Save Billions: Don't Shut Down the Government; Shut Down the NSA
October 1, 2013
John W. Whitehead / AntiWar.com & Norman Solomon / AntiWar.com
Commentary: "To the people in control of the Executive Branch, violating our civil liberties is an essential government service. So -- to ensure total fulfillment of Big Brother's vast responsibilities -- the National Security Agency is insulated from any fiscal disruption.... Indeed, the one area not impacted in the least by a government shutdown will be the police/surveillance state and its various militarized agencies, spying programs and personnel."
Police State Programs Not Affected by a Government Shutdown
John W. Whitehead / AntiWar.com
WASHINGTON, DC (September 30, 2013) -- Like clockwork, we've ticked back to the annual government shutdown scare. It's always an entertaining show, with both Republicans and Democrats doing their best to one-up each other with heartbreaking anecdotes about the millions who will suffer in the event of a government shutdown and showy bravado over the need for greater fiscal stewardship, while conveniently failing to rein in two of the biggest drains on our budget -- namely, the military and surveillance industrial complexes.
Indeed, the one area not impacted in the least by a government shutdown will be the police/surveillance state and its various militarized agencies, spying programs and personnel. Take a look at the programs and policies that will not be affected by a government shutdown, and you'll get a clearer sense of the government's priorities -- priorities which have, as I point out in my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, little to do with serving taxpayers and everything to do with maintaining power and control, while being sold to the public under the guise of national security.
On any given day, whether you're walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. Police have been outfitted with a litany of surveillance gear, from license plate readers and cell phone tracking devices to biometric data recorders. Coupled with the nation's growing network of real-time surveillance cameras and facial recognition software, soon there really will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
NSA Domestic Programs
Government shutdown or not, the National Security Agency (NSA), with its $10.8 billion black ops annual budget, will continue to spy on every person in the United States who uses a computer or phone using programs such as PRISM and XKEYSCORE. By cracking the security of all major smartphones, including iPhone, Android, and Blackberry devices, NSA agents harvest such information as contacts, text messages, and location data. And then there are the NSA agents who will continue to use and abuse their surveillance powers for personal means, to spy on girlfriends, lovers and first dates.
The NSA's massive surveillance network will continue to span the globe and target every single person on the planet who uses a phone or a computer. The NSA's Echelon program intercepts and analyzes virtually every phone call, fax and email message sent anywhere in the world. In addition to carrying out domestic surveillance on peaceful political groups, Echelon has also been a keystone to the government's attempts at political and corporate espionage.
Roving TSA Searches
If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the American taxpayer always gets ripped off. Indeed, one of the greatest culprits when it comes to swindling taxpayers has been the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), with its questionable deployment of and complete mismanagement of millions of dollars' worth of airport full-body, X-ray scanners, punitive pat-downs by TSA agents and thefts of travelers' valuables. Considered essential to national security, TSA programs will continue, not only in airports but at transportation hubs around the country.
Militarized Police State
Thanks to federal grant programs, police forces will continue to be transformed from peace officers into heavily armed extensions of the military, complete with jackboots, helmets, shields, batons, pepper-spray, stun guns, assault rifles, body armor, miniature tanks and weaponized drones.
Having been given the green light to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, America's law enforcement officials will continue to keep the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens.
The domestic use of drones will continue unabated. As mandated by Congress, there will be 30,000 drones crisscrossing the skies of America by 2020. These machines will be able to record all activities, using video feeds, heat sensors and radar.
A recent Inspector General report revealed that the Dept. of Justice has already spent nearly $4 million on drones domestically, largely for use by the FBI, with grants for another $1.26 million so police departments and nonprofits can acquire their own drones.
Thus, when it comes right down to it, whether or not the shutdown takes place, it will remain business as usual in terms of the government's unceasing pursuit of greater powers and control. These issues are the backbone of an increasingly aggressive authoritarian government.
So where do we go from here? If public opposition, outright challenges, and a government shutdown don't stop or even slow down the police state, what's to be done?
Do what you must to survive. Go to work, take care of your family, pay off your debts. But when you're not doing those things, which allow you to get by day-to-day, consider the future.
Pay attention to the political structure that is being created in the shadows, the economic system that is chaining us down with debt, and the feudal, fascist society borne out of the marriage of government and big business. Avoid the propaganda mills posing as news sources.
