"You may be a Republican, or a Democrat, or a Libertarian. I'm not here to tell you what to be. I am here to tell you, though, that your rights, especially your right to privacy is under assault. I'm here to tell you that if you own a cell phone, you're under surveillance. I'm here to tell you that the NSA believes that equal protection means that Americans should be spied upon equally, including Congress. I believe what you do on a cell phone is none of their damn business." -- Rand Paul, Berkeley, California
There's not much I agree with Rand Paul on regarding domestic issues, particularly his goal of radically downscaling Social Security, Medicare, taxes, and regulation of banks and business, and his stance on most social issue.
But Rand Paul may be the only politician with national standing -- and the only potential serious 2016 presidential candidate whether Democrat or Republican -- who's willing to confront the greatest contemporary threat to our Constitutional liberties which is the vast government spying apparatus set up by Bush/Cheney and enhanced by Obama.
For that reason, if for no other, this progressive is glad that it looks like Rand Paul is running for president and getting national media attention.
Most recently, in a speech sponsored by campus Republicans, Sen. Paul took his campaign against the unbridled national security state to the University of California at Berkeley (which despite the press and the Paul campaign making too much of it, is no longer the left-wing bastion it was in the '60s when it spawned the Free Speech Movement.)
In his Berkeley remarks, Sen. Paul reminded his audience of the FBI's unconstitutional efforts in the '60s and '70s to use information gathered from wiretaps and surveillance to disrupt, discredit, and destroy the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the student movement, as well as some conservative groups, a subject I wrote about in detail recently in The Huffington Post. As Paul noted,
"I find it ironic that the first African-American president has without compunction allowed this vast exercise of raw power by the NSA. Certainly J. Edgar Hoover's illegal spying on Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement should give us all pause. Now if President Obama were here, he would say he's not J. Edgar Hoover, which is certainly true. But power must be restrained because no one knows who will next hold power."
Bingo! Sen. Paul went right to the heart of the dangers of unchecked government surveillance. It's not simply a matter that innocent citizens give up their personal privacy rights over their Facebook pages, Tweets, emails, phone calls, and GPS systems, as important as those privacy rights are to a free people.
It's the danger that a repressive government can use unchecked access to citizens' phone records, emails, travels, and financial records to intimidate political opponents and suppress dissent. If you're a Tea Party supporter, maybe you're already afraid that Obama is doing that. If you're a liberal, would you trust the next George Bush or Dick Cheney, or worse, Ted Cruz, with access to all of your personal information? And if you're a member of Congress or a staffer, do you trust the CIA to hack your computer? Even Sen. Diane Feinstein, who's usually a defender of the national security state, doesn't.
Please remember that it was "liberal" U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy who authorized the wiretapping of Martin Luther King by the FBI which considered King to be "the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of... national security." Quickly following RFK's order the FBI placed 8 wiretaps and 16 bugs on Dr. King which "recorded King thinking out loud, planning the civil rights movement, weighing tactics and strategy. "
In the Federal government's most notorious attempt to disrupt and destroy Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement,
"The FBI mailed Dr. King a tape recording [which was opened by his wife] made from its microphone coverage. According to the Chief of the FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division, the tape was intended to precipitate a separation between Dr. King and his wife in the belief that the separation would reduce Dr. King's stature. The tape recording was accompanied by a note which Dr. King and his advisors interpreted as a threat to release the tape recording unless Dr. King committed suicide."
Some excerpts from the FBI letter:
"King, like all frauds your end is approaching... Satan could not do more. What incredible evilness... King, your are done... [T]here is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is... You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation."
The attacks on King were only the tip of the iceberg of a decades-long Federal program called COINTELPRO which, according to the Senate Select Committee chaired by Sen. Frank Church (the "Church Committee") was designed to "'disrupt' groups and 'neutralize' individuals deemed to be threats to domestic security [including] political adherents of the right and left, ranging from activists to casual supporters."
Just as we only know about recent NSA spying because of whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, we only learned about COINTELPRO because or whistleblowers like 8 pacifists calling themselves the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI who risked decades in prison by taking over 1000 documents on COINTELPRO from an FBI office and releasing them to the press.
