Missing from the debate over expanding NSA authority in the war on terror is the simple question, beyond our reflexive desire for privacy: why is expanding it such a bad idea? We know the Feds do nasty, un-American things like spy on political activists like Martin Luther King and Fresno Peaceworks, but eventually it comes out in the wash, doesn't it? Did our far-seeing Founders, who took pains to enshrine freedom from "unreasonable search and seizure," without "probable cause," understand what the Stasi, Hitler, and the KGB all understood? That knowledge is power, and absolute knowledge of peoples' lives becomes absolute power?
The origin of the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which Congress has been merrily gutting since the Patriot Act, was the hated "general warrant" which allowed British soldiers to enter a colonial's home, barn, and property in search of anything suspicious. It was a principle cause of the Revolution. Could the Founding Fathers, a bunch of old white guys versed in the Greek and Latin classics, philosophy, mathematics, and history, have grasped the significance of a monopoly of information in the hands of the government, which already possesses a monopoly of force?
The Stasi Patriot Act was written long before 9/11. As Congressman Jim McDermott said, "they had all this on the shelf somewhere, ideas of things they would like to do and they got 9/11 and they said "its our chance, go for it!""
For those of us not used to thinking like a Machiavelli, try using a little imagination. Come up up with a list of fun things to do if you were in charge, had no respect for anyone or anything, and had a search and eavesdropping power free of judicial oversight, meaning, basically, no one looking over your shoulder to see what you were looking at, or why, which is what a warrant means. Let's keep this fun list going, until people realize that the controversy over the NSA is not just pie-in-the-sky liberals squawking over their precious rights in the "new world" in which terrorist are trying to kill us. Let's get this out of the realm of ideas and push it down to action on the ground.
1. Spy on all protesters and activists, so you know when they are going to unfurl banners in the gallery of the House of Representatives, then change the schedule to mess them up.
2. Get the psychiatric records of anyone who leaks a "classified" document which is only classified because it shows the government continuing to fight a war which it believes cannot be won, oops, been there done that. Not imaginative. His name was Daniel Ellsberg, he leaked the Pentagon Papers, and Nixon wanted his deepest darkest confessions to fish through for a smear campaign. Fourth Amendment ideas are already the direct cause one American president being slapped down.
3. Find out who that pesky congressman is sleeping with, who wants you impeached, see if homey wants to keep playing at this impeachment stuff. My personal feeling is that this is exactly what Bush has on half these guys, hence their reluctance to impeach. When you get a blank check to spy, you don't turn it against pipsqueaks like you or me first; you turn it against the guys who can really hurt you. In the process you undermine the entire basis of government. Could this account for Bush's perpetual smirk?
4. Give an old frat buddy and staunch supporter, who already has all the money he ever wants, something more important to him now: the chance to settle an old score. If there is a motivator more powerful than money, it's hatred. We'll see what we can find on him, old buddy, everyone has some kind of dirt on him somewhere. And once we find it, that expense account-fudging or out-of-wedlock baby 20 years ago, that fine upstanding pillar of the community will be sticking his head in an oven inside of a week.
5. Keep looking. The Patriot Act says we can go through any records pertaining to you, bank account, car dealer, dentist, lawyer, real estate, telephone company, anything, understand? The NSA just makes it easier. Rather than having feds walk in and go through paper records, if any business is transacted electronically through the Internet, we sweep it up and keep it in a "dump." When we need it, pop in your first-middle-last-social-and-birthday, and BINGO!
6. If we find nothing, why not just frame him? We don't have anything on him, but we do on the AG in that state. He'll know the truth but he won't say anything.
7. Tell that major league asshole of a reporter we're going to fax his girlfriend's abortion records to his wife. The Patriot Act allows government agencies to look into anyone's medical records, remember?
8. Allow a black market of tips, payback and blackmail to flourish among the rich and well-connected, the way the Stasi East German Secret Police did, just so long as it doesn't hurt anyone important.
9. If you are the beneficiary of such a black market, and you, as someone connected, knows someone else connected who owes you a favor, get the full text of your smart-ass competitor's marketing strategy for the next product cycle, so he'll shit his pants that you are on top of him each step of the way, but never able to prove a thing.
10. Always, always, make sure you are spying on your own people. Patriotic whistleblowers are among the most credible sources when they go to reporters. Everyone knows they have nothing to gain and everything to lose. Declare him enemy combatant before he talks and have him waterboarded, the punk.
Add your own to the list! Then send this to your congressmen, and to your friends! Dirty tricks are a game to these guys! Why shouldn't we have fun too?
Remember, what we are talking about is not the power to spy on terrorists. The government already has that. They can flip the switch immediately if they think anything is going down. They just have to get a warrant within 48 hours. That's after the fact. Bush lies when he implies the Constitution is outdated because sometimes there's no time to get a warrant. It shows what he really wants: no one looking over his shoulder whatsoever.
Before the Stasi Patriot Act of 2001, in recognition that intelligence agents shifted through massive amounts of data, a wall was erected that forbade evidence obtained by intelligence agents without a warrant from being used in normal criminal prosecutions, since that came perilously close to what judges call "fishing expeditions." With the Patriot Act, this wall was broken down, and anything found on you in any way can be used against you.
In 2003 federal agents in Las Vegas used the no-warrant provisions of the Patriot Act to bring charges in run-of-the-mill money laundering and political corruption cases not related to terrorism. Justice Department spokesman Mark Corrallo said: "The Patriot Act was not meant to be just for terrorism. A lot of the uninformed criticism was obviously misplaced."
What the Founders understood is, if you make one branch of the government Big Brother, able and ready to prosecute every hint of wrongdoing it sees, it will not sometimes be abused and applied unequally; it will always be abused and applied unequally. The requirement for searches to be approved by a judge upon the showing of "probable cause" was an outgrowth of inherent distrust of centralized authority. George Bush's mantra that "this is not a law enforcement problem" is not accidental. It is carefully crafted and deliberate. It is meant to foster a contempt for the law, and to extend the rules of the battlefield, where the word of the Commander-in-Chief is law, to Americans and American soil.
Even Neo-con Republicans should fear this. We're not talking about the power of the Bush administration. We're talking about a permanent change to a Stasi culture benefitting whomever holds the reins of power, and their minions, be they contributors, congressmen, or call girls. The Founders, whose incredibly bleak view of human nature led them to place checks and balances into the very core of the Constitution, put a brake on human nature with the Fourth Amendment. Boy, those sure were some smart white guys.
Ralph Lopez is a co-founder of YaliesForImpeachment.org He is a sometimes geek/IT consultant in his day job.