Valerie Woodall, a volunteer PCC blog editor, is a civil liberties activist in the making who has organized large numbers of people to change our country from the bottom up and bring light to certain atrocities committed against our Constitution. Valerie is 25 years old, originally from New York, and currently resides in Washington DC.
Last night could be a rare glimpse into how direct activism can be effective and change perceptions of those in power. During a fundraiser in San Francisco, President Obama was interrupted by protesters pleading for due process in the case of Bradley Manning, the man charged with leaking state secrets to Wikileaks. As CollegeNewsreports,
A group of 21 attendees led by Naomi Pitcairn got up in the middle of Obama’s speech and started singing a song in protest of Manning’s arrest. “We paid our dues, where’s our change?” they sang at the end. [...] The president tried to make light of the situation by responding to the protest with sarcasm.
No, no, but look, I can’t conduct diplomacy on an open source. That’s not how…the world works. If you’re in the military, and…have to abide by certain classified information. If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law…We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate…
However, Obama’s statement implies that the US government is not also breaking the law by detaining Manning without due process and in inhumane conditions. Obama certainly can’t assume that the government is not under the same laws as that of its people, right? PressTV explains:
In an informal discussion with protesters, [...] the U.S. President has said that Bradley Manning has broke the law. This while no court of law has convicted Bradley Manning of any wrong doing as the U.S. Military has kept him detained displaying a disregard for due process.
Finally, whether or not Bradley Manning is responsible for leaking state secrets, forced transparency is not the end of the world. We must see due process in Mr. Manning’s case because he has become the symbol for conscientious objection to an uninformed citizenry, in the era of a pervasive government corrupting the rule of law. We must stand up for Mr. Manning because whether or not he is responsible for the leaks, we have gained a semblance of truth from our government due to the leaks. And we should thank our activists for speaking truth to power, as well. As Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail,
There are just laws and there are unjust laws…I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all… One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly…I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.
Over the weekend on Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer asked Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) what he thought regarding Terry Jones, a preacher in Miami, who burned the Koran and the fact that his actions may or may not have contributed to murders of Christian people in Afghanistan. While Lindsey Graham might be credited with the fact that burning a religious book is offensive, he went much further in his analysis of the problem, and he got it wrong.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Is there anything that actually can be done along this line?
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: You know I wish we could find some way to– to– to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea but we’re in a war. During World War II, you had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy. So burning a Koran is a terrible thing. But it doesn’t justify killing someone. Burning a bible would be a terrible thing but it doesn’t justify murder. But having said that, any time we can push back here in America against actions like this that put our troops at risk we ought to do it. So I look forward to working with Senator Kerry and Reid and others to condemn this, condemn violence all over the world based in the name of religion. But General Petraeus understands better than anybody else in America what happens when something like this is done in our country. And he was right to condemn it. And I think Congress would be right to reinforce what General Petraeus said.
Graham clearly believes that burning a Koran—using hate speech of any kind—incites violence. People of all political viewpoints should denounce hate speech and violence for sure, but we should not use war as a means to ban free speech. No matter how heinous, this act by one preacher should not provoke Congress to limit free speech under any circumstances: the freedom to speak one’s mind, even if doing so is offensive and hurtful, is an essential part of what makes America strong.
When the United States Constitution was written over two hundred years ago, the founders of our country did not have the technology we have today, but they did have the ideology of a right to privacy; they had the expectation of free speech, meaning that anyone who spoke out against the government should be protected by law. This commonality and continuity between the founders’ prophetic document and what Americans expect and believe today is what makes this country great.
This is why I was shocked last week when the Wisconsin GOP requested emails from William Cronon, a professor who spoke against their government. While many states, including Wisconsin, have policies regarding public employees’ rights to privacy, including the right to seize communications if used for partisan politics, the move to review a professors’ emails in response to an op-ed is a severe use of the open records law in Madison. As Paul Krugman explains,
So we don’t need to worry about Mr. Cronon — but we should worry a lot about the wider effect of attacks like the one he’s facing.
Legally, Republicans may be within their rights: Wisconsin’s open records law provides public access to e-mails of government employees, although the law was clearly intended to apply to state officials, not university professors. But there’s a clear chilling effect when scholars know that they may face witch hunts whenever they say things the G.O.P. doesn’t like.
This breach of privacy is nothing new in these PATRIOT Act days. However, what is new is the blatant political backlash being put out by a political group for political gain. The fact that one cannot speak out or write about what they think without being persecuted for their politics, takes the privacy and free speech arguments to a new level—both nationally and statewide. As The New Yorker reports,
Taken literally, this is a politically motivated fishing expedition: an effort to show that Cronon has engaged in political activity using a state university e-mail. In fact, though, it’s something nastier and more wide-ranging: an effort to intimidate Cronon, and any other state employee, by making clear that it can be dangerous to take a position that Republicans don’t like on the issues of the day. After all, Cronon’s mails, like those of most professors, include materials meant to be confidential: messages to and about students or colleagues. The only reason to compromise the protection these materials enjoy would be evidence of wrongdoing on his part, and there is none.
Modern technology has connected people with the world and led to new innovations, new products and new experiences. But with these new opportunities come new risks. I want to know if the privacy protections we have in place are enough, or whether Congress needs to step in and do more. As Chairman, I’m committed to doing everything I can to protect consumers’ privacy.
This hearing could not come at a better time given that the next Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference will be held June 14-16, 2011. This is the conference that pioneered the Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights. It also signifies that legislation might come soon. The Federal Trade Commission chairman, Jon Leibowitz discussed what the FTC was doing to protect Americans from third party sites that track consumer activity. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) explained that there is no commerce law to protect online users from a multitude of illegal spying issues and moved to create a “Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights.”
The Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights is as follows:
We the users expect social network sites to provide us the following rights in their Terms of Service, Privacy Policies, and implementations of their system:
Clarity: Make sure that policies, terms of service, and settings are easy to find and understand
Freedom of speech: Do not delete or modify my data without a clear policy and justification
Empowerment : Support assistive technologies and universal accessibility
Self-protection: Support privacy-enhancing technologies
Data minimization: Minimize the information I am required to provide and share with others
Control: Let me control my data, and don’t facilitate sharing it unless I agree first
Predictability: Obtain my prior consent before significantly changing who can see my data.
Data portability: Make it easy for me to obtain a copy of my data
Protection: Treat my data as securely as your own confidential data unless I choose to share it, and notify me if it is compromised
Right to know: Show me how you are using my data and allow me to see who and what has access to it.
P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, resigned over the weekend after stating that the treatment of Bradley Manning was “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid.” Bradley Manning is the man accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of documents to Wikileaks, the website that shocked the world by releasing cables containing state secrets. An American citizen, Manning has been held without trial and has allegedly been tortured. As Ezra Klein of the Washington Postexplained,
I say “accused” not because his guilt is so doubtful, but because he has not yet stood for trial. At the moment, he is simply incarcerated. And in an apparent act of revenge, his captors are subjecting him to sleep deprivation, prolonged time in isolation and continuous nude spot-checks — conditions that Daniel Ellsberg calls “right out of the manual of the CIA for ‘enhanced interrogation’.”
P.J. Crowley’s resignation comes on the heels of a press conference on Friday where Obama seemingly took a page out of the Bush torture handbook, saying that he had asked intelligence officers overseeing Bradley Manning’s treatment if conditions adhered to the United States’ policy of high value detainees, which doesn’t even cover the point that the Obama administration is not upholding the Constitution in any aspect of this case.
While it is true that Bradley Manning has yet to become a household name, his case is a classic example of what can happen when an overzealous state reacts to to alleged crimes; we expected more from the president of the United States. What complicates the whole situation, or clarifies it as Glenn Greenwald suggests, is that Barack Obama inspired civil liberties’ activists during his campaign to restore habeas corpus and at the very beginning of his first term when he signed an executive order to end torture. We expected the president to uphold the Constitution and to shine a light into the darkest corners of government conduct.
However, P.J. Crowley’s exit brings light to the fact that in Obama’s administration, allegedly whistleblowing is enough to get you incarcerated without charge, trial, or human rights, and further, speaking out on the issue is sufficient to silence an administration completely when it comes to human rights and rule of law in the United States.
Over the past few years, social media has become a key asset in galvanizing people to action. In fact, social media is the fastest growing avenue for advocacy. The trends in new media speak for themselves in terms of how people are using social media to propel increasingly powerful movements. The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank, recently released a study after what they called “a rare confluence of events.” Their weekly media monitor, the New Media Index, reported that,
From February 7-11, [a vote in the House of Representatives on whether to extend the PATRIOT Act] was the top story on both blogs (with 17% of the news links) and Twitter (21%).
That marks the first time in almost 11 months that any subject was No. 1 on both Twitter and blogs in the same week, and only the fifth time since PEJ began its New Media Index in January 2009.
Delving into the reason for such a confluence of activism through social media, Pew’s Research Center explained,
Concern for civil liberties transcended politics here as bloggers and twitterers on both the left and the right cheered the February 8 vote in the House which fell short of the super-majority needed to reauthorize the Patriot Act.
While the PATRIOT Act was extended in February, this research shows that people from all corners of this country are fed up with the federal government trampling our rights. And we can stop it! The PATRIOT Act comes up for another extension vote in May. So, please, tweet, post, and share this blog to raise awareness among your social networks. We have only 81 days left.
