Snowden’s Cry for Help Is a Cry for America

By Pam Martens: July 2, 2013 

In July 2002, less than a year after Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, Nancy Chang, then Senior Litigation Attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, published a prophetic and comprehensive book about the legislation titled: Silencing Political Dissent: How Post-September 11 Anti-terrorism Measures Threaten our Civil Liberties. 

Chang was one of the early visionaries to see that the USA Patriot Act was not so much about protecting us from terrorists but a weapon to control, contain and criminalize political dissent. I had the privilege of assisting in a New York City book launch event for Chang in September 2002, where Chang warned that the endless war on terrorism theme was critically different from past assaults on Constitutional freedoms during war time. The earlier crises came to an end when the country returned to peacetime. With an endless war mantra, there would be no ability to regain lost constitutional freedoms. “In the past year, so much of our democracy has been lost that we actually will need to get back to where we were prior to 9/11 before we can move forward,” Chang said at the event. 

An even earlier paper by Chang, The USA Patriot Act: What’s So Patriotic About Trampling on the Bill of Rights?, published in November 2001, just weeks after the passage of the USA Patriot Act, warned that “To an unprecedented degree, the Act sacrifices our political freedoms in the name of national security and upsets the democratic values that define our nation by consolidating vast new powers in the executive branch of government.” Chang warned further that “The Act enhances the executive’s ability to conduct surveillance and gather intelligence, places an array of new tools at the disposal of the prosecution, including new crimes, enhanced penalties, and longer statutes of limitations…It remains to be seen how the executive will wield its new authority.” Thanks to Edward Snowden, it no longer remains to be seen. 

Within weeks of the passage of the USA Patriot Act, Chang had the foresight to sound the alarm on Section 215 – the very portion of the Act that has been secretly interpreted by this administration to allow for a dragnet surveillance of Americans’ phone and email messages. In November 2001, Change wrote about Section 215 as follows:

“Section 215 is one of several provisions in the USA Patriot Act that relaxes the requirements, and extends the reach, of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA). Under Section 215, the Director of the FBI or a designee as low in rank as an Assistant Special Agent in Charge may apply for a court order requiring the production of ‘any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)’ upon his written statement that these items are being sought for an investigation ‘to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.’  A judge presented with an application under Section 215 is required to enter an order if he ‘finds that the application meets the requirements of this section.’

“Notably absent from Section 215 is the restriction in the FISA provision it amends that had required the government to specify in its application for a court order that ‘there are specific and articulable facts giving reason to believe that the person to whom the records pertain is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.’ Now, under Section 215, the FBI may obtain sensitive personal records by simply certifying that they are sought for an investigation ‘to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.’ The FBI need not suspect the person whose records are being sought of any wrongdoing. Furthermore, the class of persons whose records are obtainable under Section 215 is no longer limited to foreign powers and their agents, but may include United States citizens and lawful permanent residents, or ‘United States persons’ in the parlance of the FISA.”

In 2012, Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall wrote about Section 215 as follows: “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they are going to be stunned and they are going to be angry.” 

Only because of PowerPoint slides released by Edward Snowden to the Washington Post and the U.K. Guardian newspaper have Americans learned that under Section 215, companies such as Google, Facebook, Skype, and Yahoo have been secretly forced by the U.S. government to turn over details of innocent Americans’ emails, file transfers, photos, videos and voice chats. 

The American Civil Liberties Union has a pending Freedom of Information lawsuit to learn the details of how our government is secretly interpreting Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Obviously, if this interpretation remains a secret, it can’t be challenged in a court of law on constitutional grounds. Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel with the ACLU, said the Snowden disclosures highlight “the growing gap between the public’s and the government’s understandings of the many sweeping surveillance authorities enacted by Congress. Since 9/11, the government has increasingly classified and concealed not just facts, but the law itself. Such extreme secrecy is inconsistent with our democratic values of open government and accountability.” 

Only because of the Snowden disclosures have the American people and journalists such as myself been able to begin the process of comprehending the Orwellian scope of the blanket surveillance programs that have shredded the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment requirement of probable cause: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” 

Only because of Edward Snowden can we begin to see the extensive nexus between the corrupted crony capitalist state and the government’s surveillance state — and understand just who is benefitting. 

As we reported on October 18, 2011, with the effective repeal of the Fourth Amendment of our Constitution, federal funds have financed a joint spy center in lower Manhattan where Wall Street personnel from the very same too-big-to-fail Wall Street banks that are serially charged with crimes against the public sit elbow to elbow with law enforcement spying on the everyday movements of law-abiding citizens in Manhattan using highly sophisticated tracking devices costing over $150 million of taxpayers’ own dollars. 

