Anyone surprised by this has bounced their reality check:
In the most unsurprising revelation imaginable, two former Army Reserve Arab linguists for the National Security Agency have said that they routinely eavesdropped on — “and recorded and transcribed” — the private telephone calls of American citizens who had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. The two former NSA employees, who came forward as part of journalist James Bamford’s forthcoming book on the NSA, intercepted calls as part of the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” whereby George Bush ordered the NSA in 2001 to eavesdrop on Americans’ calls in secret, without first obtaining judicial approval as required by the law (FISA). That illegal eavesdropping continued for at least six years — through 2007.
The two NSA whistleblowers, Adrienne Kinne and David Murfee Faulk, were interviewed by ABC News’ Brian Ross. Kinne said that “US military officers, American journalists and American aid workers were routinely intercepted and ‘collected on’ as they called their offices or homes in the United States.” He also said his co-workers “were ordered to transcribe these calls.” Faulk told Ross: ”when one of my co-workers went to a supervisor and said: ’but sir, there are personal calls,’ the supervisor said: ‘my orders were to transcribe everything’.” He said that the intercepted calls included highly personal and intimate conversations and even phone sex.
Because eavesdropping on pillow talk is ever so important to our vaunted national security.
This is what comes of those “trust us” arguments put forth by the government, especially Bush’s regime. Grant government power without meaningful constraints, and you get the NSA transcribing every sigh and naughty word of an officer’s call to his Stateside wife. And what do they do with this critical intelligence? What would you do if you were an NSA employee, ostensibly on the hunt for terrorists but forced to listen to nothing but bread-and-butter American conversations all day?
[Former Navy Arab linguist David Murfee] Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of “cuts” that were available on each operator’s computer.
“Hey, check this out,” Faulk says he would be told, “there’s good phone sex or there’s some pillow talk, pull up this call, it’s really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, ‘Wow, this was crazy’,” Faulk told ABC News. […]
That’s right. This is why we had to grant Bush sweeping powers to eavesdrop on Americans: so bored bureaucrats could waste their time passing around sweet nothings they had no business listening to in the first place.
But remember: if you’re not guilty of anything, you have no reason to fear Big Brother might be listening. Wasn’t that one of the assurances we got when they were cramming this program down America’s throat? Isn’t that always the lie?
But maybe, you think, it’s worth risking a few abuses in the interests of America’s safety. After all, a program thorough enough to catch journalists, humanitarian workers, and military brass in flagrante delicto has to be catching all the bad guys.
If that’s your thinking, you’d best think again:
These abuses aren’t merely grotesque invasions of privacy and civil liberties, though they obviously are that. Independently, surveillance abuses undermine genuine counter-terrorism efforts and national security interests in the extreme. If NSA agents are listening in on the calls of innocent Americans, including journalists and aid workers — including their intimate calls and even their “phone sex,” as Faulk said — then that means they’re not listening in on actual terrorist suspects. That’s why, as Rep. Rush Holt among many others have long argued, allowing oversight-less eavesdropping not only guarantees civil liberties abuses but also destroys genuine counter-terrorism efforts.
That’s right. While NSA agents are busy passing around titilating bits, they’re missing the actual terrorists plotting actual attacks. Do you feel safer now?
This is nothing but political, my darlings. There’s no other reason for targeting – yes, targeting – journalists, aid workers and military officers. How much would you like to bet that if a thorough investigation is done, we’ll discover that these transcripts were used to squelch stories that might have proved embarrassing to the government? I’ll bet you my damned life savings there are blackmail files lurking around in the bowels of the NSA, just waiting for that moment when pressure would have to be applied. What’s amusing to transcriptionists is gold to rulers in need of leverage. Johnny Journalist is about to break a story that would put the government in a bad light? Pull out his file. Ask him if he wants his wife to know what he’s been saying to his mistress.
You know they’d use it. No government is innocent, and this one won’t even hesitate an instant before they do the immoral thing. Decency seldom wins out over political expediency. This government has no clue what decency is.
Do you want to see what America has become?
Black, on this map, denotes countries that are “endemic surveillance societies.” We now share that distinction with places like Russia and China. You know, the very places we like to howl self-righteously at for their atrocious human rights and freedoms records.
We are all going to have to work hard to force our representatives to roll back the abuses of this regime. We let this go too far. It’s time to realize just how much freedom we’ve given uselessly away because we let a bunch of power-mad assclowns frighten us into submission. It’s time to get a grip on our fear and put the checks and balances back in place.
Otherwise, China may start to look like a bastion of freedom compared to the United States.
(Tip o’ the shot glass to Steve Benen, whose closing paragraph says it all: “Imagine that. Hand over excessive and largely unchecked surveillance powers to the Bush administration, and gross abuses become commonplace. Who could have guessed?” Who indeed.)