The debate over Edward Snowden and the White House's damage-control tactic of shifting it to a dialog about potential harm to our security should be outweighed by the greater concern his story has revealed. Namely, that our privacy, civil rights and even our voice as to the future of the society in which we live – continues to be hijacked by the joint endeavors of government and corporate America through the growth industry of spying on ourselves.
Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who leaked the most recent U.S. Government follies by exposing the PRISM program, fled to Hong Kong to get away from the same tyranny he had become a part of at his intelligence analysis position.
Snowden told CNN, "Originally we saw their (NSA) focus narrowly tailored to foreign intelligence gathering overseas. Now it is increasingly happening domestically, and to do that, the NSA targets the communications of everyone."
"Any annalist anywhere can target anyone." said Snowden, adding, "where it goes and what happens from there is unknown."
That's because so many different agencies and organizations get involved.
President Obama and congressional leaders, that support the recent PRIMA purge of personal information, say provisions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) protect the government's choice to do so. We've been there and done that before with Obama's predecessor, "the decider."
The PRISM program dates back to 2006, and by early 2007 it was in full gear. Plus, this isn't the first time an NSA whistleblower went public with information that uncovered high ranking officials capturing unwarranted domestic communications; nor is it the first time Verizon and AT&T lent the NSA a helping hand.
On January 6, 2006, ABC reported that Russell Tice, a long time NSA insider, blew the whistle on the NSA and the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), not for just trapping matching numbers but for eavesdropping on phone calls and reading emails without a warrant. In that report, Tice confirmed that he was the leak for the story that came out in the NY Times a month prior.
President George Bush admitted he gave the orders to allow the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans without the usual request for a warrant, claiming he stayed within the FISA Act's limitations; and he promoted other Patriot Act flavored initiatives that were in violation of our civil rights. One of those initiatives: Fusion Centers.
Of the 72 proclaimed federal fusion centers in the country, all are being funded through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). Their assignment is basically to report suspicious activity.
These not-quite cops often report on individuals who have conducted crimes such as putting political stickers on the walls of public restrooms, or protesting against the death penalty. I guess you never know when such a citizen might prompt an uprising.
In an interview with RT.com, Arkansas State Fusion Center Director Richard Davis said, "… the center does in fact spy on Americans, but only on those who are suspected to be 'anti-government'."
In October 2012, a Permanent Senate Subcommittee on Investigations released a two-year probe into fusion center activities. Their findings stated that fusion centers often produced irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence to DHS, and many produced no intelligence reporting whatsoever.
Senators were dazed over the mismanagement, and the more than $1.4 billion spent on blunders and direct violations of constitutionally-protected civil liberties taking place at these places.
Fusion centers made their debut in 2003, and have been active ever since. Recently, some states have cut their contribution to funding the centers, among shrinking budgets and embarrassing mishaps, places that are often staffed by untrained snoops, looking for trouble – sort of an on-call neighborhood watch, only fighting potential terrorism.
Government and corporations alike rely heavily on their own whistleblowers to keep their internal affairs protected – citizens watching citizens, employees reporting on employees – but when those who feel the law has been broken, but think their government is at fault (such as Snowden), and report it; they are labeled traitors rather than patriots. It's sort of like the old saying, one man's terrorist is another man's revolutionary.
The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all of those prior. I guess the bigger the lie, the harder it is to keep what's really going on under wraps.
In fact, the 2008 revision of FISA discourages whistleblowers. It has a provision that makes it a federal crime for anyone to reveal they are participating in the FISA program. So when any company spokesman is asked about their participation, the law requires them to lie – or face jail time.
The way the 2005 NSA eavesdropping worked was; all of the transcontinental and the western U.S. domestic communications traveled through the AT&T San Francisco hub at 611 Folsom Street. There a fiber-optic splitter copied the data before it hit the AT&T mainframe, then the copy was passed on to NSA.
The copies date back to 2001, prior to 9/11, and weren't interrupted until 2005 when the splitter, in a room labeled SG-3, was discovered by a AT&T technician Mark Klein.
Consequently many legal actions have been taken to hold NSA and AT&T accountable for civil rights violations. Here are a couple: Jewel v. NSA and Hepting v. AT&T, they and others are still working through the courts.
Legal action didn't discourage NSA from continuing with their surveillance, however, and they had help. In 2007, Microsoft was the first of the internet techs to remain silent while NSA , collected their data, next came Yahoo, in 2008, then Google, Facebook, Pal Talk, You Tube, Skype, AOL and finally Apple in 2012.
Snowden was actually employed by Booz Allen Hamilton, one of almost 25,000 that work for the cyber-security government contractor, 3/4 of Booz Allen Hamilton's employees have government security clearances and nearly half of them have "Top Secret or higher" according to an NBC report.
Booz Allen Hamilton sells technical expertise and data analysis to the government, and most of their $5.8 billion annual revenue comes from such contracts.
There is a lot riding on Snowden's actions, more than just Booz Allen's reputation. In the D.C. area over $160 billion annually, goes out to government procurement contracts. Keeping the terrorist threat alive keeps a lot at stake on the plates in Washington, not to mention the money flowing into Wall Street coffers.
What American's have to ask themselves is how much they are willing to give up in order to feel safe, and at what point does the cost of freedom prevent it from even being possible. However, if they continue to allow the Edward Snowden's of the world to be labeled criminals or traitors, rather than brave patriots, the question may be moot, for they'll be unlikely to even know what's being done to them until it's far too late.
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