An August 15, 2012, we reported on the work of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund that is trying desperately to expose the threat of the mushrooming surveillance state in America by filing Freedom of Information requests with government agencies and law enforcement. Carl Messineo, legal director of the group, says “what was once an Orwellian dark fantasy is a current day reality in the United States.” 

In a statement released to civil rights advocates, PCJF said: “Most people are not aware that silently, but constantly, the government is now watching, recording your everyday travels and storing years of your activities in massive data warehouses that can be quickly ‘mined’ to find out when and where you have been, whom you’ve visited, meetings you’ve attended, and activities you’ve taken part in. This is all done by using an elaborate network of Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) cameras, also known as tag readers…You’re being tracked routinely, without probable cause, without a warrant and without even a suspicion that you have committed a crime.” 

Chang’s earlier warning about “Silencing Political Dissent,” can now be upgraded to brutally crushing political dissent. Nothing better exemplifies the morphing of a corrupted corporate agenda with an out of control homeland security apparatus than the actions taken on November 15, 2011 during the raid, eviction and destruction of the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park. 

Kalle Lasn and Micah White, editor in chief and senior editor, respectively, of Adbusters magazine, credited with providing the original vision for the Occupy movement, described the raid in an opinion piece for the Washington Post a few days later:

“Bloomberg’s raid was carried out with military precision. The surprise attack began at 1 a.m. with a media blackout. The encampment was surrounded by riot police, credentialed mainstream journalists who tried to enter were pushed back or arrested, and the airspace was closed to news helicopters. What happened next was a blur of tear gas; a bulldozer; confiscation or destruction of everything in the park, including 5,000 books; upward of 150 arrests; and the deployment of a Long Range Acoustic Device, the infamous ‘sound cannon’ best known for its military use in Iraq…”  

These were peaceful demonstrators, seeking to call attention to the continued criminal looting of the public by Wall Street and hoping to draw public attention to the urgent need to realign our democracy: the very definition of political dissent. And yet, this is how George Freeman, Assistant General Counsel of the New York Times, described what had occurred during the raid in a November 21, 2011 letter to the New York City Police Department. 

Freeman wrote: “…credentialed media were identified, segregated and kept away from viewing, reporting on and photographing vital matters of public concern.  A press pen was set up blocks away and those kept there were further prevented from seeing what was occurring by the strategic placement of police buses around the perimeter. Moreover, there have been numerous instances where police officers struck or otherwise intentionally impeded photographers as they were taking photos, keeping them from doing their job and from documenting instances of seeming police aggression.” 

In one of my early careers, I had the privilege of helping my country safeguard its national security interests. I held classified clearance to edit nuclear submarine equipment manuals. Our pencils were inscribed with: “Loose lips sink ships.” Our work was heavily secured at lunchtime and at the end of the day. Deep background checks were made on each of us. My colleagues and I understood and deeply respected the gravity of our fellow Americans risking their lives on submarines loaded with nuclear missiles. It would have been an unconscionable and traitorous act to divulge anything we had seen or read. 

But Edward Snowden didn’t leak anything to do with protecting our men and women in the military; or our fleet or our armaments.  What Snowden leaked were critical documents shining a bright light on creeping corporate fascism that facilitates illegal spying on law abiding American citizens and our closest European allies. Germans are outraged because Germans intimately understand where this can lead. 

No one understands the issues at stake here better, or has done as much in-depth writing about the issues, as Paul Craig Roberts. Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Ronald Reagan, an associate editor and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, and held the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy in the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University, among many other significant career highlights. 

Writing on his web site yesterday, Roberts warned of the strategy that Washington plans to use to once again silence international outrage: 

“Washington’s reply to Europe’s demands for explanation is: ‘We will discuss these issues bilaterally with EU member states,’ but ‘we are not going to comment publicly on specific alleged intelligence activities.’

“You know what that means. Bilateral means that Washington is going to talk with each EU country separately, using the information NSA has obtained to blackmail each complainant into silence.”

A sustained public outcry in Europe and prosecutions playing out in European courts are the last hope for Americans. Every serious avenue to seek redress against our government is now gated off. If our citizens can’t organize without infiltration, if we cannot create protest movements without brutal police attacks coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security, if our representation in Washington has been curtailed through the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, we must look for help from our allies – just as Europe looked to Americans during its own era of oppression and surveillance.

There would be nothing more inspiring or symbolic to Americans fighting this reign of political oppression than for a European nation to grant asylum to Edward Snowden.

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