We Are Responsible for the NSA Controversy

FaultAfter September 11, 2001 the country rallied behind our President, George W. Bush. Mind you at the time his popularity had been slipping. It had been a close election and he actually lost the popular vote to Al Gore, but with the Supreme Court stopping the Florida recount, he was able to secure enough electoral college votes to win the presidency. Nevertheless, the country had been attacked. We were all angry, scared and knocked clear out of our complacency to world events.

We did what people often do when attacked and threatened, we rallied behind our leader, regardless of who it is.

Bush had a Republican Senate and House and using the fear and anger of the people as motive, measures were prepared to “deal with the issue” and to make sure we were never attacked again due to lack of intelligence information. I won’t go into the fact that there was intelligence that existed to place the dots together and had the Bush administration paid attention, 9-11 could have been avoided. However, using what was known to the public, at least what was fed to the public who were willing to believe what they were spoon-fed, this is what happened:

Citing a “lack of intelligence” (a term that make me grin when stated in context with Congress) Congress began on work to correct it.

They prepared legislation that would combine all intelligence gathering operations under one office.

They would tear down walls that kept internal intelligence sources from communicating with foreign intelligence services so they could compare notes and connect dots.

They expanded what they were allowed to do to gather such information.

They expanded and made easy the process for getting wire-taps, setting up surveillance, streamlined the FISA Courts, etc.

It was a major overhaul of an intelligence apparatus that had been created over decades to deal with World War II and then the Cold War. They worked to “correct” a system decades in the making.

On October 26, 2001; only 45 days after 9-11, George Bush signed into law the USA Patriot Act of 2001.

Mind you, on October 24, 2001 it had passed the House 357 to 66, only a day after it was introduced by Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner. The next day, October 25, 2001 it passed the Senate virtually unchanged 98 to 1. The only Senator to vote against was Democrat Russ Feingold.

Though there are varied estimates of how long the bill was, some say over 340 pages, most in Congress admitted they “didn’t have time to read” the bill before voting on it. The bill was rushed through a Republican House and Senate and signed by a Republican President while the pain of 9-11 still gripped the country. So despite some “weak” Democratic opposition, the bill was passed with no real input coming from the people it would impact the most, the citizens of the United States. No real hearings regarding the “unintended consequences” portions of the bill could create. Something had to be done and done quickly, so it was.

In the years that followed, as we fought our war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq, as the Bush administration and Vice President Cheney lauded how terrorist acts were prevented due to the Patriot Act, most Americans accepted it. The pain from 9-11 was subsiding and since there had been no attacks, most thought maybe it was working. However, word began to seep through about some of the things the Patriot Act was doing. Those provision that impacted foreign terrorists nobody cared about. However, when it became known that FISA Courts were being bypassed for warrants to eavesdrop on international phone calls, scans of internet activities etc from the NSA, some started complaining. However, it actually got little attention because the people were content. Perhaps mainstream media thought it wasn’t all that “newsworthy” to spend time on. Some journalists looked into the matter, but very little of that got out to the public.

Much of the bill was set to “sunset” in 2005. Some argued that civil liberties were being violated and there were calls, mainly from the Senate for major changes. The Republican controlled House wanted to keep it intact. The two versions went to conference committee and most of the changes proposed in the Senate were removed. This got very little news coverage at the time. So the bill actually was reauthorized almost entirely intact from the original 2001 version and was signed into law by Bush again on March 9, 2006. Though more time was spent on it and more information about it was available to the public, little public outcry came from it. Again, there had been no additional terrorist attacks. The thing must have been working. It was during this time that the full extent of what the NSA was doing in terms of metadata gathering and storage first came to light. Few paid attention.

The revelations of it this year didn’t come seven years late, our notice of it came seven years late.

Although the Democrats took back control of the House and Senate in 2006 midterms, it really had very little to do from the public’s dissatisfaction with the Patriot Act. It was other issues that were being played in the mainstream media. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were of concern. The public didn’t vote the Republicans out because of the Patriot Act, because they still were purposefully ignorant to what it was doing. Even though the information was all out there for them to read and get an understanding that the Congress and the President had, with the consent of the people (due to not expressing anything opposing it) let the Genie out of the bottle. The groundwork was set into place. The government now had authorization to gather phone and internet information from all Americans. The information could be stored for future reference and investigation. This was set into place during the Bush Administration and with support from the Democrats. The American people appeared to have been willfully oblivious to what was happening.

