This photograph shows a copy of the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order requiring Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis,” to give the National Security Administration (NSA) information on all landline and mobile telephone calls of Verizon Business in its systems. (AP Photo)
What goes around comes around.
The latest news in the National Security Agency spy scandal: that the NSA has been Hoovering up your emails, documents, and connection details directly from the servers of nine US Internet companies. And that, according to NBC News, the government has been collecting records on every phone call made in the United States ever since the passage of the Patriot Act. And they have been doing so with legal immunity. Barack Obama has been helping with that, since well before he was president; and now that he is, he does what presidents do, which is to aggrandize the power of their office by whatever means at their disposal.
We have been here before.
In the fall of 1975, when a Senate select committee chaired by Frank Church and a House committee chaired by Otis Pike were investigating abuses of power by the CIA and FBI, Congresswoman Bella Abzug, the loaded pistol from New York (she had introduced a resolution to impeach Richard Nixon on her first day in office in 1971) dared turned her own House Subcommittee on Government Information and Individual Rights to a new subject: the National Security Agency, and two twin government surveillance projects she had learned about codenamed “SHAMROCK” and “MINARET.” They had monitored both the phone calls and telegrams of American citizens for decades.
At the time, even political junkies did not know what the NSA was. “With a reputed budget of some $1.2 billion and a manpower roster far greater than the CIA,” the Associated Press explained, it had been “established in 1952 with a charter that is still classified as top secret.” (Is it still? I’d be interested to know.) President Ford had persuaded Frank Church not to hold hearings on the matter. (Ford had something in common with Obama: hypocrisy. “In all my public and private acts as your president, I expect to follow my instincts of openness and candor with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy in the end,” he’d said in his inaugural address, the one where he proclaimed, “Our long national nightmare is over.”) So Abzug proceeded on her own. At first, when she subpoenaed the executives responsible for going along with the programs the White House tried to prevent their testimony by claiming the private companies were “an agent of the United States.” When they did appear, they admitted their companies had voluntarily been turning over their full records of phone and telegram traffic to the government at the end of every single day, by courier, for over forty years, full stop. The NSA said the programs had been discontinued. Abzug claimed they still survived, just under different names. And at that, Church changed his mind: the contempt for the law here was so flagrant, he decided, he would initiate NSA hearings, too.