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Our Sinister Dual State
Posted on Feb 16, 2014
By Chris Hedges
I was a plaintiff before the Supreme Court in Clapper v. Amnesty International, which challenged the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. This act authorizes surveillance without a showing, or probable cause, that a targeted person is an agent of a foreign power. The court dismissed our lawsuit because, it said, the idea that we were targets of surveillance was “based too much on speculation.” That Supreme Court ruling was then used by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to deny the credibility, or standing, of the other plaintiffs and me when it heard the Obama administration’s appeal of our successful challenge to Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a provision that permits the U.S. military to detain citizens in military facilities, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely. The government, in both court cases, did not attempt to defend the surveillance and detention programs as constitutional. It said that I and the other plaintiffs had no right to bring the cases to court. And the courts agreed.
This deadly impasse, the tightening of the corporate totalitarian noose, would have continued if Snowden had not jolted the nation awake by disclosing the crimes of the prerogative state. Snowden’s revelations triggered, for the first time, a genuine public debate about mass surveillance. Since the disclosures, three judges have ruled on the NSA’s surveillance program, one defending it as legal and two accusing the NSA of violating the Constitution. A presidential panel has criticized the agency’s blanket surveillance and called for reform. Some members of Congress—although that body authorized the Patriot Act and its Section 215, which ostensibly permitted this wholesale surveillance of the public—have expressed dismay at the extent of the NSA’s activities and the weakness of its promised reforms. Maybe they are lying. Maybe they are not. Maybe reforms will produce improvements or maybe they will be merely cosmetic. But before Snowden we had nothing. Snowden’s revelations made us conscious. And as George Orwell wrote in his dystopian novel “1984”: “Until they become conscious they will never rebel. ...”
“Now, we’re all familiar with Congress’ most dramatic oversight failure,” said Ben Wizner, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union Speech, Privacy & Technology Project and a legal adviser to Snowden, in a recent debate over Snowden with R. James Woolsey, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. “And this was in the notorious exchange between Sen. Ron Wyden and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Wyden had asked, did the NSA collect any type of data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans? Clapper’s answer was, ‘No, sir.’ Now, this brazen falsehood is most often described as Clapper’s lie to Congress, but that’s not what it was. Wyden knew that Clapper was lying. Only we didn’t know. And Congress lacked the courage to correct the record—allowed us to be deceived by the director of national intelligence.”
Societies that once had democratic traditions, or periods when openness was possible, are often seduced into totalitarian systems because those who rule continue to pay outward fealty to the ideals, practices and forms of the old systems. This was true when the Emperor Augustus dismantled the Roman Republic. It was true when Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized control of the autonomous soviets and ruthlessly centralized power. It was true following the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi fascism. Thomas Paine described despotic government as a fungus growing out of a corrupt civil society. And this is what has happened to us.
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The defense of liberty, which Snowden exhibited when he cast his fortune, his safety and his life aside to inform the public of the forces arrayed against constitutional rights, entails grave risks in dual states. It demands personal sacrifice. Snowden has called us to this sacrifice. He has allowed us to see who we are and what we have become. He has given us a chance. He has also shown us the heavy cost of defiance. It is up to us to seize this chance and dismantle the prerogative state. This means removing from power those who stole our liberty and lied to us. It means refusing to naively trust in their promised reform—for reform will never come from those who are complicit in such crimes. It will come through Americans’ construction of mass movements and alternative centers of power that can mount sustained pressure. If we fail to sever these chains we will become, like many who did not rise up in time to save their civil societies, human chattel.
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