In November 2008, due to the economic problems that country was aware of and expressed concern, Barack Obama was elected president with more seats going to Democrats in both the House and Senate. Not discussed during the campaign was the Patriot Act. Issues of terror were discussed. Closing down Gitmo was advocated by both Obama and McCain. Some talk about shutting down certain intelligence gathering operations on Americans were discussed and Obama was on record saying he would shut them down. But again, this got very little play in mainstream media. The people didn’t appear to really care all that much. They were focused on the collapsing economy and again, we hadn’t been attacked in over seven years, so maybe the Patriot Act was working and nobody was concern over what the government may be doing with their phone and internet information.

It wasn’t in the news because the news didn’t feel a need to report on it because few spoke out against it. Again, it wasn’t “newsworthy” even though the information was already out there for all to see.

The Patriot Act came up for reauthorization again. On May 26, 2011 President Obama signed the reauthorization of much of the original Patriot Act. He had a Democratic controlled Senate but a Republican Controlled House after the midterm beating he took in 2010.

Though this time more information was seeping out over the Patriot Act, few moderates and liberals showed up to vote in 2010 even though an increasing number of them were complaining about the intelligence gathering operation. Some said they would show Obama what they thought by not voting in the midterms, effectively handing the House back to the Republicans as well as state legislatures and governor offices across the Country. The GOP took this opportunity to start redistricting Congressional districts following the 2010 census to ensure they could keep the House.

However, still little coverage of what the NSA was doing under the authority granted it by the Patriot Act or the fact that although Obama did bring some civil liberty protections into play; he didn’t go as far as he had originally promised. Further, the Genie was out of the bottle and it is very difficult to put it back in when these intelligence agencies have been able to do it unchecked for now over 10 years.

When Greenwald “broke” the already broken story, those who actually paid attention about NSA wiretaps and heard the “revelations” from Edward Snowden, began to realize that this really wasn’t a new story. Some recalled it being revealed seven years earlier. It just didn’t get the play it should have.

Snowden and Greenwald did provide some details not previously available and some corroborating evidence. However, the overriding content of the story, that the NSA was gathering phone and internet records of US citizens and storing them for future reference was information already available for the public to know. Only now are they showing concern and expressing betrayal and anger. But why now and not sooner?

Many have focused anger and ridicule on Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden over the “leak” which really wasn’t a leak. By doing so they do take focus away from the core of the story.

However, in my opinion the story isn’t that the NSA is spying on us; it’s that we as a society have allowed them to do it unchecked for over seven years and only now are starting to take notice.

Greenwald and Snowden are easy targets. They are both narcissistic and more concern for being noticed than effecting positive change in the world. They are perfect Libertarians, out in it for themselves, not others. They both have skeletons in their closet. If the NSA story was to have come out (again) it would have been better to have some professional and seasoned, ethical “journalists” present the full story to the public. Not these two. Then the focus would have been not that “we suddenly found out the NSA was spying” but the reality that we’ve allowed the NSA to spy on us for seven years.

The problem my friends lie with us. United States Citizenry is not a spectator’s sport. You must be active and knowledgeable about what is happening on the field at all times. You must also then take appropriate actions to effect the course of the game that will give you and your nation the win it deserves.

If you do not pay attention to what your elected officials are doing in your name and hold them accountable, they feel free to do whatever they wish, or whatever their funding sources tell them to do. It’s simple, if they do right, let them know, if they do wrong, really let them know. Then most importantly, vote.

Not paying attention, not letting your elected officials know you are paying attention and will vote accordingly is forfeiting your rights as an US Citizen to someone who owes allegiance to those who have only themselves and their profit margins to be concerned over.

The rich and the corporations may have the money, but you have the votes. You also have the ability to see through what mainstream media is or isn’t telling you by doing some simple research and making some simple deductions. You may not always be right, the information you pull could be wrong or incomplete, but it still puts you in a better place to be aware about what is happening, how it impacts you, your family and friends and the nation as a whole. And with that information, unless you vote, you are wasting your time.

2014 is nearing. Who we elect to office will determine where our government surveillance is going. They will also determine our banking system, corporate regulations, infrastructure, your rights, your choice, your freedom, your privacy.

Voting is not only a right, it’s a responsibility. Get off the bench, learn the game, study the playbook and vote. Otherwise, the few who do vote will keep those in office that will continue to use government services like the NSA to infringe on your privacy.

If you’re not active in politics you only have yourself to blame for the outcome.

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