President Barack Obama assured the American people yesterday that the NSA warrantless surveillance programs are entirely “transparent.” He then promised to extradite and prosecute the man who told the public about it. None of that causes any pause for the White House or its supporters. It makes perfect sense. Indeed, it helps explain how Obama promised the “most transparent” Administration in history and proceeded to expand a secret security state. It turns out that “transparent” simply means something different with Obama, just as the noun “war” is left to his definition. It turns out that transparent means that the government can see it — and see us. Total transparency in our new fishbowl society.
Obama’s interview with Charlie Rose is indicative of how disengenuous this discussion has become. Democratic members have joined Obama in carefully parsing language to avoid the obvious rollback on privacy. They have focused on the question of whether the government is “reading” the content of emails and calls as opposed to gathering a wide array of information on who you are calling, how long, and from where. They ignore the obvious danger in such databanks in giving the government the ability to follow citizens in realtime. It is part of the effort, discussed earlier in columns, to redefine privacy in a new surveillance friendly image. After doublethinking privacy, Obama has moved on to doublethinking transparency. It is no easy task, particularly to convince a free people:
to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself.
Despite the fact that civil libertarians have scoffed at the distinction, Obama continues to pretend that the only danger is actually reading such calls and emails.
To add to the obvious evasion, Obama continues to refer to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), or secret court, as if it were a real court or had some meaningful powers of review. Obama told Rose, “That’s why we set up the FISA court.” Of course, he did not set up the FISA court which has been around for decades and widely ridiculed as an absurd rubberstamp for the intelligence agency. Only a couple applications have been denied in the history of that “court.” When I had occasion to got into the court as a young intern with NSA, it set in place a lifelong opposition to it as an insult to the very concept of legal process. For Obama to cite this “court” as the guarantee of transparency is nothing short of insulting. This is the court that classifies (at the demand of Obama’s Administration) the very legal interpretations used to justify massive warrantless searches of citizens.
Obama then returned to the same evasive approach to the programs: “We’re going to have to find ways where the public has an assurance that there are checks and balances in place … that their phone calls aren’t being listened into; their text messages aren’t being monitored, their emails are not being read by some big brother somewhere.” First, Obama is saying that he will ask a rubber-stamp court to read any communications as if that is an assurance of any kind. Second, he is again falling to even acknowledge the wide array of information that they are collecting without such an order. Third, we do not have to fear of “some big brother somewhere.” We know where to find big brother. He is the one assuring us that he has a secret court to guarantee transparency.
In the meantime, Obama wants to put the man in jail for life so told the public about the secret program. That is not part of the new transparency or any part of the new privacy of the Obama era.
This type of logic was explained before as Orwell “doublethink”:
The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them… To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.
Here is the full interview and is guaranteed to make you stop worrying about the police state: