I don’t know what you think of our ex President Harry Truman; as with all our presidents he too came with a mixed bag of good and bad. For our discussion here it really doesn’t matter where we stand on Truman. On the other hand, the quote provides an excellent starting point for my Part III of the Makings of a Police State: National Security Letters. I wish we could bring President Truman back to life and ask him the following question:
Mr. President, if forcing only one American to shut his mind and close his mouth means that all Americans are in peril, what happens when thousands of good American citizens are forced to shut their mouths?
I wonder what his answer would be. Perhaps something like ‘…then all Americans are in real deep trouble!’ Or, ‘…then we are all doomed!’ Or maybe, ‘…then all Americans deserve it for not rising up and grabbing our pitchforks!’
If you think I am talking in riddles and hypotheticals, you are dead wrong, and can be thankful to our media for keeping you in the dark. Here is a documented statement on the state of our liberties when it comes to the government forcing us to shut our mouth when we see and witness evil & wrongdoing:
A federal appeals court may have slapped the Federal Bureau of Investigation last year for its misuse of gag orders to prevent discussion of government investigations conducted under the authority of National Security Letters, but that hasn’t slowed the feds very much. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, despite a court’s finding that such gag orders are constitutionally suspect and should be subject to judicial review, the FBI continues to muzzle recipients of the controversial letters, preventing them from participating in public debate over the Patriot Act and the security state.
National Security Letters are powerful tools that allow federal agents to obtain information about investigation targets from third parties, such as telephone companies, financial institutions, Internet service providers, and consumer credit agencies on their own say-so, without judicial review. Some 47,000 such letters were issued in 2005 alone, according to the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (PDF). The letters don’t receive much public discussion, probably because many of the recipients are also issued gag orders, forbidding them to discuss the experience.
Okay, let me preempt you before you rush and make wrong assumptions about who the recipients of these government gag orders are, before you start envisioning the stereotyped boogie-looking-men in shalvars with long flea-infested curly dark beards:
Unable to speak out about their experiences as the subjects of National Security Letters, recipients of such letters, including businesspeople and librarians, can only stand on the sidelines while the discussion is conducted in theoretical terms.
That’s right! We are talking about good ole ordinary American citizens like librarians, small business owners, and in some cases healthcare providers. Also, the 47,000 number mentioned above is only for the year 2005. In a report published by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee an Inspector General Report delivered to Congress found that there were 143,074 NS Letters requested in two years, between 2003 and 2005. And here is another fire-raising fact from the same report:
From the 143,074 NSLs requested, there was only 1 confirmed terrorism-related conviction.
That’s right. And each NSL may demand tens of thousands of records containing private information on Americans. So please do the math by multiplying 143, 074 with let’s say 1000 to be safe, and let it sink in. Now put that number next to the ‘1’ terrorism case they had, and try to come up with a single sane reason or justification for our government going after, demanding, obtaining and then keeping these records.
Okay, back to what our President Truman considered ‘being in peril.’ Let’s get a bit up close and personal with one of the thousands of NSL recipients. This one happens to be extraordinarily brave since we have his name. Thousands of other recipients are prohibited, or intimidated into think they are, from disclosing their identity – thanks to the Gag Provision imbedded in this unconstitutional police tool called NSL, handed to our federal police by our Congress. Let’s get a bit acquainted with the brave NSL and gag order recipient, a librarian named Peter Chase, through an article published by the Baltimore Sun:
“In 2005, Mr. Chase, the director of the Plainville, Conn., public library and then-vice president of a consortium of 26 Connecticut libraries, received an FBI demand for library patron records via a National Security Letter authorized under the Patriot Act. The FBI also imposed a gag order prohibiting him from speaking to anyone about the demand – including Congress, when the Patriot Act was up for reauthorization in 2005.
Now, thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union, Mr. Chase has finally won the legal battle and has torn the Bush administration’s tape from his mouth. So he’s speaking out, and this is what he has to say: “The government was telling Congress that it didn’t use the Patriot Act against libraries and that no one’s rights had been violated. I felt that I just could not be part of this fraud being foisted on our nation.””
Here is what I find the most disheartening, alarming, and simply frightening point in the above story: Peter Chase is one of only three brave Americans who have actually challenged the gag order imbedded in NSLs. Meaning what? Meaning of over 200,000 people who have received these unconstitutional police letters and the accompanying gag orders, ONLY 3 have found the courage, conviction, and real patriotism to stand up and challenge this assault on their constitutional rights and those of the entire nation. If this doesn’t rattle us Americans, the inhabitants of the land of the free, then may we deserve this and the highly probable worse to come.
