I am a fan of public television. I grew up with the CBC and its wonderful documentaries and comedies (Kids in the Hall anyone). Since moving to the US I have found Frontline and since I don’t have a television I am blessed to be able to watch it online.
They recently had a great show called Spying on the Home Front that was well done and quite disturbing. Basically we are all being spied on all the time because we are all suspects in the doctrine of pre-emption. The disturbing thing about it all is the use of National Security letters that can not be discussed. This double silencing is particularly disturbing. I picked up a book called the Elephant in the Room:Silence and Denial in Everyday Life – it highlighted this phenomena.
Yet what makes conspiracies of silence even more insidious than covering it up is the fact that the silence itself is never actually discussed among conspirators. Unlike when we explicitly agree not to talk about something (“let’s not get into that”), the very fact that the conspirators avoid it remains unacknowledged and the subtle social dynamic underlying their silence are thus consealed….
the reason it is so difficult to talk about the elephant in the room is that “not only does no one want to listen, but no one wants to talk about not listening.” In other words the very act of avoiding the elephant is itself the elephant! Not only do we avoid it, we do wo without acknowledging that we are actually doing so, thereby denying our denial.
Like “rules against seeing rules against seeing,” being “forbidden to talk about the fact about the fact that we are forbidden to talk” about certain things, or the fact that “we do not see what we prefer not to, and do not see what we do not see,” such meta-denial presupposes a particular form of self-deception famously identified by Orwell as “doublethinking,” or the ability “consciously to induce unconsciousness and then to become unconscious of the act of Hypnosis you had just performed.” Thus in Nineteen Eighty-Four, when Eastasia suddenly assumes Eurasia’s traditional role as Oceania’s perpetual enemy and the Oceanians set out to immediately destroy or rectify any references ever made to their long-lasting war with Eurasia, Orwell astutely observes that “the work was overwhelming, all the more so because the process that it involved could not be called by their true names.”
I would recommend the the Frontline show and would love to discuss it with others who have seen it. Perhaps this can be another one for our Media Review Group. I hope there will be a critical mass of folks to actually talk about this next week at Burton Group.
9/11 has indelibly altered America in ways that people are now starting to earnestly question: not only perpetual orange alerts, barricades and body frisks at the airport, but greater government scrutiny of people’s records and electronic surveillance of their communications. The watershed, officials tell FRONTLINE, was the government’s shift after 9/11 to a strategy of pre-emption at home — not just prosecuting terrorists for breaking the law, but trying to find and stop them before they strike.
President Bush described his anti-terrorist measures as narrow and targeted, but a FRONTLINE investigation has found that the National Security Agency (NSA) has engaged in wiretapping and sifting Internet communications of millions of Americans; the FBI conducted a data sweep on 250,000 Las Vegas vacationers, and along with more than 50 other agencies, they are mining commercial-sector data banks to an unprecedented degree.
Even government officials with experience since 9/11 are nagged by anxiety about the jeopardy that a war without end against unseen terrorists poses to our way of life, our personal freedoms. “I always said, when I was in my position running counterterrorism operations for the FBI, ‘How much security do you want, and how many rights do you want to give up?'” Larry Mefford, former assistant FBI director, tells Smith. “I can give you more security, but I’ve got to take away some rights. … Personally, I want to live in a country where you have a common-sense, fair balance, because I’m worried about people that are untrained, unsupervised, doing things with good intentions but, at the end of the day, harm our liberties.”
Although the president told the nation that his NSA eavesdropping program was limited to known Al Qaeda agents or supporters abroad making calls into the U.S., comments of other administration officials and intelligence veterans indicate that the NSA cast its net far more widely. AT&T technician Mark Klein inadvertently discovered that the whole flow of Internet traffic in several AT&T operations centers was being regularly diverted to the NSA, a charge indirectly substantiated by John Yoo, the Justice Department lawyer who wrote the official legal memos legitimizing the president’s warrantless wiretapping program. Yoo told FRONTLINE: “The government needs to have access to international communications so that it can try to find communications that are coming into the country where Al Qaeda’s trying to send messages to cell members in the country. In order to do that, it does have to have access to communication networks.”
Spying on the Home Front also looks at a massive FBI data sweep in December 2003. On a tip that Al Qaeda “might have an interest in Las Vegas” around New Year’s 2004, the FBI demanded records from all hotels, airlines, rental car agencies, casinos and other businesses on every person who visited Las Vegas in the run-up to the holiday. Stephen Sprouse and Kristin Douglas of Kansas City, Mo., object to being caught in the FBI dragnet in Las Vegas just because they happened to get married there at the wrong moment. Says Douglas, “I’m sure that the government does a lot of things that I don’t know about, and I’ve always been OK with that — until I found out that I was included.”
A check of all 250,000 Las Vegas visitors against terrorist watch lists turned up no known terrorist suspects or associates of suspects. The FBI told FRONTLINE that the records had been kept for more than two years, but have now all been destroyed.
In the broad reach of NSA eavesdropping, the massive FBI data sweep in Las Vegas, access to records gathered by private database companies that allows government agencies to avoid the limitations provided by the Privacy Act, and nearly 200 other government data-mining programs identified by the Government Accounting Office, experienced national security officials and government attorneys see a troubling and potentially dangerous collision between the strategy of pre-emption and the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
Peter Swire, a law professor and former White House privacy adviser to President Clinton, tells FRONTLINE that since 9/11 the government has been moving away from the traditional legal standard of investigations based on individual suspicion to generalized suspicion. The new standard, Swire says, is: “Check everybody. Everybody is a suspect.”
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