BY WILLIAM C. HENRY Should we be overly concerned about government surveillance and secrecy? After all, history shows that such CYAs and free speech damping devices have served and sustained despots and dictatorships exceedingly well for millenniums. One of the most proficient in their use was a chap by the name of Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī, better known as the Shah of Iran. I like to use him as an example because for decades he was America’s man in the Middle East. As a matter of fact, he would never have been able to maintain one of the scariest “government support organizations” the world has ever known without the continued support of the United States. He was our boy in that part of the world and we were determined to see to it that he was able to sustain an iron hand. Well, at least until his subjects became so terrorized, tortured and entombed from the results of such oppression that they finally amassed sufficient anger and hatred to give him, us and Israel — yes, national security has been known to make for some really strange bedfellows — the boot. Shortly thereafter our government began asking the question, “Shah who?” We’re funny that way.
It’s no wonder our government has cozied up to secrecy and surveillance so keenly over the years. Hell, we’d been helping friendly tyrants establish and perfect their self-protection paraphernalia for nearly a hundred years. I’m guessing it didn’t take awfully long for leadership in this country to come to the realization that if those fellows could succeed so spectacularly utilizing such methods, maybe it would behoove them to look into creating a few tactical variations for themselves. And, sho’nuff, before you could even spell terrorism, let alone use it in a sentence, we had an FBI, a CIA, and an NSA. But, being the enterprising nation we are, we didn’t stop there. We decided to amass the largest data collecting and analyzing capability ever imagined by the mind of man. Eat your heart out, Mr. Orwell! Holy Bill of Rights, Batman!
Let’s talk basics here at home. They’re spelled NSA and FBI. I’ll assume you’re already pretty familiar with the FBI’s long history of abuse of power (at least I hope you are), and the CIA is primarily foreign oriented (emphasis on the “primarily”), so I’ll concentrate on the NSA (that’s “National Security Agency” for you folks in Sheboygan). It’s America’s largest domestic spying apparatus and, believe me, it’s a real humdinger. The headquarters in Ft. Meade, MD cover some 350 acres, 68 of which constitute the main structure (that’s the size of 4+ U.S. Capitol buildings under one roof). Apparently that has proved to be insufficient floor space, however, because they’ve recently added (grand opening in September) a TWO BILLION DOLLAR, 1,000,000 SQUARE FEET edifice in Utah just south of Salt Lake City. Various experts believe that that will now give the government the technical wherewithal to ascertain literally everything about you that you have not already voluntarily divulged through Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and a half dozen other major social media sites, and provide second to second monitoring of every single update you post thereto, as well as access to the content of every single communication regardless of type other than verbally whispered person-to-person — that one is yet to come, but fruition is said to be just around the grapevine — you initiate or receive. Pretty cool stuff, huh?
Well, evidently most of you must think so since you’ve recently indicated that you don’t mind how or to what extent the government surveils you so long as it keeps you “safe.” Well, believe you me, if the term “safe” has ever been used in a more incongruous sense, I sure don’t remember it. The truth of the matter is that mass surveillance doesn’t keep us safer, and that altogether under-publicized fact is one of our government’s best-kept dirty little secrets. I’m not going to go into great detail here as to precisely why that’s the case, but if you’re really interested in learning the truth, I strongly recommend you start by reading this. And while you’re enlightening yourself about the mass surveillance myth, you might also want to look into this. It all adds up to precisely the way Justice Douglas nailed it years ago when he observed, “Big Brother in the form of an increasingly powerful government and in an increasingly powerful private sector will pile the records high with reasons why privacy should give way to national security, to law and order […] and the like.”
So, where’s the outrage? Where are the protests in the streets? From what I’ve read of late, many in positions of national leadership are far more interested in eviscerating Edward Snowden and leaving his carcass to be feasted on by vultures than in protecting their constituents from the abuse of power he and others were brave enough to expose. It has always amazed me how a citizenry that has paid such a horrendous price to protect its freedoms is now seemingly willing to abandon them — or, as Michael Kinsley mused, “will even notice when they’re all taken away” — in the face of the perception or pretense of threats to its “safety.” How quickly and conveniently we’ve forgotten the likes of Joseph McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, and Richard Nixon. The witch hunts and the fear, the dossiers and the blackmail, the power and the arrogance. How easily we shrug it all off. Certainly Thomas Jefferson knew what it was all about when he wrote, “Experience hath shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” That was some two hundred and fifty years ago. Trust me, human nature hasn’t changed one iota in the interim. Can I get a “bah”?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up early stage septuagenarian who has actually been most of there and done most of that. Born and raised in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. Quite well educated. Very lucky to have been born into a well-schooled and somewhat prosperous family. Long divorced. One beautiful, brilliant daughter. Two far above average grandsons. Semi-retired (how does anyone manage to do it completely these days?) and fully-tired of bullshit. Uncle of the Editor-In-Chief.