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Truthdigger of the Week

Truthdiggers of the Week: NSA Protesters

Alexander Reed Kelly
Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating. Nominate our next Truthdigger here.The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Two-hundred and twenty-four years ago, James Madison included those words in the Bill of Rights, the first set of amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Together, those alterations to the prevailing law of the emerging American republic guaranteed to citizens’ certain rights of liberty and property against their government. Up until the recent past, generations of Americans regarded them as sacred. But in the wake of the attacks of 9/11, much of the population was convinced that it was right to compromise on some or all of them in the name of safety and security.

Much of the nation’s current leadership agrees. Only 67 legislators voted against the expansion of official spying on U.S. citizens by the Bush administration via the Patriot Act in October 2001. Barack Obama’s White House has doubled down on those efforts and demonstrated a commitment to keeping Americans in the dark by prosecuting government employees who blow the whistle in the public’s interest. The current administration acts as though it is against the principles upon which the nation was founded. And one asks: Where’s the outrage?

This Fourth of July it was in the streets of more than 100 American cities. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people took part in a nationwide rally against the government’s policy of domestic spying in a campaign called Restore the Fourth. The Verge called the event “the internet’s biggest rally since SOPA,” referring to a bill introduced in 2011 that would create a means to blacklist websites. Roughly 800 demonstrators turned up in New York City, while 300 gathered in San Francisco. California protesters began at the offices of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a vocal supporter of the National Security Agency’s massive, recently exposed dragnet spying program, and ended at the AT&T switching facility where the NSA installed routing equipment that facilitated much of its surveillance. Demonstrators in New York carried signs and cardboard sculptures mocked up to look like surveillance equipment.

Restore the Fourth enjoyed some of the same endorsements as the movement to stop SOPA. Advocacy groups Fight for the Future, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Reddit-born Internet Defense League lent their support, as did Web architect Tim Berners-Lee, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and more than 550,000 others who signed online petitions in support of the motion at the cleverly named website StopWatching.us.

Elsewhere, earlier in the week, Americans excited to action by government intrusion confronted the NSA directly. At a recruitment drive at the University of Wisconsin on Tuesday, journalist and student Madiha R. Tahir asked a couple of squirming intelligence recruiters uncomfortable questions about the agency’s activities. The recruiters, who were identified as “language analysts,” were evasive and imprecise about whom the agency recognizes as adversaries; they were called out for the agency’s having taken down brochures and fact sheets after whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s leaks because it became clear those documents contained falsehoods. They were also asked whether their jobs are for liars, “Because,” Tahir said, “clearly, you’re not able to give us forthright answers. I mean, given the way the NSA has behaved, given the fact that we’ve been lied to as Americans, given the fact that fact sheets have been pulled down because they clearly had untruths in them, given the fact that Clapper and Alexander lied to Congress — is that a qualification for being in the NSA? Do you have to be a good liar?”

One of the recruiters responded by saying the two “don’t believe the NSA is telling complete lies.” Listen to the full exchange here.

Too many Americans lack the courage of Tahir and those who marched through streets across the country on Independence Day. Many journalists are too afraid of being sued for libel to tell people that their leaders lied. We are wondering whether the NSA revelations made by Snowden will inspire members of the public to push for the return of their liberties by their government. We don’t know if they will. But we honor those who are making an effort, including the NSA protesters and Madiha R. Tahir, as our Truthdiggers of the Week.

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