It is becoming shocking
The news, broken by Glenn Greenwald, is certainly disturbing: The United States Government has obtained a secret court order signed by Roger Vinson of the Intelligence Surveillance Court requiring Verizon to provide the National Security Agency on a “daily and ongoing basis” for a period of three months (from the date of the order on April 25 2013) “all ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between t”he United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.” “Telephony” metadata” is defined to include “comprehensive communications routing information, including but not limited to session identifying information (e.g., originating and terminating telephone number, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, International Mobile station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, etc.), trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call.” This is simply one order. The government conceivably has similar orders covering all telecommunication carriers operating in the United States. AFter all, the information sought could not be specific to Verizon. But even if it is limited for some reason to one carrier, the scope is breath-taking. Greenwald reports:
While the order itself does not include either the contents of messages or the personal information of the subscriber of any particular cell number, its collection would allow the NSA to build easily a comprehensive picture of who any individual contacted, how and when, and possibly from where, retrospectively.
Greenwald suggests that this might be a routine renewal of an ongoing data dredging operation by the government. Josh Marshall, ordinarily a defender of the Obama administration, suggests, rather baselessly I think, that the date of the government’s application might show that the information was sought in connection with the bombing at the Boston Marathon. If the government does an investigation by collecting the connections of every phone call made in the United States, it surely would be the least efficient investigation ever undertaken.
Of course the Administration had no comment to the Guardian. That’s the way this Administration rolls.
But this is just another (very large) piece of evidence that this Administration has an out-of-control view of its power under as the national Security State. In fact, putting it together suggests, not an investigation into a particular crime, but a thuggish, unprincipled and arrogant approach to power, not seen in a very long time. Something that liberals would gasp with astonishment at if Dick Cheney had been behind it.
Let’s look at the scope of this thuggish arrogance: Whistleblowers are treated like criminals (and in fact prosecuted and convicted) while the criminals who they fingered (government officials) go scot-free. The Bradley Manning treatment is just the epitome of this kind of brutish behavior. The kind of humiliation, degradation and, to put it bluntly, torture that the military inflicted on him, had in the “bad days” of the Bush Administration only been inflicted on Iraqi prisoners. And of course the war crimes exposed by Manning were whitewashed. The Administration continues to demonize Julian Assange, having once, with a great flair of drama and war whoops, claimed to use the ancient and red-baiting Espionage Act, the dream of that great leader in our war to “save” democracy, Woodrow Wilson.
The Administration uses drones as its personal foreign policy, unchecked by Congress, and not covered by the War Powers Act according to its own definition of “hostilities.” The Administration refused to explain who it killed or why. The targeting of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son appears to be the kind of crime that we used to see Latin American dictators or African strongmen commit. When the Administration eventually decides to discuss the issue, it claims it has (finally) imposed rules on its own behavior, but the rules turn out to be illusory, as Fred Kaplan has shown.
Diplomats are used to surreptitiously obtain data about other diplomats. Diplomatic channels with our “friends” are used to deceive foreign parliaments. War threats are made without consulting Congress.
In short, the picture is rounding out of possibly the most dangerous Administration to our civil liberties and the most vigorous proponent of the Imperial Presidency that we have ever seen.
Greenwald’s piece tells how two U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall wrote the Attorney General last year about the Justice Department’s interpretation of the already overly broad (so-called) Patriot Act: “‘We believe,’ they wrote, ‘that most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted’ the ‘business records’ provision of the Patriot Act.”
Well, I for one am already stunned. And I’m sure I know only a small fraction of what they know about the activities of our New Monarch.