One of the best ways to achieve accountability in governance is to make public the price tag associated with a program. When it comes to surveillance activity, our citizenry is undereducated.
President Obama’s fiscal year 2012 budget, which is currently in Congress, includes a huge development relating to government secrecy: its request for $55 billion for the civilian-led National Intelligence Program (NIP) is public. As Asad Khan reported on this blog recently, the request, while still controversial, is the first time in a long time that intelligence budgets have been available to the public. Nukes & Spooks Blog reported,
It is the first time that any administration has ever made that request public. The administration was required to make the FY 2012 NIP budget request public under a 2010 law, although President Barack Obama had the option of using a waiver to keep the figure secret.
This disclosure comes as a result of a 2010 law overseen by James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, compelling the Pentagon to separate national intelligence spending and move it to Clapper’s office. This move allows, but does not mandate, the intelligence community to unveil budget requests instead of keeping them secret. Security News’ Steven Aftergood wrote,
The disclosure of the total annual amount of intelligence spending may be seen as the culmination of decades of advocacy and activism. Budget disclosure will help to normalize the intelligence function of government, to promote a new degree of public accountability, and to combat the obfuscation and mystification of intelligence. The move also goes a long way towards fulfilling the constitutional requirement to publish a “statement and account” of all government expenditures from time to time.
Although this is a promising step for holding the government accountable when it comes to civil liberties, we know that the intelligence community is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years. We must ask ourselves, then, is this move simply training the public to be aware of, and not care about, upholding our Constitution or the affects of spying and lying on the budget? The administration’s work to open the budget of the National Intelligence Program doesn’t go far enough in creating accountability just yet, but this is a step in the right direction.
“It is not acceptable to willfully ignore the most basic provisions of our Constitution—in this case—the Fourth and First Amendments—in the name of ‘security.’” – Senator Rand Paul
Over the past week we saw the extension of PATRIOT Act provisions passed in the House. The provisions moving through Congress include the controversial roving wire taps, unwarranted searches and seizures by the FBI, and the “lone wolf” provision.
While many in Congress consider the PATRIOT Act unconstitutional, they are seemingly conjoled into voting for a “necessary” evil. As Chuck Grassley told POLITICO,
By these sunsets, we’re compromising the tools that law enforcement has to use in the war on terror against terrorists, because they’re not going to give up for decades. You can’t have these deadlines or sunsets and expect to have a continuing effort to track down terrorists.
President Obama’s new press secretary Jay Carney confirmed that the administration is seeking a semi-permanent extension to enhance continuity within the intelligence community,
Jay, does the President want to see the provisions of the Patriot Act extended?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, it’s our position that it would be helpful to extend that for two years. We’re working with Congress to see what we can get done, but the answer is yes.
The USA PATRIOT Act, passed in the wake of the worst act of terrorism in U.S. history, is no doubt well-intentioned. However, rather than examine what went wrong, and fix the problems, Congress instead hastily passed a long-standing wish list of power grabs like warrantless searches and roving wiretaps. The government greatly expanded its own power, ignoring obvious answers in favor of the permanent expansion of a police state. [...]
Other provisions of the PATRIOT Act previously made permanent and not scheduled to expire present even greater concerns. These include the use and abuse by the FBI of so-called National Security Letters. These secret demand letters, which allow the government to obtain financial records and other sensitive information held by Internet Service Providers, banks, credit companies, and telephone carriers—all without appropriate judicial oversight—also impose a gag order on recipients. [...]
Finally, the letter makes clear that Congress needs to reasonably reevaluate the PATRIOT Act instead of debating through sound bytes and heated rhetoric because if Congress had taken pause to find out what went wrong in the aftermath of 9/11 and fixed intelligence community issues, the PATRIOT Act never would have passed. ”Necessary evil” is not a campaign slogan or smart voting policy, and Rand Paul is not rhetorical when he states and asks,
As FBI agent Coleen Rowley stated, “the FBI headquarters supervisory special agent handling the Moussaoui case ‘seemed to have been consistently almost deliberately thwarting the Minneapolis FBI agents’ efforts” to meet the FISA standard for a search warrant, and therefore no request was ever made for a warrant. Why, then, was the FBI rewarded with such expansive new powers in the aftermath of this institutional failure?
Last night Bill O’Reilly of FOX News interviewed President Obama for about 15 minutes. The interview started off with O’Reilly thanking Obama for standing up for journalists in the embattled Egyptian state. In the discussion regarding Mubarak’s current role and the future of Egypt a curious moment occurred when O’Reilly made this comment:
But he [Mubarak] knows a lot of bad things about us, rendition and all of that. And I’m sure you know that.
