By Juan Cole
This piece first appeared on Juan Cole’s website, Informed Comment.
In a Reuters Exclusive, John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke reveal that the National Security Agency shares information it gleans from warrantless surveillance of Americans with the Special Operation Division of the Drug Enforcement Agency, which then uses the metadata to develop cases against US citizens. The DEA then routinely lies to the judge and defense attorneys during discovery about how its agents initially came by their suspicions of wrongdoing. But you could imagine a situation where a young woman repeatedly called a boyfriend who was secretly known to the DEA to be a drug dealer, but whose crimes were unknown to her. And you could imagine law enforcement entrapping her into making a small drug buy. And then you could imagine their secretly basing their case against her in part on her phone calls to a known dealer. But this latter information would be denied to her defense attorney and the judge, making it harder to discern the entrapment.
All these stories about the government’s quest for Total Information Awareness about the phone calls, email, internet searches, etc. of 312 million ordinary Americans raise some questions in my mind. There are so many things about these stories that don’t make sense.
1. The government says that they need everyone’s phone records because they want to see who calls known overseas terrorists from the US. But if the NSA had a telephone number of a terrorist abroad and wanted to see if it was called from the US, why couldn’t it just ask the telephone company for the record of everyone who called it? It isn’t true that it would take too much time. It would be instant. Obviously, the government wants the telephone records of millions of Americans for some other reason.
2. If the real reason they are getting our phone records from the phone companies is to check for drug sales and other petty crime inside the US not related to terrorism, and if they are lying to judges about how they initially came to know of these crimes, aren’t the NSA, DEA and other government officials violating the Constitutional guarantee of due process? Are they focusing on drug buys because law enforcement can confiscate the property of drug dealers, whereas busting other kinds of crime actually costs time and money? And, hasn’t their dishonesty and its revelation just put in danger thousands of drug convictions?
3. If the NSA and FBI have all the phone records, bank account information and credit card transactions of everyone, why haven’t they been able to find any bankers or financiers who engaged in illegal activity while they were plunging ordinary Americans into poverty and homelessness with the Depression of 2008-2009? After all, they seem to have been able to discover illegal activity by former New York governor Elliott Spitzer, by illegally spying on his bank accounts. Was Spitzer, who was trying to crack down on Wall Street, the only prominent figure in New York engaged in such activities? Maybe some Masters of the Universe on Wall Street were, too? Surely there are telephone, bank and credit card records showing the guilt of the latter?
4. If the NSA and ATF have the telephone, credit card and internet records of all Americans, why don’t they stop mass shootings? After all, you can’t order numerous guns and massive amounts of ammunition and also Batman costumes on line without generating searchable records? Maybe they aren’t paying attention to people who suddenly develop an interest in having lots of very large drum magazines for semi-automatic weapons.
5. Isn’t there a constitutional crisis if the NSA is spying on phone records of people in Colorado where that state legalized the sale of marijuana, and uses its STASI tactics to finger Coloradans legally buying pot and then hauls those people off to federal prison? Where in the constitution does it say that the Federal government can overrule a state about internal state commerce? Where does it say that the Federal government can subvert the state’s legislative intention by secretly spying on state residents without a warrant and in contravention of state law?
6. Can Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) be impeached for denying other representatives in congress basic information about the NSA domestic spying programs and then misrepresenting the decision as a joint one of the Intelligence Committee, and then insisting that the decision is classified from other members of Congress? Can President Obama be impeached for lying to the American people and saying that all members of Congress have been extensively briefed on the NSA spying?
7. The government has charged Edward Snowden with espionage because it says his revelations about how the US government is spying on the American public without a warrant will harm our ability to fight terrorism. But if the NSA could overhear al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahir telling his lieutenant in Yemen to carry out a terrorist strike on US embassies, then how could it be that Edward Snowden harmed their ability to monitor such communications?
8. If the US drone strikes on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen are working, why is AQAP after all these years able to make us close 19 African and Middle Eastern embassies for a week?
9. Does the FBI actually have the authority to order internet companies to let them install “eavesdropping technology [port readers] deep inside companies’ internal networks to facilitate surveillance efforts”?
10. Why doesn’t one of the telecoms adopt a policy of destroying the records of where its customers have been, and who they called, immediately after each call— keeping only a record of how much the call cost? The government can’t demand information that a company doesn’t have. Wouldn’t millions of consumers immediately switch to that carrier? Would the government allow the company to do this? If not, what happened to our Free Enterprise system? Ronald Reagan used to warn that if we gave the government too much power, one day we might suddenly wake up in the Soviet Union of America. Did we, this morning?