978 to oversee the granting of surveillance warrants against potential foreign intelligence agents.) The Obama administration has continually opted to uphold this power and the government’s freedom to warrantlessly tap electronic communications between people outside the United States and people inside the country in the name of national security.
Meanwhile, the latest revelations in the ever-more-distrust, ever-less-privacy sweepstakes are led by news that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has implemented surveillance programs that violate the civil liberties of that city’s Muslim-American citizens. The NYPD infiltrated mosques and universities, collecting information on individuals suspected of no crimes, in conjunction with a CIA officer (now withdrawn) using methods traditionally reserved for that agency.
This surely represents, however informally, an abrogation of the CIA’s mandate to conduct its surveillance only abroad, and it’s likely that no one involved will pay a penalty for it. In addition, in a striking combination of security overreach and police profiling, the NYPD has been investigating and surveilling Muslim-American citizens well outside the city limits -- from New Haven, Connecticut, to Newark, New Jersey.
To make matters worse, the government just approved the use of surveillance drones as part of a growing law enforcement arsenal for gathering information in the United States. On February 14th, President Obama signed a bill allowing for the use of such drones in a broad array of arenas, ranging from business activities to law enforcement.
The message is clear enough: this year (next year and the year after) will be the year of more snooping. For law enforcement, your life is apparently an open book.
5. Ever More Killing (Ever Less Peace)
Scarcely a day goes by without news of the use of Predator and Reaper drones to kill individuals in foreign countries, including in recent years Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and the Philippines. It’s as if the CIA and the military have been handed a new toy that they just can’t refrain from using, or teaching others to use. According to the Atlantic, “Conservative estimates suggest hundreds of noncombatant civilians have been killed in Pakistan alone.”