Extraordinary rendition? Really? At a Super Bowl event? With millions of people watching? President Obama blinked, but he did not acknowledge the issue and O’Reilly did not press it. So why does this interview matter if the subject was never developed? For one, the interview was widely televised and millions of people tuned in. Second, while many people know that Egypt has housed the CIA’s rendition and torture policies for years, most people don’t hear about it in interviews with the president. Finally, with everything going on in Egypt from oppression of communication to state crackdowns on journalism, we are asked by the president to imagine that a country making a commission off a policy with no respect for human rights and judicial process is a good ally to the people of the United States.
At one moment though, when he alluded to Egyptian president Mubarak’s knowledge of America’s dirty secrets through his willingness to take in and torture terrorism suspects through rendition, he never asked the $64,000 question.
A query like: Mr. President what has Mubarak done for us in furthering the war on terror? Does he have damaging secrets to reveal and is that why we seemed to move slowly to recognize the revolt?
Even if O’Reilly didn’t press the torture angle in the interview, the fact that he brought up the CIA partnership with Egypt in extraordinary rendition, and ultimately torture, should get people motivated about ending such a horrible policy. Watch the clip below and let’s continue to cheer on interviewers and journalists who ask tough questions and get tough answers.
The Cato Institute published an interesting essay regarding civil liberties and the intelligence community, in terms of the gargantuan budget deficits our country faces. The essay, written by Julian Sanchez and originally published in a well known conservative magazine, The National Review, entices the anti-spending crowd to take a look at the intelligence’s massive expenditures,
A sector of the government that’s seen 150 percent growth in less than a decade yet is “so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine”; one where projects run hundreds of millions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule, where audits and required reporting frequently are neglected, and where officials at the highest levels admit they can’t keep track of what their agencies are doing, or even how many contractors they’ve got on the public payroll.
This essay has become a valuable resource because the new Congress, which includes many limited government, anti-spending members, is deciding which programs to cut and Sanchez’s essay rightly points out that much of the intelligence community’s budget could be cut without damage to intelligence work. For example, the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program revealed a great debate over the right of the government to spy on citizens, while the inefficacy of the program went totally under reported,
Or consider the controversial program of warrantless wiretapping authorized by Pres. George W. Bush. The political debate over that program [...] centered above all on weighty legal questions about the balance between privacy and security interests and the legitimate scope of executive power in wartime.
Yet surely the more obvious question was: Does it work? The only assurance we had that it did came from the very officials tasked with running it — the kind of testimony conservatives rightly greet with an arched eyebrow when it comes from an EPA administrator or a jobs czar.
When the inspectors general for the IC finally produced an unclassified report on the “President’s Surveillance Program” in 2009, they concluded that the large majority of the leads generated by the program had no connection to terrorism — corroborating early press reports in which FBI officials complained of being sent on wild-goose chases.
Knowledge of inefficient intelligence models doesn’t stop the community from piling onto the money they receive from Congress each year, so why don’t limited government conservatives have the same animosity towards government spending in the intelligence/defense category? In trying to explain the conservative stance on this issue, Sanchez catches a culprit: the culture wars between left and right in this media crazed society. Sanchez lashes out at that silly interpretation as to why we have such a massive appetite for illegal and intrusive policies that go against the grain of American ideology:
Patriotism is no vaccine against the pathologies of bloated government—nor should it be a soporific to conservatives who, in any other sector, would be wary of a bureaucrat with an ambitious plan and a request for a blank check.
However, the intelligence community is entrenched and nearly impossible to get out from underneath. As Sanchez clearly defines it, the oversight hearings held by Congress are more for show than anything else:
And the rewards are slim for members of Congress wondering whether to invest precious time and political capital in trying to guarantee the efficiency of vital intelligence programs. Legislators seeking to face down entrenched bureaucracies—and corporate behemoths eager to protect their $50 billion share of a $75 billion intelligence budget—can’t easily go on cable news to rally the public against ineffective or wasteful programs, or to trumpet their achievements after the fact if they succeed. Instead, oversight tends to follow what intelligence scholars have dubbed a “fire alarm” model: periods of intense scrutiny in the wake of a prominent scandal or failure, followed by long stretches of apathy.
As BORDC’s Grassroots Lobby Day for Civil Liberties coming up on Thursday, we’ll be bringing proposals for smarter national security spending—by cutting ineffective programs that violate privacy—to Congress. Please join us—in DC, or with meetings with legislators at their district offices—and take the time to demand that your representatives continue to pressure intelligence agencies, if not for civil liberties and freedoms we enjoy through the Constitution, then at least for the budget woes of our country.