While the public, Congress and President Obama would not be debating the scope of government spying on our liberties were it not for Snowden, the Obama administration has brought Espionage Act charges against Snowden which could imprison him for decades and went so far as to illegally force down the private airplane of Bolivia's President on suspicions that Snowden might be on board seeking asylum in that country.
Meanwhile, Sen. Paul expresses appreciation for Snowden's role in blowing the whistle on NSA wrongdoing. As he told ABC news,
I think the courts are now saying that what he revealed was something the government was doing was illegal. I think, really, in the end history's going to judge that he revealed great abuses of our government and great abuses of our intelligence community.
Sen. Paul is no newcomer to limiting government surveillance. Indeed, he has taken over that role from liberal Democratic former Senator Russ Feingold (who lost reelection in 2010), although he has a handful of Democratic allies like Oregon's Senator Ron Wyden and Colorado's Senator Mark Udall.
In 2011, as the Obama administration was pushing Congress to renew provisions of the Patriot Act allowing roving wiretaps and warrantless searches of "business records" (which is what gave legal cover to the NSA metadata program) Paul was holding up the legislation. In February, Paul filed a class action lawsuit challenging the Constitutionality of the NSA metadata program.
Last week Pres. Obama said he would ask Congress to limit the NSA metadata program by having phone records stored by the phone companies instead of the NSA and allowing the NSA to obtain the records only with a court order from the FISA court. But the proposals are vague, the standards for obtaining a court order are undefined, and Obama had nothing to say about the kangaroo-court structure of the secret FISA court in which only the government's side is argued, or National Security Letters which allow the government to vacuum up personal information without probable cause.
Moreover, as Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy has pointed out, Obama could have enacted these changes simply by allowing the FISA Court authorization for these programs to expire last week, instead of having them renewed. Congress may or may not act, and if it does act, there are legislative proposals that could actually make the situation worse.
We can't rely on President Obama to effectively reign in an out-of-control national security state which threatens American liberties. If anything, he has further expanded the national security state which was already expanded by Bush/Cheney.
After Watergate and the revelations of about COINTELPRO in the 1970's, the Senate Select Committee chaired by Sen. Frank Church conducted a far-reaching set of hearings and investigations of illegal government surveillance which led to substantial reforms which protected Americans' liberties until undermined by fear tactics in the wake of 9/11. In light of the Snowden revelations and other leaks about Unconstitutional government surveillance, we need a new Church Committee.
As Rand Paul said in his Berkeley speech,"I am announcing today that when I return to Washington, I will push for a select committee styled after the Church Committee that investigated the abuses of power of the intelligence community in the '70s."
Meanwhile, Barack Obama has equivocated and generally supported the national security state. Although like 2016 Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is now a private citizen who rarely comments on current affairs, she went out of her way to denounce Snowden's "outrageous behavior" in making the NSA metadata program public and denounced the Chinese for allowing him to leave Hong Kong. Remember that Clinton famously voted to support Pres. Bush's invasion of Iraq and recently, in a fit of rhetorical overkill, compared Putin's illegal annexation of Crimea to Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia, which started World War II.
If the 2016 presidential race pits Rand Paul against Hillary Clinton, the choice would not be easy for this progressive. But even if I couldn't vote for Rand Paul, Paul using megaphone of a credible presidential campaign to criticize the dangers of the national security state is a good thing.
As former high Republican Senate staffer Mike Lofgren has told liberal Bill Moyers,
There is the visible government situated around the Mall in Washington, and then there is another, more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists at the White House or the Capitol. The former is traditional Washington partisan politics: the tip of the iceberg that a public watching C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections. The subsurface part of the iceberg I shall call the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power.
Clinton is a charter member of the Deep State. Paul is one of the few national politicians who have questioned it. And challenging the Deep State may be the most important issue of our times. I deeply fear that a President Paul would undermine the social safety net and regulation of business, particularly if had a Republican Congress. But I also fear that a President Hillary Clinton would protect and strengthen the Deep State. Sen. Paul may be the only serious presidential candidate, whom, if elected, would begin to reign in the tentacles of the Deep State.
American politics has reached a sad and scary condition if our 2016 Presidential choice comes down to Rand Paul, who would challenge the national security state while undermining the welfare state, and Hillary Clinton, who would weakly protect the welfare state while strengthening the national security state.