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Monday, 20 May 2013 10:59

Under Nixon, Reagan or the Bushes, We Wouldn't Have Tolerated Obama's Surveillance State

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

censoredExhilirated by the promise of transparency, accountability and change, it is painful for progressives and those who believe in the guaranteed rights of the Constitution to find themselves in the midst of a Kafkaesque attack on the public's right to know, legal inimidation of journalistic investigation of the government, increased prosecution of whistleblowers and unaccountable executive branch censorship.

It is almost incomprehensible to fathom how a president who is a constitutional lawyer has exceeded all his Republican predecessors when it comes to prosecuting and punishing whistleblowers, expanding executive branch secrecy, declaring the most basic information classifed, and bullying and surveilling journalists.  One can be grateful that the Tea Party has not yet won the White House, but the use of police powers, prosecution and surveillance state measures being implemented with President Obama's approval are nothing short of creeping fascism.  That is not an exaggeration.

On the heels of the extensive Department of Justice violation of the privacy and professional protections guaranteed Associated Press reporters, Glenn Greenwald reports on how the Department of Justice accused a reporter of aiding and abetting the leaking of classified information in order to put him under extensive surveillance and interception of his communications. 

As Greenwald points out:

Under US law, it is not illegal to publish classified information. That fact, along with the First Amendment's guarantee of press freedoms, is what has prevented the US government from ever prosecuting journalists for reporting on what the US government does in secret. This newfound theory of the Obama DOJ - that a journalist can be guilty of crimes for "soliciting" the disclosure of classified information - is a means for circumventing those safeguards and criminalizing the act of investigative journalism itself. These latest revelations show that this is not just a theory but one put into practice, as the Obama DOJ submitted court documents accusing a journalist of committing crimes by doing this.

In the case of the government Soviet-style investigation of this reporter, it is highly questionable that the basis for the frightening actions of the DOJ was even a case of classified information being leaked.  Greenwald provides the context for this specific DOJ action, the intended prosecution of a State Department staffer for providing nothing more than speculation to a journalist about North Korean intentions:

New revelations emerged yesterday in the Washington Post that are perhaps the most extreme yet when it comes to the DOJ's attacks on press freedoms. It involves the prosecution of State Department adviser Stephen Kim, a naturalized citizen from South Korea who was indicted in 2009 for allegedly telling Fox News' chief Washington correspondent, James Rosen, that US intelligence believed North Korea would respond to additional UN sanctions with more nuclear tests - something Rosen then reported. Kim did not obtain unauthorized access to classified information, nor steal documents, nor sell secrets, nor pass them to an enemy of the US. Instead, the DOJ alleges that he merely communicated this innocuous information to a journalist - something done every day in Washington - and, for that, this arms expert and long-time government employee faces more than a decade in prison for "espionage".

If you think it is an exaggeration to say that is this how gulag states begin, then you are gambling with the very freedoms that this nation was founded upon.

In a commentary in today's Truthout, Chris Hedges despairs,

Seizing the AP phone logs is part of the corporate state’s broader efforts to silence all voices that defy the official narrative, the state’s Newspeak, and hide from public view the inner workings, lies and crimes of empire. The person or persons who provided the classified information to the AP will, if arrested, mostly likely be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. That law was never intended when it was instituted in 1917 to silence whistle-blowers. And from 1917 until Barack Obama took office in 2009 it was employed against whistle-blowers only three times, the first time against Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The Espionage Act has been used six times by the Obama administration against government whistle-blowers, including Thomas Drake.

The government’s fierce persecution of the press—an attack pressed by many of the governmental agencies that are arrayed against WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and activists such as Jeremy Hammond—dovetails with the government’s use of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force to carry out the assassination of U.S. citizens; of the FISA Amendments Act, which retroactively makes legal what under our Constitution was once illegal—the warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of tens of millions of U.S. citizens; and of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which permits the government to have the military seize U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them in indefinite detention. These measures, taken together, mean there are almost no civil liberties left.

A handful of corporate oligarchs around the globe have everything—wealth, power and privilege—and the rest of us struggle as part of a vast underclass, increasingly impoverished and ruthlessly repressed. There is one set of laws and regulations for us; there is another set of laws and regulations for a power elite that functions as a global mafia.

Obama came into office in 2009 promising a contraction of executive powers and change that would open the government up to the disinfectant of sunlight and accountability.

Instead, he has borrowed the playbook from the Kremlin of the cold war period.  He is putting into place a surveillance state that will be difficult to roll back.

The indefatigable guardian of the Constitution, Greenwald, warns of the darkness of that is falling upon the right to keep our government from becoming a secret state with uncontested powers to control information, invade privacy, prosecute whistleblowers, and make illegal the very process of investigative reporting:

This week, the New Republic's Molly Redden describes what I've heard many times over the past several years: national security reporters have had their ability to engage in journalism severely impeded by the Obama DOJ's unprecedented attacks, and are operating in a climate of fear for both their sources and themselves. Redden quotes one of the nation's best reporters, the New Yorker's Jane Mayer, this way:

It's a huge impediment to reporting, and so chilling isn't quite strong enough, it's more like freezing the whole process into a standstill."

Redden says that "the DOJ's seizure of AP records will probably only exacerbate these problems." That's certainly true: as surveillance expert Julian Sanchez wrote in Mother Jones this week, there is ample evidence that the Obama DOJ's seizure of the phone records of journalists extends far beyond the AP case. Recall, as well, that the New York Times' Jim Risen is currently being pursued by the Obama DOJ, and conceivably faces prison if he refuses to reveal his source for a story he wrote about CIA incompetence in Iran.

Like the fog, through right wing and neo-liberal governments alike, the chill of despotism is settling in for a long stay.