There’s Gambling in This Establishment!
The USA Patriot Act of 2001 is an act of Congress, signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001, exactly 45 days after the terrorist attacks on New York City. The title of the act is a ten-letter acronym (USA PATRIOT) that stands for Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.
Very little about that sounded like a good idea to a few of us at the time. Because bills are available on line, I took a couple of hours out of my life and read every word – and if today you think the title of the Act sounds scary, you should take a couple hours out of your life and read the text. At the time, I was up in arms, I understood precisely what this meant for the average American. I understood the broad, sweeping and largely unchecked powers the government was granting itself and it sounded like a very, very bad thing. It certainly sounded like an end to the last vestige of personal privacy. I wrote about it. I went to Washington, D.C. and pounded on doors about it. I marched with others and protested it and you can probably guess the reaction of my fellow Americans while the wounds of 9/11 still lay so raw upon our nation.
I was labeled a terrorist sympathizer, aiding and abetting the enemy. I was accused of providing aid and comfort to the enemy. I was called a traitor to America. I was told I should be stripped of my citizenship and exiled. I was threatened with death. And the funny thing is, the people who were saying those things about me then are the same people who have their hair on fire about the loss of their privacy and the unchecked power of the government and how bad it all is – and they’re still calling me all of those names.
I am a proud Liberal who voted for Barack Obama in the hopes of seeing at least some of these policies rolled back – because I’ve never lost a good deal of my youthful idealism and wasn’t grasping the concept of attempting to corral a giant herd of feral cats into matchbox. What I wanted was never going to happen. What I never expected was that this President would sign Patriot II, a 4-year extension of some key provisions that included roving wiretaps, searches of business records and spying on what they termed “lone wolves” who were suspected of terrorist activities but not previously connected to any other terror group (a broad definition if ever I heard one). President Obama crushed my bleeding Liberal heart with a stroke of a pen – and I was plenty vocal about that. I wrote to Washington about that. I pounded on doors about that and yes, I march in protest over that. So few terms in Patriot and Patriot II are defined, allowing the government to assume broad definitions to suit their whim. We now know that President Bush’s Department of Homeland Security, et. al., were spying on private American citizens who did not fall into any of the above categories and were doing so illegally. What President Obama’s Justice Department has managed to do is to find a way to parse the interpretation to make what was once illegal, technically legal. We have a phrase for that, here in Hooterville… it’s called “polishing a turd”, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.
Now, for years I’ve written about all of these things, attempted to provide information on Social Media, signed petitions, marched, spoken to as many people as possible and felt about as useful as, well, tits on a boar hog. Enter Edward Snowden, being carried across the threshold by Glenn Greenwald, and America has collectively set its hair on fire because they’ve suddenly learned that they’ve been spied on. As a classic movie buff and upon witnessing the ridiculous, lines from famous movies tend to marquee scroll through my head. I burst out laughing as I saw Conservative vs Conservative and Liberal vs Liberal as the most unlikely cast of strange bedfellows take the same side. I could hear Captain Renault in 1942’s Casablanca proclaim, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”
But this isn’t an “I told you so” piece. It’s not. It’s a call for people to take a breath and a pause and a valium because this has less to do with your opinion of the star characters of this Greek tragedy and a lot more to do with the character of a nation – but I’ll dispense with the central characters first…
I have like a million questions for Snowden and Greenwald and even Washington Post Pulitzer Prize winner Barton Gelman, who broke the story of the involvement of the tech firms. I’ve been saying since all of this blew the doors off the news cycles that something about this whole thing didn’t pass the ‘smell test’ of pure legitimacy and here’s why:
One must ask themselves how a young man with a GED, a short stint in the army and a pretty thin body of experience (including security guard at an NSA facility) finds himself deep within the bowels of our nation’s security secrets making $200,000 a year with unfettered access to our country’s most sensitive material. To say that Edward Snowden had an unusual career trajectory is being charitable. While our military leaders and security experts have made it clear they want the young computer geeks and hackers on “our side”, it does help one to understand the inherent dangers of hiring absolutely anyone with the ability to hack a computer system. If you have no cursory knowledge of their political leanings or ideology, does that make any computer geek a good fit for a high access position within the security community? Snowden claims to have had such a crisis of conscience in continuing to work there, he had to do what he did. *Carol furls brow… * Mr. Snowden, what exactly did you think the NSA, you know, did? Hint: not sewing American flags over there.
Why did the Washington Post, a paper with a proud history of investigative journalism (think All The President’s Men) change substantive details of their original story about the involvement of the tech giants the very next day without acknowledging anything but a change in the time stamp? The Guardian U.K. claims the release of their story in tandem with the WaPo article was no coincidence.
