Wednesday, June 19, 2013

TOP STORY >> Waiting for Big Brother

Leader editor

Rep. Tim Griffin, the Second District Republican, issued a statement a few days after we criticized our congressional delegation’s silence over widespread domestic surveillance of our phones and e-mails by the National Security Administration and its subcontractors.

He says “tracking the phone calls of millions of innocent citizens is ‘excessive and un-American.’ I’m also extremely troubled by reports of the NSA’s Prism and the federal government surveilling Americans’ Internet activity on a massive scale.”

He says both parties have gone beyond what’s acceptable: “I don’t care who’s in the White House — Barack Obama, George Bush or George Washington — abusing the Patriot Act is a serious overreach, and Americans’ constitutional rights must be protected. The fact that Prism training materials dismiss this systematic invasion of privacy as ‘nothing to worry about’ is absurd, and the 51 percent threshold for targeting is unsettling and borderline indefensible. If reports about Prism are accurate, Americans are now viewed as potential terrorists until data and the facts suggest otherwise.”

Prism is the gigantic data-mining program run with the help of private contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton, which is now selling this advanced technology to the United Arab Emirates. Thanks to U.S. taxpayers who helped develop Prism, Booz Allen will make billions running the surveillance programs here and abroad.

Booz Allen provided top-secret clearance for Edward Snowden, the fugitive analyst who may be defecting to China if the CIA doesn’t catch him first. There’s no telling how many secrets this high school dropout has taken with him, but before more damage is done, Booz Allen should explain why it should keep a lucrative federal contract when it can’t keep security risks off its payroll. No telling how many NSA contractors are selling secrets to our enemies.

Booz Allen, by the way, is posting help-wanted ads to replace Snowden in its Hawaii office where he worked.

NSA officials insist the program has prevented numerous terrorist attacks and will disrupt others. There’s no reason to doubt them, but when they say law-abiding Americans have nothing to fear, most of us aren’t so sure. Prism does violate the spirit, and probably the letter, of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unwarranted searches.

Polls now show that most Americans are worried about government intrusion, although when the revelations first came out a couple of weeks ago, they seemed less concerned. Then they thought about it some more, and the image of George Orwell’s Big Brother popped into their heads. It’s not just Orwell: The famous parody by Apple, when it introduced the Macintosh computer during the Super Bowl in 1984, is scary because Steve Jobs tried to convince us his computer would triumph over Big Brother, but instead his ubiquitous product helped make Prism possible. The ad was withdrawn after one showing, but you can see it on YouTube, like everything else.

It’s not much of a stretch for Silicon Valley, which makes a fortune snooping on Internet users, to sell its expertise to Booz Allen and NSA on data mining.

The enemy is real and fanatical. Last December, an Al Qaeda terrorist who wanted to deliver an important message to Afghanistan’s security chief was undressed to make sure he wasn’t carrying a bomb. When nothing was found, he put his clothes back on and was led to the spy chief. The terrorist blew up his torso with a small bomb hidden inside his rectum.

A similar incident occurred in Saudi Arabia three years earlier, when a terrorist shook hands with the security chief and blew himself up with a small bomb, also in his rectum.NSA says it caught his brother before he could blow up a UPS cargo plane in Yemen.

Fighting fanatics who put explosives in their buttocks is no picnic. It has taken the best minds to keep the terrorists from pulling off another 9/11, although smaller operators like the Boston marathon bombers will create mayhem from time to time and there will be calls for more surveillance.

NSA, Silicon Valley and Booz Allen must protect the rights of Americans, but who will supervise the snoopers? Rogue agents will pry into our lives and corrupt supervisors in Washington will scan our phone calls and e-mails and read them without court approval.

There’s no evidence this has happened yet, but Americans have every right to worry.