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What Obama Really Meant Was ...

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Posted on Jan 19, 2014

By Chris Hedges

(Page 4)

As a senator, I was critical of practices such as warrantless wiretaps. But as president I have carried out a far more extensive assault on civil liberties than my predecessor, George W. Bush. I have used the Espionage Act eight times to charge patriots such as Edward Snowden who exposed crimes of the state. And I have lied to you often, as I did in the original version of this speech, to defend the right of our security and surveillance apparatus to spy on you without judicial warrants.

As a presidential candidate in 2008 I promised to “reject the use of national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime.” I promised to close our detention center in Guantanamo Bay. I said I would revisit the Patriot Act. I told you I would overturn unconstitutional executive decisions issued by the Bush administration. I said I would shut down our black sites. And I promised an end to extraordinary rendition. I told you as president last summer that the NSA “cannot target your emails” and that all of our surveillance programs were subject to the full control of Congress. I have, along with our Congress and our highest courts, eradicated the Fourth Amendment, which once protected citizens from government intrusion into their persons, homes, papers and effects. And, to be frank, the only reason I am talking to you today about spying is because Edward Snowden has, through his leaked documents, illustrated that everything I and others in government have promised to do or told you about domestic and international surveillance is a lie. 

Today I am announcing a series of cosmetic reforms that my administration intends to adopt administratively or will seek to codify through Congress.

First, I have approved a new presidential directive for our signals intelligence activities both at home and abroad that sounds impressive but means nothing.

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Second, we will institute a few bureaucratic programs and procedures to give you the illusion of greater transparency while we continue to sweep up and store your personal information, including your telephone metadata.

Third, I propose more amorphous and undefined protections for government activities conducted under Section 702.

Fourth, the FBI’s national security letters will not be touched. But we could and should be more transparent in how government uses this authority. We really should. But we won’t. To make you feel better, however, I have directed the attorney general to amend how we use national security letters so that this secrecy will not be indefinite, so that it will terminate within a fixed—though unspecified—time unless the government demonstrates a need for further secrecy. That need might last forever.

This brings me to the program that has generated the most controversy these past few months—the bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215. Why is this necessary? It is necessary because in a totalitarian state the secret police must gather information not to solve crimes but, as Hannah Arendt pointed out, “to be on hand when the government decides to arrest a certain category of the population.” We need all of your emails, phone conversations, Web searches and geographical movements for “evidence” should we decide to seize you. And my apologies to Sen. Bernie Sanders, but we can’t make exemptions for members of Congress, especially when they come from Vermont. If you think you are innocent, or that you have nothing to hide, you do not understand what is happening. Justice, like truth, is no longer relevant. Ask Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange or Edward Snowden, along with whistle-blowers like Thomas Drake, where justice and truth got them. One of the main tasks of any security service is blackmail, a tactic the FBI used to try to get Martin Luther King to commit suicide. So if you have any dirt we want to know about it.

I will propose turning over the storage of all your data to a third party, perhaps a private corporation. This will offer you no protection, but it should provide a good government contract to one of my major campaign donors.

The cosmetic reforms I’m proposing today will, I hope, give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, along with our courts, continue to eviscerate those rights. I recognize that there are additional issues that require further debate, such as your constitutional right to halt the wholesale capturing and storing of your personal information and correspondence and evidence of your geographical movements. But don’t expect me to help. I sold out long ago.


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