Tuesday, June 11, 2013

TOP STORY >> No secrets kept from these guys

Leader editor

A couple of guys in their 20s have embarrassed America’s trillion-dollar military and intelligence apparatus by leaking secrets that were supposed to stay inside the National Security Agency and the Pentagon.

Along with the most serious assaults on press freedom since the Nixon administration — the seizing of reporters’ phone records and threatening to indict them as co-conspirators — the disclosure of widespread monitoring of Americans’ phone calls and e-mails should worry anyone who cherishes freedom over government control.

The Obama administration may have misled Congress about the unrelenting snooping, thanks to a liberal interpretation of the Patriot Act. Politicians of both parties insisted the act would make it easier to spy on foreigners, while law-abiding Americans had nothing to worry about. Only the gullible believed them.

Along with previous reports in the media, we know that warrantless eavesdropping is now common. Reporters are being subpoenaed for revealing supposed secrets. The war on the media is bound to fail.

Journalists have provided sketchy details about the NSA’s snooping for years. USA Today reported back in 2006 about phone companies turning over their records to the government. In 2009, the PBS series “Nova” aired a program called “The Spy Factory,” which interviewed former NSA staffers who confirmed the around-the-clock snooping.

Last August, the New York Times aired a video about “The Program,” code-named “Stellar Wind,” which disclosed the construction of a giant data warehouse in Utah.

More revelations are inevitable as whistleblowers step forward. Some are genuinely concerned about the unwarranted surveillance, while others may be borderline personalities like Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is on trial for leaking thousands of military and diplomatic documents.

Edward Snowden, the ex-CIA and government consultant, has just disclosed secret information about extensive government surveillance here and abroad.

Manning, 25, and Snow-den, 29, inexplicably had complete access to hundreds of thousands of secret government records. Apparently no one considered Snowden, a community-college dropout, or the cross-dressing Manning security risks.

Snowden, who failed to get into an elite fighting force, may have held a grudge against the military, although he insists his motives for dumping secrets to the Washington Post and the British Guardian are patriotic.

The U.S. will seek Snow-den’s extradition from Hong Kong, where he’s hiding out — unless the Chinese, who are conducting cyberwarfare against the U.S., grant him asylum. The Russians are also interested in having him defect.

Snowden could be the Manchurian candidate who betrayed more secrets than any communist agent during the Cold War. He knows a lot.

But he probably did us a favor by releasing documents that show how pervasive snooping has become. The notion of privacy is as quaint now as quarter-a-gallon gasoline. The government is saying we might as well get used to it: Privacy is not coming back.

Thanks to Snowden, we now know that supporters of the Patriot Act were duped into thinking that most Americans wouldn’t be spied on. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), one of the authors of the Patriot Act, insists Congress didn’t intend to give the government unlimited powers to snoop on us.

“Seizing phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American,” he said last week after he found out the National Security Agency was tracking phone records and e-mails here and abroad.

But once you give spy agencies unlimited powers to eavesdrop and read your e-mails, who will tell them to stop? When the act was reauthorized in 2006, President Bush said he would not brief Congress on how law-enforcement agencies were using their new police powers.

Harvard law professor Noah Feldman (no relation) recently wrote that the Patriot Act lets these spy agencies do just about anything they want once a friendly judge gives them the go ahead. “Read narrowly, this language might require that information requested be shown to be important or necessary to the investigation. Read widely, it would include essentially anything even slightly relevant — which is to say, everything.”

More than one million private contractors have security clearances as the military and spy agencies rely more on outside companies, such as Lockheed Martin, for intelligence gathering and analysis.

Snowden, who was making $120,000 a year before he defected, worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, the giant consulting group that does security clearances for the government and has employees inside the National Security Agency. Owned by the Carlyle Group, a private-equity firm, Booz Allen — we always thought of it as a public relations firm run by political insiders — has evolved into a shadow government with about 25,000 employees.

Arkansas’ congressional delegation isn’t saying much about the administration violating at least the spirit of the Patriot Act by eavesdropping on Americans here and abroad.

They’re not exactly friends of President Obama — all but one are Republicans — yet nobody wants to admit that the Patriot Act, which gave the government additional powers to fight the war on terror, always had the potential for abuse.

Nobody said the war on terror would be easy, but even the most enthusiastic supporters of the Patriot Act are having second thoughts about granting unlimited surveillance powers to intelligence agencies.

Few politicians around here are speaking out yet, although they must realize now the Patriot Act has obvious flaws.

The Patriot Act comes up for review in Congress in December, and stricter controls to protect the American people’s privacy should be considered. The ACLU filed suit Tuesday to stop the eavesdropping. Groups on the left and right will likely join the challenge, which will almost certainly wind up in the Supreme Court.

If authoritarianism comes to America, it will seize power with the help of national spy agencies, the IRS, the FBI and Booz Allen Hamilton. They’ll identify those who are politically suspect and, for starters, take away our phone and e-mail privileges.