Secrecy doesn't mix with a free society
Sunday, July 28, 2013 10:00 PM
At the height of the Cold War, even though the United States faced a very real national security threat (the Soviet Union's massive nuclear weapons arsenal), President John F Kennedy recognized that the government of a free nation cannot legitimately use national security concerns as an excuse to prevent citizens from being informed about their government's actions.
Kennedy once stated, "The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society. And we are as a nation, inherently and historically, opposed to secret societies, secret oaths, and secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment far outweigh the dangers cited to justify them. Even today there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today there is little value in ensuring the survival of our nation, if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger, that the announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment."
But in 2013, our government tells us over and over that we have to keep giving up more of our liberties for national security or else the terrorists will come and get us, and that these national security programs have to be kept a secret. How in the world is this justified? This government spying program clearly violates the limitations of the Fourth Amendment. And Senators from Obama's own Democratic Party have come out and said there's no evidence this spying even prevents terrorist attacks. These two senators, Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, should know. They both serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee with full access to information on the spying program. They have also said that for the last two years the government has been using a "secret interpretation" of the Patriot Act that would shock the American public because of its almost-unlimited spying against American citizens.
Much of this information came to light after National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked it to the public. There is outrage in Congress and the American public over these violations of our privacy rights and the lack of transparency and oversight of these spying operations. On March 12, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the government was not collecting information about millions of Americans. He later admitted that his statement was false.i On June 27, a group of 26 senators sent him a complaint letter opposing the use of a "body of secret law".ii
So what has happened since then? James Clapper was never disciplined for lying under oath to Congress. And the Obama administration has recently admitted it asked a secret court to approve a secret order to allow the government to keep spying on millions of Americans, and the secret court has granted its request. On Friday, July 19, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (a secret court which operates in a secret location in Washington DC) quietly renewed an order from the NSA to force Verizon to hand over hundreds of millions of Americans' phone records to the government. There is no accountability in our current federal government. Its secrecy ensures the American people can't hold it accountable.
Thomas Paine is credited in saying, "The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government." Maybe instead of treating Snowden as a criminal, we should be treating him as a patriot.