The public disclosure about the extent to which our government has initiated programs "to protect us from terrorists attacks," has precipitated a media firestorm. Presumably, some of these efforts have in fact protected us. Others appear to have infringed upon our cherished concepts of constitutionally protected zones of privacy.
The firestorm resumed Sunday with further disclosure of the identity of the person who "leaked" the initial information the magnitude of surveillance by the National Security Agency and the CIA of our domestic phone and email traffic. The Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers have confirmed that 29-year-old Edward Snowden, an employee of Booz Allen, as the source for their reporting about the surveillance of millions and millions of Americans by the U.S. government.
Snowden has now joined other notorious persons "of conscience" like Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and army private Bradley Manning, who is currently facing charges that could carry the death penalty.
Ellsberg was a former U.S. Marine and military analyst who precipitated a constitutional crisis in 1971 when he released the "Pentagon Papers," the top secret documents first published in the New York Times. The papers comprised the U.S. military's account of activities during the Vietnam War. Public disclosure of the Pentagon Papers substantially eroded public support for the Vietnam War.
President Obama says that the realities of the war on terror in 2013 require us to face the reality of resolving competing interests: "100% security, 100% privacy, and 0% inconvenience." Last week the New York Times editorial page wrote: "The administration has now lost all credibility." (Later, it issued a correction, adding "on this issue" to the end of the sentence.)
Obama should convene a Special Joint Session of Congress to consider immediate amendments to the Patriot Act that authorized unprecedented domestic spying following the attacks on Sept 11, 2001.
Two weeks ago the president spoke about the dangers and pitfalls of a "perpetual war "mindset developed after 9/11. The hallmarks of "perpetual war" are the continued indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an escalating and widening program of overseas killings by drones, surveillance of reporters from the Associated Press, New York Times and Fox News, and extensive government surveillance of our domestic and international phone and email communications.
Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, DC reported: "In San Francisco, a technician at AT&T revealed the existence of a secret room there reserved for the NSA that allowed the spy agency to copy and store millions of domestic and international phone calls routed through that station" President Obama recently assured us that "the collection of phone records and other metadata did not involve listening to conversations or reading the content of emails -- nobody has listened to the content of people's phone calls," Rotenberg commented. However, he said, "It is a bit of a fantasy to think that the government can seize so much information without implicating the Fourth Amendment interests of American citizens."
New York Times' columnist Charles Blow probably spoke for a lot us when he wrote:
"Maybe I'm a bit pessimistic when it comes to governmental paternalism and the unrelenting erosion of civil liberties, but I've always assumed that someone or something -- including the government -- is tracking, or could track, everything I do in an increasing virtual reality."
We now know from Mr. Snowden just how accurate are the assumptions of Blow and Rotenberg about the actions of the National Security Agency, FBI and CIA.
My own skepticism is a result of real life observations and personal experiences as a subject of earlier FBI surveillance. It was determined that, because of political associations prior to my military service I was deemed to be "a national security risk" during my military service as a draftee in the United States Army, 1953-55.
Years later, during my work as the personal lawyer, political adviser and draft speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Attorney General Robert Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover authorized 24/7 wiretaps and electronic ease dropping of ALL of my conversations with Dr. King and other of his top advisers, from July 1963 to December 1967. Accordingly, we still have some skepticism about the veracity of what our national government tells us about protecting "our national security."
Aside from these experiences, what is one now to think about our "war on terror," after reading The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army and a War at the End of the Earth, a recent book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Mark Mazzetti.
Jane Mayer, staff writer for the New Yorker, in commenting about the book says The Way of the Knife provides a "stunning, inside account of the CIA's transformation after 9/11 from an intelligence agency in to a global, clandestine killing machine."
Mazzetti describes how "America has pursued it enemies with killer drones and special operations troops, trained privateers for assassination missions and used them to set up clandestine spying networks, and relied of mercurial dictators, untrustworthy foreign intelligence services and proxy armies."
The Way of The Knife, along with Tim Weiner's book in 2007, Legacy of Ashes-The History of the CIA and the 1976 Senate Report of the Church Committee Report on the domestic surveillance of Dr. King and several groups advocating civil rights and opposition to the War in Vietnam suggest that the skepticism of columnist Charles Blow and the observations of Marc Rotenberg could be canaries in a coal mine.
These recent revelations about our government's surveillance in our daily lives occurred during the week of Obama's scheduled private meetings with the new president of China at the Annenberg Estate in Southern California. The meeting along with other important concurrent information should be a wake up call to our nation.
One-third of American earns no more than $24,000 per year. Nearly 50 million people live in poverty, defined as income below $23,550 for a family of four. While sectors of the economy are improving such as housing, national unemployment remains 7.6%-7.7%, with unemployment among Africa-American males at 14.5+%.
If one keeps a world map or chart in their head during the time that President Obama is meeting at the Annenberg Estate it may be useful to note that:
The U.S. has military troops stationed around the globe in many places. In contrast, China is investing money, technology and manpower throughout most of the developing world; and making multi-billion dollar investments in the commercial sector of the United States economy and several other nations like Brazil well as in Latin America and Europe.
Following the meeting with the president of China, President Obama should revisit some other major issues affecting the sustainability of our current war on terror and their consequent lasting effect on the potential future success of our country.
We should rethink as to why we should not bring virtually all our troops home from the Middle East and other Muslim countries. Our military presence remains an effective recruiting tool among significant dissident segments of populations especially within countries in the Middle East.
Our continued presence there and the widespread perception (true or not) that we have not been as responsive to the suffering and aspirations of the Palestinian people as we have been about Israel's military security continues to place our troops at risk.
To enable our nation and members of Congress to focus more seriously on the consequences of continued military troops around the world we should reinstitute some form of universal military service, requiring all eligible men and women between the ages of 18-25 to serve in our armed services. This would should cease letting 1% of our population, our military, bear the brunt of our continued policing and nation building around the world.
Members of Congress would pay more attention to the day to day realities of our "war on terror" if they had their own sons and daughters were serving in the front lines in Afghanistan; or as "advisers" in Somalia, Yemen, Libya, etc.New York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd wrote:
"Back in 2007, Obama said he would not want to run an administration that was 'Bush-Cheney lite.' He doesn't have to worry. With prisoners denied due process at Gitmo starving themselves, with the CIA not always aware who it's killing with drones, with an overzealous approach to leaks, and with the government's secret domestic spy business swelling, there's nothing lite about it."
Is this the legacy that America's first elected African-American president of the United States wants to leave for future generations?