No Comment — August 6, 2007, 8:47 am

The Boot is Descending

This weekend something of tremendous consequence happened. The attitude of the Bush Administration will likely be mirrored by that of the Democratic leadership: this is nothing, tend to your own work, just move along. The media will dish up some more Paris Hilton prolefeed (let’s call it by its proper, Orwellian name). But what happened was very important–another massive sledgehammer blow was taken to the foundations of our democratic institutions. And it was a thoroughly bi-partisan effort.

Here’s what occurred. The Bush Administration sought an amendment of FISA to overcome roadblocks that the FISA court threw in its way. It put its case to Congress in secret and sent its national intelligence czar to negotiate a deal. When he concluded an agreement, Bush rejected it. The White House replied with threats, essentially stating that as soon as another terrorist attack occurs, we will pin the blame on Democrats in Congress because of their failure to amend FISA to give us what we want.

That’s good politics. As usual, the White House was not really interested in compromise. In fact, their conduct demonstrated that they would have much preferred not getting their way; they were in search of a political issue. News of such a ploy might even be enough, with a full-court press from the heretofore pliant media, to reverse our current political doldrums and make people take notice.

But Congress looked Bush’s insatiable quest for power squarely in the eye, unlocked the chicken coop, and said to the fox “here–take anything you want.” The changes that were made were subtle, but arguably they gave the Bush Administration even more than it asked for. And from this point forward, any conversation any American has with a foreigner or a person overseas may be snooped upon, no warrants necessary.

Those who expected the Democrats to stand up to this may have gotten a shock. I wasn’t shocked at all. Many see a Democrat-Republican divide over the rise of the National Surveillance State, but that’s foolish. In Britain, the Labour Party has introduced legislation which arguably did more than even Bush to erode civil liberties (and of course, the Britons had fewer liberties to start with. The American Revolution was about something, after all). What we’re witnessing is another demonstration of Lord Acton’s famous maxim: those who hold power tend to seek to extend it. At this point, Democrats are nearly giddy with the prospects of recapturing the White House and resuming rule with a solid power base in the Executive and the Legislature. And with this prospect, suddenly the specter of intrusive big government seems somehow far more palatable to them, and America’s constitutional system and the rights of the individual citizens are less of a concern.

Now President Bush’s signing statement, released this morning, tells us that the process is still ongoing. You see, whatever ground Congress gives, it’s never enough—there are always demands for more. And what’s at the top of the president’s list?

Immunity. Again. The Bush Administration’s internal analyses line up with those of outside scholars: what Bush and his team have been doing for five years roughly is definitely illegal. Felonious. But as long as Fredo runs the Justice Department, there’s no risk of prosecution. So what happens when he’s gone and a real law enforcement official takes over? The prospect of prosecution of administration actors is hanging heavy. How many pardons can Bush issue in his final days? Thus the president writes,

When Congress returns in September the Intelligence committees and leaders in both parties will need to complete work on the comprehensive reforms requested by Director McConnell, including the important issue of providing meaningful liability protection to those who are alleged to have assisted our Nation following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

It looks like Winston Smith has been busy scribbling, inventing a new past that suits the Leader: “meaningful liability protection to those who are alleged to have assisted our Nation.” Just a quick check of the Bush lexicon: “meaningful liability protection” means that those who committed felonies by violating the FISA statute will be given immunity for their violations if they occurred to help further some Presidential design (i.e., crimes in which the president or others in the White House were the kingpins). And “those who are alleged to have assisted our Nation”? Extra ration coupons to Winston for this one. I’d say they’re talking about their aiders and abettors—that is, phone companies, Internet service providers and others who allowed—in violation of criminal statutes—the installation of blackboxes to monitor the flow of information.

So, the Bush Administration, once again recognizing the criminality that is its fundamental operating principle, is seeking to immunize itself. And conversely, true to the essential character of the police state, it is seeking to criminalize those who have blown the whistle on its criminal conduct.

In the current issue of Newsweek, Michael Isikoff reports on the extraordinary steps that the Administration is taking against a former Department of Justice official suspected by Attorney General Gonzales of having blown the whistle on a consistent pattern of violations of the FISA statute.

The controversy over President Bush’s warrantless surveillance program took another surprise turn last week when a team of FBI agents, armed with a classified search warrant, raided the suburban Washington home of a former Justice Department lawyer. The lawyer, Thomas M. Tamm, previously worked in Justice’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR)—the supersecret unit that oversees surveillance of terrorist and espionage targets. The agents seized Tamm’s desktop computer, two of his children’s laptops, and a cache of personal files. Tamm and his lawyer, Paul Kemp, declined any comment. So did the FBI. But two legal sources who asked not to be identified talking about an ongoing case told NEWSWEEK the raid was related to a Justice criminal probe into who leaked details of the warrantless eavesdropping program to the news media. The raid appears to be the first significant development in the probe since the New York Times reported in December 2005 that Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. residents without court warrants.

Notice the essential selectivity of this extensive harassment project. We know three individuals high in the system who have disclosed essential aspects of the warrantless surveillance activities:

  • G.O.P. House Chief John A. Boehner revealed both details of the FISA court’s ruling and the aspects of the program which were struck down in a Fox News interview that continues to be the press’s principle source of information on the subject;
  • A nameless White House source disclosed other details and sequencing of information concerning the modification of the surveillance program to the New York Times Washington Post in an effort to exculpate Alberto Gonzales, whose July 24 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee contained a series of consciously false statements about the program and his descriptions. The program had been modified in certain ways, the helpful source explained, so Gonzales was really talking about something different; and
  • Alberto Gonzales himself conducted a discussion of the program with Attorney General John Ashcroft beside his hospital bed, in the presence of Ashcroft’s wife, who lacked security clearance–another clear breach.

