America’s Expanding Surveillance State and Perpetual War

Of all the Obama administrationrelated investigations currently underway, the most disturbing and possibly unconstitutional one is the Justice Department’s seizure of reporters’ phone records and emails at the Associated Press and of Fox News reporter James Rosen, whose comings and goings at the State Department appear to have been tracked by the FBI. A judge granted a search warrant on the basis that Rosen was possibly violating the Espionage Act (1917), a law intended to stop state secrets from being shared with foreign governments.

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson excoriated the Obama administration for these actions in a recent op-ed:

“Before president Obama took office, the Espionage Act had been used to prosecute leakers a grand total of three times, including the 1971 case of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Obama’s Justice Department has used the act six times. And counting.

 Obviously, the government has a duty to protect genuine secrets. But the problem is that every administration, without exception, tends to misuse the “top secret” stamp—sometimes from an overabundance of caution, sometimes to keep inconvenient or embarrassing information to coming to light.”

Fred Kaplan at Slate has a different perspective on Fred Rosen’s responsibility in the reporting of his FOX News story:

“In Rosen’s case, the alarm bells went off not because he reported that North Korea was about to conduct a nuclear-weapons test but because he reported that the CIA learned of this fact from a source inside North Korea. In other words, Rosen revealed that the CIA had a source inside North Korea. It’s unclear whether the source was a human spy or a communications intercept; it’s also irrelevant because, thanks to this story, the source is probably no longer alive or active.”

National security requires a balance between protecting Americans and preserving constitutional freedoms. Ever since the “war on terror” began, Americans have largely accepted that in order to remain safe from terrorists they may have to relinquish some of their civil liberties. This is problematic. If we agree that one minor, intrusive action is okay, and that action leads to incrementally more intrusive actions over time, at what point does the government rein in its own behavior? Can it? At what point do citizens find it unacceptable and push back?

English: President George W. Bush and Presiden...

English: President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama meet in the Oval Office of the White House Monday, November 10, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, many Americans, particularly those on the left, hoped the Patriot Act would be abolished. While I applaud the President’s decision to make torture illegal, he has continued, and in some instances even expanded, many of the Bush national security policies. One example of that expansion is the use of drones. The use of drones began in 2002. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism the Bush administration carried out 52 strikes over both terms. At least 300 strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia were recorded during Obama’s first term. Furthermore, Americans would be up in arms if other countries were dropping bombs from drones onto U.S. soil to kill terrorists. Think about that.

These unmanned planes are designed to be highly targeted and aimed at leaders and high-level operatives of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, yet it is regularly reported that innocent civilians, including children, are killed in these attacks. The Obama administration claims the numbers of civilian casualties are low, but many citizens of these countries refute those claims. Not surprisingly, this breeds resentment of the United States and creates terrorist sympathizers.


Many also hoped the era of warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency would go by the way-side once Obama took office. In 2008, the Bush administration legalized this eavesdropping through the FISA Amendments Act, and part of that bill retroactively granted amnesty to the telecom companies involved, shielding them from prosecution even though what they were doing was illegal. The telecom companies were doing this at the request of the government. Consequently, the FISA Amendments Act, by extension, also shielded the Bush administration from any criminal wrong-doing. Senator Barack Obama voted for this in 2008, and in December 2012, as President, signed a five-year extension of the law.

Then there is the continued use of indefinite detentions for suspected terrorists. Some of these prisoners have been held for years then found to be innocent of any wrongdoing, or found to have had tenuous connections to terrorists, or none at all. Many detainees are currently being held indefinitely without being charged with a crime. This is wrong; it’s a human rights issue. Imagine being locked away, left to rot in a foreign prison, no contact with your loved ones and no trial date in sight. Admittedly, there are bad guys in these prisons too, but that doesn’t mean some rule of law shouldn’t be followed. We are America after all; we should set the standard for human rights.


Photo attributed to: Joshua Sherurcij

Lastly, is the prosecution of government whistleblowers. Whistleblowers only come forward to report fraud, abuse, and crime when they feel safe to do so. The excuse of “national security,” freely used, to punish whistleblowers is chilling. We need whistleblowers. Otherwise too many politicians or government appointees will escape accountability for crimes or misuse of power. That’s not to say that leaking classified information should go unpunished either.

National security is important, but the American people can be protected and freedom of the press maintained without government intrusiveness, particularly in relation to the use of increased surveillance of Americans, which most of us find reprehensible. Technology serves us well and makes our daily and work lives easier, but with technological advances also come security and privacy challenges. These are major issues with which Americans and our leaders are grappling and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. One writer even warns that left unchecked, future presidents could be even worse than Bush or Obama.

Americans should consider and answer these questions: 1.) How many of our civil liberties are we willing to give up in the name of security and fighting terrorism? 2.) How long is it acceptable for the U.S. to be involved in conflict after conflict in foreign lands? 3.) How much money are we willing to spend to continue feeding the military-industrial complex at the expense of other pressing domestic issues?

On May 23, President Obama spoke about his national security policy and the plans to change it. You can read the transcript or watch it below:

Only time will tell how effective the proposed changes will be. History will be the ultimate judge.

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One thought on “America’s Expanding Surveillance State and Perpetual War

  1. Pingback: NSA Surveillance, Data Mining, Security, and Civil Liberties | Everblog

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