The Bush administration told us that the government had to engage in warrantless surveillance to stop terrorists from attacking America. Administration officials attacked and belittled critics of its expansive, warrantless surveillance for "crying wolf" and thereby endangering Americans. Congress went along with the administration's violation of both the Constitution and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by passing new legislation that gave the administration authority to wiretap American citizens in our own country with no individualized warrant, or any evidence of wrong-doing.
Many of us warned about the potential for abuse, especially the threat to the privacy of all Americans posed by widespread and secret government surveillance. Neither the administration nor the Congress, including Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, listened. Now, however, a book about the National Security Agency by James Bamford -- The Shadow Factory -- reveals that the government has been routinely eavesdropping on innocent Americans.
The then-head of the NSA and now Director of the CIA, Gen. Michael Hayden, has denied to Congress that Americans' private conversations were being tapped. But two former military intercept operators have now come forward independently to reveal that they in fact listened in on the personal phone calls of Americans.
For instance, Adrienne Kinne, a U.S. Army reservist, reports that, "[T]hese were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones." Many of them were serving in the military, or working for aid organizations or the press. They were not planning attacks on the U.S. Rather, explains Kinne, the subjects discussed were "personal, private things with Americans who are not in any way, shape or form associated with anything to do with terrorism."
Navy linguist David Murfee Faulk says much the same of the results of his work between 2003 and 2007. He listened to Americans "calling home to the United States, talking to their spouses, sometimes their girlfriends, sometimes one phone call following another." Moreover, Faulk admitted that he and the other operators would share especially interesting phone calls, like "some colonel making pillow talk."
The point is not that no useful information was ever recovered. But when operators wasted their time eavesdropping on the conversations of innocent Americans -- and invading their privacy -- they were not monitoring genuine terrorist suspects. Adrienne Kinne admits: "It's almost like they're making the haystack bigger and it's harder to find that piece of information that might actually be useful." In short, violating our liberties makes us both less free and less safe.
The government can and should have the authority to gather information on those who are involved in harming our nation. But that power must be carefully circumscribed and its use must be closely monitored; and those who abuse that power must be held accountable. This is the basis and strength of our constitutional system, designed to protect both our security and our liberty.
For nearly eight years, the Bush administration has enshrined disrespect for the law as official government policy. The Congress, under both Republican and Democratic control, has failed to uphold either the law or the Constitution. Since both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain have endorsed expanded warrantless surveillance, neither one would restore our constitutional liberties as president.
Only Bob Barr and the Libertarian Party are even willing to talk about these issues, let alone to bring real change to Washington. We must never forget that it is a free society that we are defending. We must keep it free as we defend it.
Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr represented the 7th District of Georgia in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003.