Sunday, June 25, 2006

More Bush Spying

The New York Times has exposed another one of Bush's spying programs – another program. This spying program one looks at bank information to find out who is sending money to whom. Allegedly, they are looking at who is sending money to terrorists. I am wondering about whether they are looking at political contributions and corporate transactions as well.

I cannot help but feel sorry for the civil servant who says to himself, "This is wrong. What the government is doing to its people is wrong." I am going to risk my career to let the people know what the government is doing to them." She warns us of some government misdeed, and the society that she has sought to protect shrugs its collective shoulders and says, "So?"

Any one of these revelations should have brought about a scandal. Any one of them should have had the Bush Administration either apologizing profusely for its misdeeds or suffering the consequences. Instead, we get, "So?"

I am also concerned about the fact that the Press keeps describing this programs as, "Spying on suspected terrorists."

How do they know this?

This description makes it sound like those who are concerned about these programs want to give the terrorists an opportunity to hide. This is not the case, and those who claim that this is the motivation behind these revelations is simply being dishonest.

The question that I keep raising each time one of these reports comes out is, "How do we know that the Bush Administration is only spying on suspected terrorists? What is to prevent them (or some future administration) from spying on anybody they want to spy on?"

My concern is that the Bush Administration may be spying only on suspected terrorists the way that it invades only countries supporting those who attacked the United States on 9/11. My concern is with the possibility that Bush Administration officials might have an agenda, with an ulterior motive, that would involve invading a country so they rationalize a way of thinking about this country that makes it seem to them to be worthy of attack.

Similarly, they can have an agenda, with an ulterior motive, that would require looking at somebody’s bank or phone records, so they concoct a way of looking at this person that would then justify looking at the information they have collected.

How do we know that this is not happening? What safeguards do we have against this possibility?

The purpose of judicial review -- the purpose of a system of checks and balances in general -- is not to prevent the government from spying on Al Queida. It is to make sure that the government is spying on Al Queida, and not abusing its powers to help to secure political powers and oppress their opponents. Its purpose is to give us a way of answering the question "How do we know?" -- that answer being "Because a judge reviewed the activity and determined that the Administration is, in fact, using these powers against Al Queida rather than political opponents, personal enemies, or competitors of their big corporate sponsors."

It is still possible that the Administration can find and appoint a judge that will give it a blank check to whatever abuses its members can dream up. To make this a little more difficult, we use multiple judges in a court in some instances, such as the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court, and FISA Courts. This makes it a little harder for the Administration to find a body of conspirators to help hide its abuse of power.

Instead, the Bush Administration has adopted a policy of self-review. "My actions are legitimate if the person that I have hired/appointed to tell me that it is legitimate says that it is legitimate." This is a bit like saying, "I am intelligent if the person I hire to tell me that I am intelligent says that I am intelligent."

Even if Karl Rove or Vice President Cheney are able to resist the temptation to use the power to spy on the American people to further their political and economic ambitions and aid their corporate allies, sooner or later there will be somebody in government who is not so temperate. Sooner or later, somebody is going to be able to frame their question in such a way that they will be able to rationalize the abuse of these powers, unless there is a check or balance on hand to prevent it.

The movie, "The Talented Mr. Ripley" contains a quote that identifies an extremely important fact about human nature. Tom Ripley states, "Well, whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn't it, in your head. You never meet anybody that thinks they're a bad person." Even Hitler, at the end of his days, thought that he was a good person. People who make themselves dictator and abuse power, somehow, are able to frame the situation in their minds in such a way that they are the hero, and anybody who would challenge them is the villain who is getting in the way of that which is truly good.

So, the President who abuses these powers will almost certainly be one who thinks that he has important work to do, and that his projects warrant doing away with those who criticize him and stand in the way of success. Those short-sighted individuals who nip at his heels and do not see the greatness of his vision simply will have to be dealt with – unless there are checks and balances that prevent him from doing so.

Good people must demand a system of checks and balances because, inevitably, with as much certainty as sunrises and sunsets, autocratic power will end up in the hands of somebody with a warped and twisted idea of what it means to be a "good person." The bad thing about unchecked and unbalanced power is that it attracts these type of people like moths to a fire. They are the ones who are willing to work the hardest to secure this power, and they are the ones who will put it to use once they get it.

When that day comes, those of our children and grand children alive at the time will curse the fact that we turned our back on the wisdom of our founding fathers and abolished the system of checks and balances they created for us.


Hume's Ghost said...

To be fair, this program does seem to have had several successes at tracking/capturing terrorists. But what bothers me about it is that it began as a temporary emergency act, but has taken on permanent status. I'm not comfortable with the idea of the gov't taking on permanent emergency powers.

But what troubles me even more is all the people who are ratcheting up the rhetoric against the times while demanding criminal prosecution of its journalists, going so far as to state that the paper "is at war with America."

Anonymous said...

I've found the coverage of the NYT's story to be very troubling. Watching NBC's national news coverage tonight as an example, there was 5 min devoted to discussing Bush and Cheney's outrage that someone would have the gall to publish this story. NBC pointed out that this was the second major story that the NYT has published, giving the impression of increased wrongdoing by the reporters. As well as focusing on Cheney’s statement that the idea that the reporters had received the Pulitzer for their work was reprehensible. All of this added up to an endorsement of the White House's belief in wrongdoing by the NYT.

There was zero coverage of the reason that I and many others have been upset about what these stories have revealed about our government. That there is absolutely no oversight in these programs from agencies outside of the control of the White House. There is complete agreement on both sides of the ideological divide that we should be tracking down terrorists, through phone taps, wire transfers, and other means. But, we need to keep the system of checks and balances in place to make sure this is done properly.

Bush has still not made a credible case as to why the NSA or any of these other programs need to operate without FISA or other oversite and he’s getting away with it.

The solution, from what I see, is to educate those around me when and where I am able. I’ve taken to sending copies of Greenwald’s book to people that I know with the request that they share what they learn with others. I also regularly send email highlights of blog postings to those that haven’t quite taken to finding them on their own yet. Finallly, to make sure that everyone I know is as prepared as possible to vote, left or right.

vjack said...

I have a feeling that this will someday be viewed with the same contempt with which we now regard J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Hume's Ghost

As I wrote, my objection to the program is not that it is used to hunt terrorists. I have no problem with that.

I simply want to make sure that it is used to hunt terrorists, and that the government is not using this power for other ends, such as hunting campaign contributors to political rivals or providing corporate sponsors with intelligence on how their competitors are spending money.

I want them to present their arguments to a neutral third party who will say, "Yes, this is an instance of using these tools to hunt terrorists," or "No, I think you are after these people because they have said unkind things about your administration and hurt your feelings (and threatened your hold on political power). You have not shown me that you have good reason to think they are actually terrorists."

Hume's Ghost said...

I've followed your blog long enough to know that was what you meant. I did not mean to imply otherwise, and I certainly find it objectionable when persons characterize objections to such programs as opposing fighting terrorism.

Actually, the level of vitriol being directed at the Times I feel (to borrow a phrase from Peter Daou) may represent a dangerous inflection point in American politics. Never in my life time have I seen such an open attack on the press. And at the same time as a substantial portion of media figures and pundits are advocating for prosecution of Times journalists, accusing the Times of treason, and declaring the paper to be at war with America the Senate failed to pass an amendment that would turn the Flag into a symbol of censorship by 1 single vote.

Earlier today I remarked to a friend that if Sinclair Lewis were alive today he might write a book titled It's Happening Here