No Comment — February 19, 2008, 7:36 am

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the National Surveillance State

For those, like Joe Klein and a large part of the mainstream media, who can’t be bothered to actually understand the debate over FISA (“it’s just too complicated!”) and who are convinced that everything a Bush Administration representative says must be true (even if you know somehow it really can’t be), here’s Teddy, the National Surveillance Teddy Bear. He’s a product of the fertile imagination of Marc Fiore, the piece is entitled “The Spies Who Love You,” and the only word for this is “brilliant.”

And then for a somewhat more caustic take on the same theme, here is the Special Comment that Keith Olbermann delivered two weeks ago:

And here is Olbermann’s very effective response to Bush’s threat to veto any legislation that fails to include telecom immunity:

Olbermann wades deep into the relationship between the telecoms and the Bush Administration. What does this tell us about Bush’s use of national security concerns? And what does it tell us about Bush’s manipulation of fear for political purposes. Has this at length simply become too crude to work? That’s what the president’s polling numbers reflect.

My one bone to pick: Olbermann uses the political “f”-word with respect to the Administration’s cooption of telecommunications. He should remember that an obsession with their citizens’ private lives is a common feature of all totalitarian states and all totalitarian wannabes, not just the fascists. On the other hand, the cooption of corporate interests to undermine civil liberties does have a strong feeling of the last shuddering days of the Weimar Republic about it.

Finally, some words of praise are appropriate for Silvestre Reyes, the congressman from El Paso who now chairs the House Intelligence Committee. I have been very critical of the intelligence committees in the past. I agree with the criticism that CIA veteran Milt Bearden recently hurled their way in a piece in the Washington Independent: they have been AWOL. What they need to keep in check is not so much a rogue intelligence service as a rogue executive which is constantly trying to spur the intelligence service to act outside the bounds of the law and for purposes that have little ostensible connection to national security. But at length Reyes and his committee seem to understand Bush’s fear-mongering. Reyes sent Bush a letter which demonstrated step by step why Bush’s claim that the nation would be unprotected unless Congress passed his exact version of a telecom immunity bill was a lie. Here’s what Reyes wrote to the President back on Valentine’s Day:

If our nation is left vulnerable in the coming months, it will not be because we don’t have enough domestic spying powers. It will be because your Administration has not done enough to defeat terrorist organizations – including al Qaeda — that have gained strength since 9/11. We do not have nearly enough linguists to translate the reams of information we currently collect. We do not have enough intelligence officers who can penetrate the hardest targets, such as al Qaeda. We have surged so many intelligence resources into Iraq that we have taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result, you have allowed al Qaeda to reconstitute itself on your watch.

You have also suggested that Congress must grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies. As someone who has been briefed on our most sensitive intelligence programs, I can see no argument why the future security of our country depends on whether past actions of telecommunications companies are immunized.

The issue of telecom liability should be carefully considered based on a full review of the documents that your Administration withheld from Congress for eight months. However, it is an insult to the intelligence of the American people to say that we will be vulnerable unless we grant immunity for actions that happened years ago.

The House now remains the nation’s last line of defense against the Bush Administration’s aspirations for the new National Surveillance State. If you haven’t yet written your Congressman or woman, take the time to do so now. Tell him or her that this issue matters, and that you are counting on the House to hold its ground on telecom immunity and to reject the Senate version.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Neoliberal Arts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today