Thanks to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, we now know many of the dirty details behind the U.S. government's surveillance programs and the creation of a vast surveillance and data storage system.
Not only has Snowden helped further unturn the rock of secrecy behind these surveillance programs but his revelations and leaks have helped spark the debate about the proper balancing of freedom and security. If we are to supposedly accept these unprecedented powers and violations of civil liberties, does this type of mass surveillance at least actually keep us safe?
While the official party line, repeated ad nauseum, is that the NSA surveillance program has helped stop "dozens" of terrorist attacks, a closer look at the claims made by the White House and the program's defenders cast serious doubt about the program's actual effectiveness.
In a recent congressional hearing, Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden released a joint statement calling on NSA head General Keith Alexander — "Emperor Alexander" of the covert national security state — to be more forthcoming about the surveillance program. The senators argue that the attacks Alexander claims were thwarted "appear to have been identified using other collection methods. The public deserves a clear explanation.” They also could have been one of the FBI's many, many "terrorism" sting operations.
Washington's Blog cites numerous sources — including an NSA veteran, Fortune Management, Wired, and constitutional and military law expert Jonathan Turley — which show that the NSA PRISM program, and other Orwellian surveillance programs, are useless and ineffective, resulting in false information and are actually hindering the process of good police work and intelligence gathering. It didn't stop the Boston Bombing or 9/11 either.
Apparently the more eyes Big Brother has, the less he actually sees. The surveillance state is, after all, a massive centrally-planned government bureaucracy so one shouldn't be surprised by incompetence. Do we really want to entrust the government this type of surveillance power "to keep us safe" when it doesn't even know who it's killing with drone strikes?
But if surveillance programs are largely ineffective, why do they exist? Like virtually all government restrictions on liberty, especially ones as sweeping as the PATRIOT Act and PRISM, the desire for more intrusive control lies at the heart of any state's power. Dissent against the welfare-warfare state is growing, and any ideological threat to this institutionalized plunder is met with far more attention than, say, prosecuting rape in the military.
Cynical? Perhaps. But what does it say when the likes of Senator Dianne Feinstein, House Speaker John Boehner and former Vice President Dick Cheney all call Edward Snowden a "traitor" for leaking information about the NSA spy program to the public? Treason is defined in the Constitution as giving "aid and comfort" to the enemy. According to this Washington "bipartisan consensus" of accepted political thought, "the enemy" Snowden aided are Americans and anyone around the world sympathetic to civil liberties, privacy and the rule of law. If Snowden is a traitor, then I don't want to see what a patriot looks like.
They know that the more truth comes out about the national security state that permeates American society like a cancer, the more Americans will likely be outraged and demand answers they don't have. This is why the Obama administration is waging such a ruthless war on whistleblowers.
This is nothing new, however, in even America's short history. The first whistleblower against the domestic police state was illegally detained and deported, Wilson and FDR tightened the screws, and the 1947 National Security Act — in which President Truman wanted "to scare the hell out of the American people" — entrenched the national security state. The "war on terror" has built and expanded upon these previous encroachments of liberty and is now used to predictably smear the messenger and fear-monger to justify this level of secrecy and surveillance.
As a result, we have sacrificed so much liberty in the name of professed security, and have neither.
Given that you are eight times more likely to killed by the state than by a terrorist — a threat that is compounded by such a reckless, lawless and militaristic foreign policy — a government that has institutionalized broad powers to assassinate, wage aggressive war, suspend habeus corpus and monitor virtually our every move, justified in the name of "security," seems like the real threat to peace and liberty.
Benjamin Franklin's often-cited axiom about balancing security and liberty, however, need not be a sacrifice of one or the other. Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order and security. This is why the Bill of Rights exists; to restrict government power so that it protects rights, not tramples on them.
But even in the realm of security, we find that liberty and the market do a far better job of striking this balance between our natural desires for safety and freedom. As David Greenwald argues in "Martial Law vs. Market Law: Reflections on Boston," entrusting our security to a highly centralized monopoly imposing a top-down, uniform model on 300 million plus Americans leads to predictable abuse while. In a free society, "it is the citizens who would tell the police which types of conduct would be tolerated."
Unfortunately, the NSA surveillance program is just the beginning as governments around the world think that the program doesn't go far enough. As the surveillance state, rooted in unchecked state power unleashed by an interventionist foreign policy, grows the task of defending civil liberties and working to expose and dismantle this beast becomes even more vital. Both our liberty and security depend upon it.