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Undernews: The Road Grows Shorter

Page One Must - The Road Grows Shorter

Extract from Undernews compiled by Editor Sam Smith

SAM SMITH - It is not easy to recognize fascism if you haven't been there before. Our eyesight is blurred by everything from cultural optimism to psychic denial. But news of the NSA's mass spying on American's phone records - in number of victims, at least, perhaps the most broadly illegal and unconstitutional act in our history - makes it all simpler. There is not an ounce of hyperbole in calling the NSA's action those of a fascist regime and not of a democratic state. NSA has not only violated the law, it even refuses to allow the Justice Department to investigate its violation. This is the behavior of a dictatorship, not of a democracy.

Sadly, even more telling that NSA's action - in determining how far down the road to fascism we have traveled, is the response to it by the public, the press and the law. In a real democracy, citizens, media and their attorneys stand up against such abuse; in this case there is a truly frightening ambivalence and apathy.

According to the Washington Post, nearly two thirds of Americans support the NSA in its actions - 44% strongly. This may not be so surprising when one considers how little time and space the media has permitted for arguments that paranoia is a poor way to protect oneself or that a regime that will trash its laws and constitution rather than adopt a more reasonable foreign policy is not to be trusted to be either fair or safe. On a regular basis the press reinforces the idea that "national security" is inherently at odds with democracy and decency, repeatedly nudging the citizen towards the former even if it is, as it so often is, a phantom refuge.

Further, many lawyers - and the commentators who quote them - foster such trends by the mythology that justice is best served by following precedents or case law. This bias is based on the cheerful presumption that progress in the law as elsewhere is inevitable. On a number of occasions, however, I have asked extremely intelligent lawyers what does one do in a society where the legal precedents are becoming worse - as they are in a country dismantling two centuries of ideals? Not one has given a coherent answer.

One can not tell how much longer America has before it gives up on democracy completely. What we can say, however, is that the road has just gotten much shorter.


DOUG THOMPSON, CAPITOL HILL BLUE - The newest revelations of even more spying on Americans by the uber-secret National Security Agency is just part of a vastly-expanded operation that snoops daily into the lives of virtually every man, woman and child in the United States.

My sources tell me that USA Today's Thursday story revealing the NSA has collected phone call records of nearly all Americans for the past few years is only a fraction of a stepped up effort by the government to monitor, on a daily basis, the lives of ordinary American citizens who have nothing to do with terrorist plots and pose no threat to national security.

"It's data mining at the most extreme levels," says a former NSA operative who quit in disgust over the agency's snooping into the private lives of Americans. "We have no business spying on our own."

"Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with Al Qaeda?" Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking minority member, asked from the floor of the U.S. Senate Thursday. . .

Capitol Hill Blue in 2004 revealed a massive government data mining operation set up by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency along with the NSA. Our story detailed how DARPA's Total Information Awareness Project, believed scrapped by congressional action was shifted into a secret Pentagon budget by the Bush administration and was actively collecting phone, travel and financial information on virtually all Americans.

The story prompted strong denials from the Bush Administration, which later backed off the denials when The New York Times revealed some of the same information a year later.

Georgetown University constitutional law Professor Jonathan Turley told us at the time the data mining operation by DARPA was illegal and says the new revelations venture further beyond the law. "Federal law prevents the government from seeking this kind of information - including phone numbers - unless it has cause to believe a crime has been committed," Turley says.


ZNET, FEB 2006 - Agents operating a controversial National Security Agency surveillance program may have inadvertently spied on the e-mails and phone calls of Americans with no ties to terrorists, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Monday. Gonzales stressed that the program is "narrowly focused" and that adequate steps are taken to protect privacy, though he said he was unable to describe such procedures because of the program's classified nature. . .

The Bush administration has said repeatedly that the program, which has transpired without prior court approval since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, only monitors communications in which at least one party is located outside the United States and is a member or agent of al-Qaida or groups associated with terrorists. . .

Gonzales shunned all questions he deemed "operational" matters, such as how many people have been subject to the tapping, how the government goes about cooperating with telecommunications companies and Internet service providers from a legal perspective, and whether additional secret surveillance programs have been authorized by the same logic. . .

Said Gonzales, "The program as operated is a very narrowly tailored program, and we do have a great number of checks in place." He said later in the hearing that he was unable to give "specific information about collected, retained and disseminated" communications, except to say that it is done so "in a way to protect privacy interests of all Americans."

The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said bluntly that the secret surveillance program is not authorized by a 1978 law called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which he called the "exclusive source of authority for wiretapping for intelligence purposes."


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