Overlooked reasons why NSA secrecy is senseless and offensiveTuesday, June 11, 2013 at 10:48 am by Shahid Buttar
Last night, I appeared alongside renowned investigator James Bamford, whistleblower advocate Jesselyn Radack, and privacy and open government expert Ginger McCall on Thom Hartmann’s television program The Big Picture. Video from our interview (my first comments start at 7:05) is below, and here’s audio from my appearance on WBAI’s Five O’Clock Shadow with Robert Knight just a few hours earlier.
Several issues remain muted in much of the discussion about the NSA, its offensive and unAmerican spying programs, and the escalating crisis in the Washington establishment favoring imperial executive power over the constitutional legacy of the Republic created by our founders.
I address issues relating to executive secrecy, and one relating to corruption, below.
The trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning
First, the trial of the decade is happening in Ft. Meade, MD, involving military whistleblower Bradley Manning. Yet few of the discussions about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have acknowledged the ongoing prosecution of the whistleblower who most recently shook Washington by disclosing secret government crimes, such as the assassination of journalists depicted in the infamous Collateral Murder video.
Not only did the crackdown on Bradley Manning entail torturing a US servicemember before any conviction of a crime, but his trial remains largely hidden from the media, and some of the most crucial arguments for the defense have been kept out of court. For instance, Bradley Manning was obligated to release classified information under unambiguous international legal principles (which our nation once fought a World War to establish) violated by everyone else in the chain of command. Yet the military court at Ft. Meade will not consider this argument exonerating Pfc. Manning.
The Manning trial is inescapably relevant to more recent discussion of Snowden. Like the prosecutions of Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou and others, it reveals the dire need for statutory protections for national security whistleblowers, in addition to the reporter shield law recently (and opportunistically, but still underinclusively) favored by the president.
Second, the basis for the initial classification of the FISA court order leaked to the Guardian and disclosed last week was ridiculous in the first place. There are conceivable justifications for executive secrecy, particularly when the granular details of a surveillance order might reveal to our nation’s enemies how to evade scrutiny.
But when a single order authorizes dragnet surveillance of millions of people, there are no operational details that disclosure would risk exposing to the enemy. In other words, the classification of bulk collection orders is simply illegitimate. If anyone should be prosecuted, it should be the officials who decided to make these matters of vital public concern secret in order to protect their own careers, not the courageous individuals who risk their careers to inform the public.
Corruption: secret budgets
Third, there is a preposterous elephant in the room: the NSA budget. Like its operations, and the secret so-called “court” orders that theoretically (but don’t actually govern) its operations, the NSA’s budget remains a secret. Yet what rationale demands that the American people remain in the dark about how many of our tax dollars are wasted on constitutionally abusive programs?
How can an agency allocated (at least) tens of billions of dollars a year evade budgetary scrutiny at a time when the rest of the government is suffering dramatic cutbacks? Largely overlooked in commentary about the NSA spying leaks is the role of private contractors, corporations which have made hand over fist through their constitutional crimes in complicity with the national security state.
Like a dragnet surveillance order, a budget reveals no operational details that our nation’s enemies can exploit, which is to say the secrecy of the budget serves only to insulate the government agencies, officials, and corporations who profit to the tune of tens of billions. Secret corporate welfare is the very essence of corruption.
What else remains?
Finally, as I said on Thom’s show last night:
the recent disclosures that we’ve heard about are just the tips of an iceberg, and if we knew the full extent of the iceberg, I daresay that there would be an earthquake across Washington. What we’ve seen…is the beginnings of a tremor that I do hope will grow as we learn more about what the NSA has been doing in secret.
In the face of “business as usual” from Washington institutions inclined to look the other way, like congressional intelligence committee chairs who see nothing wrong with signing away fundamental constitutional rights in secret, grassroots mobilization has become critical. Yesterday, New Yorkers took to the streets to support whistleblowers and demand accountability at the NSA and its corporate accomplices. This Thursday, DC residents will converge on Capitol Hill after work to raise our voices in unison.
Tags: Bradley Manning, budget, domestic surveillance, government secrecy, National Security Agency, NSA, spying, war on whistleblowers, warrantless surveillance, warrantless wiretapping, whistleblowers