Most likely, begun during the Cold War, the National Security Agency (NSA) routinely eavesdrops on American citizens domestically and internationally. We need a public vetting of this on national television, on the front pages and editorial commentaries of major, nationally distributed newspapers. So far, Blogs and books have been ineffective for the task.
I recall during my Army stint as the V Corps Engineer Plans Officer, stationed in the I. G. Farben Building in Frankfurt-am-Main, in 1970, that there were two floors off-limits to me. That building, built by the German chemicals manufacturer during the Nazi era, was taken as Eisenhower's Supreme Allied Forces headquarters at the ending of World War II. Inside this huge building there were a series of continually running elevators, an architecturally ingenious people-mover, requiring one to step onto an upward or downward moving platform for going between floors. No lobby waiting! But I digress a bit. These elevators allowed me to see all of the floors as I traveled to and from my floor, including those where the NSA had its electronic surveillance operations. Signs and MPs forbade any unauthorized access to these floors, and even though I was cleared for the highest security levels, including electronic, NATO, and US-Personnel Only additions to Top Secret clearance, I would have had to be invited to be able to step off of that elevator on those floors. I did not know the extent of NSA's surveillance at that time--or, really, today. There were rumors that U.S. domestic airlines had cameras in their planes that photographed everything flown over as they flew to and from the Soviet Bloc destinations. That seemed very plausible, but no one ever corroborated that as fact to me. That was just one aspect of the Cold War.
I and many of my family, friends and others reacted very negatively when The Patriot Act expanded the Executive Branch's abilities for domestic and foreign surveillance of American citizens' private communications in 2001. Those powers were abused, portions declared illegal under Constitutionally-guaranteed due process, yet the Bush/Cheney and Obama/Biden Administrations continued to enhance those surveillance powers ever since. Each was allowed by Congress, the Supreme Court and the American people to suspend the Right of Habeas Corpus that has been a linchpin of a legal tradition stretching back to the original signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 by King John of England. Only one other period of U. S. history has experienced the suspension of Habeas Corpus and that was done by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
This publicly unexamined, Congress-authorized Presidential authority has been obfuscated by arguments between civilian and military lawyers over jurisdiction rights of individuals confined for years at Guantanamo's prison, and of enemy combatants or otherwise arrested persons for terrorist activities or intelligence gathering confined in foreign prisons for "rendering" by U. S. intelligence personnel. Obviously, wars involve the taking of prisoners and intelligence activities can save lives on the battlefield and off. The result has been so confusing to we Americans not steeped in legal expertise that it is easy to focus on the realities of our daily lives. We trust that the right way will be sorted out. I do not think it can be without public inclusion in the debates.
For a self-identified, religious nation, and despite domestic and world-wide religious leaders' opposition to war among we humans, I haven't seen any significant, faith-based effects on our bellicose emotions that foster wars in the first place. I guess some of us can blame our parents for not being successful when children wail "he started it," or "she hit me first," and variations we all used at one time or another.
The power of seeing war's terrible violence and death through the
personal medium of television stopped our government from continuing one
war and provided our government with sufficient emotional support for
beginning another. Ironically, the Viet Nam War's end came from the voting public's opposition to it; people saw war on their televisions in their homes. The war in Afghanistan began with real-time televised transmitting of the horror that was September 11, 2001 in New York, at the Pentagon, and in a Pennsylvania field. These television broadcasts of death and destruction made those events personal for all who saw them. For me, the ultimate crime of the Bush/Cheney Administration was its use of those personal emotions from 9/11 to pursue their political-commercial goals for attacking Iraq in 2003.
My point here is that the mainstream public media has not used its enormous communication powers to address the issues of basic civil rights for all Americans and for those living within the boundaries of the American legal system. I believe that every Administration since the end of the Viet Nam War has decided never to allow such unfiltered, extensive television coverage of wartime operations without being filtered by the military and the Administration. No national news anchor has the ability to tell the public and the President that [the current] war cannot be won, as Walter Cronkite told LBJ in 1968.
In 1976, by eliminating ongoing Selective Service drafting of military forces, Administrations have created a separate military culture within the public culture of America. And, active duty military and most veterans have insulated themselves by necessity to take care of their own, since the general public have little idea of their lives, stresses, family dynamics or needs, Parents and other loved ones are not beating on the Congressional representatives' doors to bring to a halt wars that put their drafted sons in danger. Television coverage of the return of killed American military sons and daughters, fathers and husbands, was forbidden by Bush/Cheney until the Obama/Biden Administration. Today, even PBS's The News Hour no longer has a silent listing of servicemen and women killed in Iraq or Afghanistan at the end of its nightly broadcasts. For most Americans, none of these current events are personal and so we can ignore them.
think President Obama needs to be more forthcoming about these matters,
especially as they affect our Constitutionally-guaranteed civil
liberties and rights. I doubt his political opponents will want to open
up this subject before or after the coming elections. The Right Wing
politicians have not brought up the federal government's intrusion into
our private lives in the name of intelligence gathering, yet they
disdain any federal regulation of other aspects of personal liberties.
For me, civil liberties are a major area about which I continue to very
concerned as a focus for Change, as promised by Candidate Obama in 2008.
In today's online newsletter, Truthdig.com included a report by Amy Goodman. I urge you to read it at