I openly confess to being suspicious anytime a “bombshell” of information comes from a source like Glenn Greenwald, especially on this subject. In the forward of his own book, he openly accepts ‘deferring’ matters of national security to President Bush. A vicious critic of Barack Obama on all matters, deferring matters of national security to this administration is suddenly… criminal. Greenwald has bashed critics like me by NOW stating he was merely pointing out how his stance on the war had ‘evolved’ from 9/11 to now. You can read it for yourself here and come to your own conclusions.
Speaking of Mr. Greenwald, one must observe that the only thing he loves more than a scandal, real or imagined when the name Barack Obama can be linked to it, is to see Glenn Greenwald on television. At this hour, he has announced that Mr. Snowden has provided him with literally “thousands of pages of documents, ‘dozens’ of which are newsworthy”. I mean, come on, Glenn. If you and Snowden are such “patriots” and love this country so much, why would either of you withhold that information from the same American public you so claim to have respected enough to tell in the first place? Can you hear him counting the number of publications where his name and image will appear for the next days and weeks and the number of news cycles he can command? Tick…tick…tick… My critics have accused me of shooting the messenger and have pointed out articles on topics where Greenwald had been right. My response to that is best summed up by my father: “A stopped clock is right twice a day too but that doesn’t mean I want to rely on it.” The source matters, folks. We have to trust the motives of the people bringing us the story. There was a reason Walter Cronkite was called “The Most Trusted Man In America” and it’s the long lost art of journalistic integrity. The man had no agenda – he brought us information and trusted us to know what to do with it without telling us what to think of it. Walter Cronkite would never have broken a story and then gone on to appear on every other news station to explain his part in bringing you the story. That Glenn Greenwald isn’t just the delivery vessel, but an ongoing central character in this now protracted, unfolding drama sends up a big red flag for me – and it should for you too.
How much information does Edward Snowden really have and where is he now? It would seem that only Snowden, his girlfriend and Glenn Greenwald know that. He cannot be found in Hong Kong and has allegedly (and the word ‘allegedly’ demands to be emphasized) fled to mainland China, though that cannot be confirmed. I confess to being more than slightly amused at the mere idea that Snowden finds the United States such an oppressive place to live that he has fled to… China? Even Hong Kong, while substantively more open than China is still a part of China. Does Edward Snowden carry with him information that could potentially damage the United States if shared with China? No one knows what he has and with whom he intends to share said information and as such, we should probably stop lauding him as a hero on that basis alone.
If I had the aforementioned questions answered, it would go a long way for me to understand today’s “Hair On Fire” moment. I question those rushing to label him as anything but “a leaker”, simply because we don’t have enough information to make an informed decision. Pro-Snowden supporters have accused me of being a traitor to my country, un-American and a prime example of everything that’s wrong with this country. The Anti-Snowden crowd has accused me of being a traitor to my country, un-American and a prime example of everything that’s wrong with this country. I’m so pleased to be a unifying figure for both sides.
Which brings me back to Casablanca…
Permit me to translate that scene in modern terms:
Rick: “How can you close me up? On what grounds?” *Translation: This is the government upon discovering a big enough stink has been made about their activities that someone actually, you know, noticed.
Captain Renault: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” *Translation: The American Public has just awakened from a deep sleep and suddenly wonders what all the ruckus is about.
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: “Your winnings, sir.” *Translation: This would be me, handing the government the proof that I, and other like me have had all along that you were a bunch of lying bastards every time you said you weren’t spying on Americans who weren’t suspected of anything.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] “Oh, thank you very much.” *Translation: This would be the government acknowledging they’ve participated in everything I’ve been saying all along, but they got what they wanted and no one is going to really “do” anything about it anyway.
Captain Renault: “Everybody out at once!” *Translation: (And here’s the big one) This would be the government proclaiming that they cannot comment on matters of ‘NATIONAL SECURITY’ and the country should just go back to sleep.
On one hand, I believe opening the national dialogue about a government that spies on its people if for no other reason than it can, is a very good thing. On the other hand, Edward Snowden broke the law and until we know where he is, what he has and with whom he is sharing that information, my jury shall remain in deliberation. (Short of the President ordering someone to break into Snowden’s psychiatrist’s office – it’s unlikely he’ll fare as well as Daniel Ellsberg and will be tried for espionage – if he’s ever found, that is.) It deeply saddens me that Americans aren’t taking personal responsibility… for sitting largely in silence as we’ve started wars with the wrong countries, killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, spilled more American blood and wasted more American treasure on making rich men richer and the debacle goes on and on and on. The shame is ours for letting it happen. If we’re looking for someone to blame, we need to hold up a great big mirror and gaze upon our own shamed and shattered reflections.
“Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.” ~ Euripides ~
(Thank you for the reminder, Deborah Wojick)
Carol Baker is a freelance political writer and a frequent contributor to Here Women Talk.
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