The New York Times has finally entered the NSA muckraking fray with a blockbuster front page piece on the existence of a secret Fisa court with powers so vast and overreaching that, according to reporter Eric Lichtblau, it might as well be declared our Parallel Supreme Court. Every time I thought it couldn't get any worse, it turns out to be worse. And getting worser all the time, judging from the article: (the italicized parentheses are my own thoughts.)
In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say. (and that list of people will no doubt grow as "officials" become more and more afraid of their own
The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions. (Will these current and former officials be prosecuted for leaking? Not if the purpose of the article was to reassure people that everything is legal and hunky-dory.)
The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said. (the FISA Arm of the Supreme Court are the de facto Board of Regents of America.)And then there is the law we never heard of, called the "Special Needs Doctrine" which effectively declares the Fourth Amendment null and void. But it's all good, all legal. The article continues,
Unlike the Supreme Court, the FISA court hears from only one side in the case — the government — and its findings are almost never made public. A Court of Review is empaneled to hear appeals, but that is known to have happened only a handful of times in the court’s history, and no case has ever been taken to the Supreme Court. In fact, it is not clear in all circumstances whether Internet and phone companies that are turning over the reams of data even have the right to appear before the FISA court. (This country no longer has the right to call itself a democracy.)Apparently, a few internet and cell phone providers have balked at having to turn over information on their customers without even being given the right of legal counsel to represent them. In those cases, the Shadow Court has had to "intervene." Here is where it starts getting murky. We don't know if the Secret Judges threaten to issue contempt citations for failure to honor their Special Needs and thus lock up would-be dissenters to secret prisons.
Although these revelations should be scaring the living daylights out of everyone enjoying their freedoms on this Weekend of Freedom-Wallowing, there are still quite a few commenters to the Times article asking what the big deal is. All governments spy, Obama just wants to keep us safe, there are Bad Guys out there. Here's the comment I sent in:
I can't wait to get the reactions of Congress critters to this news. How do they feel about having their power to make the laws usurped by an unelected body of people in black robes? Kind of gives a whole new meaning to the term "activist court", doesn't it?
And here I was, hoping that the Supreme Court would overturn the various NSA predations! They're in it up to their own eyeballs. John Roberts might as well be declared the Shadow President.
I think that we the people now have to demand that a vote to repeal the Patriot Act be the litmus test for our representatives' continued stay in Washington. Their failure to do so will be proof positive that they are fully in thrall to the corporations which are effectively in charge of things.
And if they still teach civics in the public schools, this article had better be the impetus for an immediate emergency revision of all the nation's textbooks. Checks and Balances? They belong in the dust bin of history.
Meanwhile, I continue to be amazed and grateful that every morning when I click on the Times home page, there are still little comment boxes open for us to "share our thoughts" even though our thoughts are being sucked up into the maw of the security state to molder and congeal until that inevitable day comes when our secret government will suddenly discover a secret algorithm that enables them declare independent thought a national security threat.
This is beyond Orwellian. It's Kafkaesque.And here is my favorite, from "jb" of Oklahoma:
A "parallel Supreme Court", but secret. A secret security apparatus, with secret spying for secret reasons, being overseen by secret briefings of gagged Congressmen. No limit on the secret contributions of moguls and corporations for the only visible bits of the secret government, the candidates we are to choose from, each and all of whom continue to increase the secret governance of our nation while we look around and wonder who's watching. And worry a bit that now we can be arrested, "interrogated", imprisoned, and killed without trials or seeing the evidence against us. As drones start to fill our skies as they now fill those of nations abroad. With secret fingers on the buttons, just waiting for the secret command to kill whoever they're told, and whoever happens to be nearby.
It's outlandish, it's unbelievable. And I would be afraid to write this comment if I weren't more afraid of what will happen when we are all afraid to write comments like this.Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald is helping to gin up more outrage in the one section of the world that is still not beholden to the American imperium. (or as the Brazilians call it, Espionaram) He collaborated on an article for the Rio de Janeiro paper O Globo , explaining how the Obama government is collecting information on citizens the whole world over -- including in South America. Just because it can. There's also a Google translation of the original Portuguese language piece available, along with previous coverage of the NSA spying scandal.
A sentence from one article, Anglicized as "Glenn Greenwald: A Journalist in the Way of Obama" was particularly pithy, and actually gained something in the translation:
Um conto que foi capaz de tirar o sono do presidente Barack Obama: A tale that was able to get the sleep of President Barack Obama