Don’t expect any investigations or prosecutions to emerge in these cases. A police state uses its secrecy laws as a tool for the persecution or repression of political adversaries, not as a means of preserving secrets or implementing serious policy surrounding national security, and that is exactly what is going on here. I don’t know who leaked the first word of the rise of the National Surveillance State to the New York Times and Washington Post. Whoever did it was most likely shocked at the brazen criminality of what was going on and hoped that by exposing it, an end would be put to it. Which is to say, the leaker’s motives were principled, patriotic, led by concern for the rule of law and about the proliferation of criminal dealings within the Government. Those are not criminal motives, and his or her act was not the act of a criminal, but rather a heroic act of quiet desperation.

The fact that even after these disclosures, the National Surveillance State has continued to feed and grow is alarming evidence of the decay of basic institutions. Today, our civil liberties state is withering away and the National Surveillance State surges without control. Retrenchment will be impossible. Resistance is essential, especially by those within.

There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always— do not forget this, Winston— always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.

The boot is descending.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

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

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2017

Destroyer of Worlds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Crossing Guards

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I am Here Only for Working”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dear Rose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Year of The Frog

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dead Ball Situation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Destroyer of Worlds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In February 1947, Harper’s Magazine published Henry L. Stimson’s “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.” As secretary of war, Stimson had served as the chief military adviser to President Truman, and recommended the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The terms of his unrepentant apologia, an excerpt of which appears on page 35, are now familiar to us: the risk of a dud made a demonstration too risky; the human cost of a land invasion would be too high; nothing short of the bomb’s awesome lethality would compel Japan to surrender. The bomb was the only option. Seventy years later, we find his reasoning unconvincing. Entirely aside from the destruction of the blasts themselves, the decision thrust the world irrevocably into a high-stakes arms race — in which, as Stimson took care to warn, the technology would proliferate, evolve, and quite possibly lead to the end of modern civilization. The first half of that forecast has long since come to pass, and the second feels as plausible as ever. Increasingly, the atmosphere seems to reflect the anxious days of the Cold War, albeit with more juvenile insults and more colorful threats. Terms once consigned to the history books — “madman theory,” “brinkmanship” — have returned to the news cycle with frightening regularity. In the pages that follow, seven writers and experts survey the current nuclear landscape. Our hope is to call attention to the bomb’s ever-present menace and point our way toward a world in which it finally ceases to exist.

Illustration by Darrel Rees. Source photographs: Kim Jong-un © ITAR-TASS Photo Agency/Alamy Stock Photo; Donald Trump © Yuri Gripas/Reuters/Newscom
Article
Crossing Guards·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ambassador Bridge arcs over the Detroit River, connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, the southernmost city in Canada. Driving in from the Canadian side, where I grew up, is like viewing a panorama of the Motor City’s rise and fall, visible on either side of the bridge’s turquoise steel stanchions. On the right are the tubular glass towers of the Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors, and Michigan Central Station, the rail terminal that closed in 1988. On the left is a rusted industrial corridor — fuel tanks, docks, abandoned warehouses. I have taken this route all my life, but one morning this spring, I crossed for the first time in a truck.

Illustration by Richard Mia
Article
“I am Here Only for Working”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

But the exercise of labor is the worker’s own life-activity, the manifestation of his own life. . . . He works in order to live. He does not even reckon labor as part of his life, it is rather a sacrifice of his life.

— Karl Marx

Photograph from the United Arab Emirates by the author. This page: Ruwais Mall
Article
The Year of The Frog·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

To look at him, Sweet Macho was a beautiful horse, lean and strong with muscles that twitched beneath his shining black coat. A former racehorse, he carried himself with ceremony, prancing the field behind our house as though it were the winner’s circle. When he approached us that day at the edge of the yard, his eyes shone with what might’ve looked like intelligence but was actually a form of insanity. Not that there was any telling our mother’s boyfriend this — he fancied himself a cowboy.

“Horse 1,” by Nine Francois. Courtesy the artist and AgavePrint, Austin, Texas
Article
Dead Ball Situation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

What We Think About When We Think About Soccer, by Simon Critchley. Penguin Books. 224 pages. $20.

Begin, as Wallace Stevens didn’t quite say, with the idea of it. I so like the idea of Simon Critchley, whose books offer philosophical takes on a variety of subjects: Stevens, David Bowie, suicide, humor, and now football — or soccer, as the US edition has it. (As a matter of principle I shall refer to this sport throughout as football.) “All of us are mysteriously affected by our names,” decides one of Milan Kundera’s characters in Immortality, and I like Critchley because his name would seem to have put him at a vocational disadvantage compared with Martin Heidegger, Søren Kierkegaard, or even, in the Anglophone world, A. J. Ayer or Richard Rorty. (How different philosophy might look today if someone called Nobby Stiles had been appointed as the Wykeham Professor of Logic.)

Tostão, No. 9, and Pelé, No. 10, celebrate Carlos Alberto’s final goal for Brazil in the World Cup final against Italy on June 21, 1970, Mexico City © Heidtmann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Chances a loan cosigner in the United States will end up repaying some part of the loan:

2 in 5

Americans of both sexes prefer the body odors of people with similar political beliefs.

The case was assigned to a Trump-appointed judge, who ruled that, despite the 2010 legislation, the acting director was Mulvaney, who received about $475,000 in contributions from the financial, insurance, and real estate industries during his 2016 congressional campaign, including $9,200 from JPMorgan Chase, which was fined $4.6 million by the CFPB for failing to provide consumers with information about checking account denials.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today