Express your outrage, loudly and tirelessly, to the government's incursions on our freedoms. Yet act locally -- taking issue with any and every encroachment on your rights, no matter how minor, whether it's a ban on goat cheese or installations of red light cameras at intersections and on school buses -- because reclaiming our rights from the ground up, starting locally and trickling up, remains our only hope.
Resistance may seem futile, it will be hard, and there will inevitably be a price to pay for resisting the emerging tyranny, but to the extent that you are able, RESIST.
The NSA Deserves a Permanent Shutdown
Norman Solomon / AntiWar.com
(September 30, 2013) -- To the people in control of the Executive Branch, violating our civil liberties is an essential government service. So -- to ensure total fulfillment of Big Brother's vast responsibilities -- the National Security Agency is insulated from any fiscal disruption.
The NSA's surveillance programs are exempt from a government shutdown. With typical understatement, an unnamed official told The Hill that "a shutdown would be unlikely to affect core NSA operations."
At the top of the federal government, even a brief shutdown of "core NSA operations" is unthinkable. But at the grassroots, a permanent shutdown of the NSA should be more than thinkable; we should strive to make it achievable.
NSA documents, revealed by intrepid whistleblower Edward Snowden, make clear what's at stake. In a word: democracy.
Wielded under the authority of the president, the NSA is the main surveillance tool of the US government. For a dozen years, it has functioned to wreck our civil liberties. It's a tool that should not exist.
In this century, the institutional momentum of the NSA -- now fueled by a $10.8 billion annual budget -- has been moving so fast in such a wrong direction that the agency seems unsalvageable from the standpoint of civil liberties. Its core is lethal to democracy.
A big step toward shutting down the National Security Agency would be to mobilize political pressure for closure of the new NSA complex that has been under construction in Bluffdale, Utah: a gargantuan repository for ostensibly private communications.
During a PBS "NewsHour" interview that aired on August 1, NSA whistleblower William Binney pointed out that the Bluffdale facility has a "massive amount of storage that could store all these recordings and all the data being passed along the fiberoptic networks of the world." He added: "I mean, you could store 100 years of the world's communications here. That's for content storage. That's not for metadata."
The NSA's vacuum-cleaner collection of metadata is highly intrusive, providing government snoops with vast information about people's lives. That's bad enough. But the NSA, using the latest digital technology, is able to squirrel away the content of telephone, e-mail and text communications -- in effect, "TiVo-ing" it all, available for later retrieval.
"Metadata, if you were doing it and putting it into the systems we built, you could do it in a 12-by-20-foot room for the world," Binney explained. "That's all the space you need. You don't need 100,000 square feet of space that they have in Bluffdale to do that. You need that kind of storage for content."
Already the NSA's Bluffdale complex in a remote area of Utah -- seven times the size of the Pentagon -- is serving as an archive repository for humungous quantities of "private" conversations that the agency has recorded and digitized.
Organizing sufficient political power to shut down the entire National Security Agency may or may not be possible. But in any event, we should demand closure of the agency's mega-Orwellian center in Bluffdale. If you'd like to e-mail that message to your senators and representative in Congress, click here.
"The US government has gone further than any previous government … in setting up machinery that satisfies certain tendencies that are in the genetic code of totalitarianism," Jonathan Schell wrote in The Nation as this fall began. "One is the ambition to invade personal privacy without check or possibility of individual protection. This was impossible in the era of mere phone wiretapping, before the recent explosion of electronic communications -- before the cellphones that disclose the whereabouts of their owners, the personal computers with their masses of personal data and easily penetrated defenses, the e-mails that flow through readily tapped cables and servers, the biometrics, the street-corner surveillance cameras."
"But now," Schell continued, "to borrow the name of an intelligence program from the Bush years, 'Total Information Awareness' is technologically within reach. The Bush and Obama administrations have taken giant strides in this direction."
Those giant strides have stomped all over the Fourth Amendment, leaving it gasping for oxygen. That amendment now reads like a profound articulation of opposition to present-day government surveillance -- a declaration of principle that balks at the lockstep of perpetual war mentality and rote surrender of precious civil liberties. To acceptance of the NSA and what it stands for, we must say and say and say: No way. No way. No way.
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