George Bush was rightfully denounced for his Administration’s false statements to both the public and the United Nations on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — the rationale for our invasion of that country. There was little apparent concern from Bush or his aides over the veracity or proof of their assertions as opposed to the desired outcome. The same mentality is in open display with President Obama this month as he and his aides continue to increase the claims of “successes” from the warrantless surveillance programs as public opposition grows. In this case, the increasing claims are being made in a war on privacy, including an effort to redefine privacy in a new surveillance-friendly image. We are now up to over 50 “potential plots” and Obama is sounding distinctly Bush-like in statements today about how these programs “saved lives.” The public, which learned this month that it was openly lied to about the programs in earlier hearings, is expected to accept these assurances on faith alone.
Speaking Wednesday morning during a press conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama repeated the new “over 50″ claim and said “this is a circumscribed, narrow system directed at us being able to protect our people.” Once again, he considers not violating the fourth amendment directly by simply listening to calls is an admirable compromise on his part. He again cited the FISA court in a ludicrous suggestion that the court offers any meaningful review. He then added that putting the entire country under these surveillance programs was beneficial. He insisted that by effectively issuing a national security letter for the entire country, he stopped dozens of attacks and “as a consequence, we’ve saved lives.” Once again, there is very little push back on such claims by the media and even less from Congress.
Before we get into the latest round of claims to justify these programs, it is worth noting again that the success of any program does not excuse its unconstitutionality. While, as previously discussed, the Supreme Court (unwisely) stripped pen register evidence of protections under the fourth amendment, it has never signed off on this type of massive data collection and monitoring of all citizens.
Now to the current count. You will recall that allies of the White House originally claimed one thwarted plot. They then increased that number to two and then to four. As opposition mounted, they started to claim “dozens” of “potential” plots. Now we are up to over 50 according to NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander.
This is getting to look like those old Joe Isuzu commercials where a spokesman openly inflates claims to sell a car. The problem is that we were just lied to. Not only did the Administration lie about the programs but these very senators eliciting the new claims were the same who remained silent in the face of testimony that they knew was false. James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, to the Senate in March. Clapper said unequivocally that the N.S.A. was not gathering data on millions of Americans. That is obviously false and Senators hearing the testimony knew that the public was being lied to. Senator Wyden asked Clapper: “Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper responded: “No, sir. Not wittingly.”
However, it was done “wittingly” when you demand all of the calls for all citizens, right? Clapper will argue that he simply defines collecting data differently from the vast majority of humanity. However, courts regularly reject such subjective views of the truth. The point of the answer was to assure the public that they have nothing to worry about — the same message being given by members now that the truth has come out. Clapper’s testimony was for the public to hear and believe — even though Senators knew it to be untrue. Keep in mind that we have two surveillance programs now being reported — one collecting all call information and one involving email data.
Clapper has recently said that his testimony was “the least untrue” statement that he could make. Yet, of course that would still make it an untrue statement — which most people call a lie and lawyers call perjury. Indeed, when Roger Clemens was prosecuted for untrue statements before Congress, he was not told of the option to tell the least untrue statement on steroid use.
Now the same Senators are assuring the public that they can now rest assured because the same administration is claiming over 50 successes.
Even if some citizens were willing to give this Administration and these Senators the benefit of the doubt, consider the following questions:
What is a “potential plot”? — The Administration does not define what “potential” means. There is obviously an interest to count every and any possible claimed plot in the face of the exodus of supporters from the White House. IF this were a real plot, were hundreds of people arrested? What steps were taken to avert each of these plots?
Where are all of the prosecutions? — The Justice Department has prosecuted earlier cases on the thinnest connections and associations. Why haven’t we seen dozens of prosecutions for these plots? Indeed, this Administration is not shy about claiming any and all victories over terrorism. Yet, suddenly we hear that there conspiracies on every front and around every corner — thwarted simply by denying privacy to Americans.
What was the other evidence or sources? — Just as the Bush Administration claimed that torture led to saving lives and finding Bin Laden (later discredited), Obama is claiming to have saved lives with these warrantless surveillance programs as if they were the only source of information. That does not make sense. This is the same president who says that he would show some evidence to a secret court before reading the content or listening to calls. The calls themselves could not be the evidence used to intercept the calls, even on the ridiculed FISA court. As with torture, there is always other sources of evidence but the Administration is eager to portray these programs as the reason some Americans (unnamed) are alive today.
Why should we believe them? — With members (and of course the Justice Department) entirely silent concerning the perjury of Clapper, the message is clear: both the White House and Congress will not move against officials who lie to the public to lull them into a sense of security. The fact that these members will not even discuss Clapper’s perjury illustrates the farcical purpose of these hearings. As George Bush once again, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, ‘Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.’” And he knew something about fooling folks.