Less than two months after the September 11 terrorist attack, while driven by panic and hysteria, our elected representatives rushed to enact the PATRIOT ACT, which was speedily, and conveniently, drafted by the Executive Branch. This unconstitutional set of laws handed our federal police and intelligence agencies unprecedented power to secretly and arbitrarily spy into Americans’ lives without any justification, any evidence of wrongdoing, or any oversight whatsoever.
Here are a few highlights on National Security Letters (NSL):
A National Security Letter (NSL) is a letter request for information from a third party that is issued by the FBI or by other government agencies with authority to conduct national security investigations. Government agency issues the request for information without prior judicial approval. Obtaining NSL requires no probable cause or judicial oversight. They also contain a gag order preventing the recipient of the letter from disclosing that the letter was ever issued. The non-disclosure rules have helped prevent the full extent of the NSL program from becoming known, as the FBI has systematically underreported to Congress the number of letters sent. Unlike other subpoenas and warrants, no approval from the Judicial Branch is required to issue an NSL. An NSL may be issued by “the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or his designee in a position not lower than Deputy Assistant Director at Bureau headquarters or a Special Agent in Charge in a Bureau field office designated by the Director” with no checks and balances in place until after the NSL has been delivered.
An internal FBI audit found that the bureau violated the rules more than 1000 times in an audit of 10% of its national investigations between 2002 and 2007. According to the September 9, 2007 New York Times report on the FBI’s use of NSLs to obtain broader information for data mining purposes, “In many cases, the target of a national security letter whose records are being sought is not necessarily the actual subject of a terrorism investigation and may not be suspected at all. Under the USA PATRIOT Act, the F.B.I. must assert only that the records gathered through the letter are considered relevant to a terrorism investigation.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/09/washington/09fbi.html?_r=1 )
In April, 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union alleged that the military was using the FBI to skirt legal restrictions on domestic surveillance to obtain private records of Americans’ Internet service providers, financial institutions and telephone companies. The ACLU based its allegation on a review of more than 1,000 documents turned over to it by the Defense Department in response to a suit the rights group filed in 2007 for documents related to national security letters.
The fear factor and the accompanying hysteria were the initial ingredients leading to the enactment of these laws befitting dictatorships and police states. The Bush-Cheney Administration’s war-mongering and absolute power-externally and internally, doctrine, kept the Patriot Act alive and in full implementation. The media fulfilled its significant role in promoting the fear-mongering which was, and is, the necessary ingredient in hushing the critics and hooraying the architects and implementers of the Patriot Act. Then came the President of Changes, and here is what he’s been doing to not only keep these unconstitutional police powers alive, but actually bolster them even further:
Last month, in a letter from the Justice Department to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Obama administration went on record supporting the extension of key provisions of the USA Patriot Act, including the provision that gives the government the power to subpoena library records of any individual. The sections that our president is so keen to keep alive and take even further; allow roving wire taps on multiple phones, access to business records, and a never-used provision to conduct surveillance of a non-U.S. citizen who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group.
This same president, while an Illinois State Senator, considered the PATRIOT Act shoddy and dangerous and pledged to replace it. Well, as with all his promises of ‘change,’ he has done a hundred eighty degree change on this one, and been advocating for the continuation and expansion of this draconian police-state tool. You can read my brief piece on President Obama’s PATRIOT ACT Advocacy here.
While the federal police and intelligence agencies snoop on ordinary Americans and slap them with gag orders (forced by fear to shut their mouths), the public outrage appears to be in very short supply. Well, when you think of it, if of the known 200,000 + recipients only 3 refuse to shut their mouth, what would be a reasonable expectancy for hundreds of millions of Americans who don’t think these police-state practices affect their lives whatsoever?
How in the world did we get here? With hundreds of thousands of Americans being forced to shut their eyes, minds, and mouths, are we all in peril? In real big trouble? Doomed? And if you are like me and answer ‘yes,’ where is the outrage translated into action? Are we still sitting and waiting for a lobby and interest driven Congress to act in our behalf? Do we hope to see a President’s changes on his promised changes do yet another 180 degree change and change this? Or have we given up all hope and chosen to sit on the sidelines with our mouths shut waiting to be totally doomed?