OK, let's try to puzzle out together some recent political events. The
unifying thread will appear; it always does because it's always there,
even if sometimes out of conscious reach.
1. Why would the Bush Administration deliberately break the law by
engaging in electronic surveillance of Americans without getting the
required court warrants?
Since the rubber-stamp FISA court had turned down only five applications
for domestic spying warrants out of about 15,000 since its inception in
1979, why wouldn't the Bush Administration automatically go to it for the
required warrants? One implication, certainly, is that even the amenable
FISA court might rebel when it found out the true motives and scope of the
ongoing domestic spying, for, you see, Bush's order to NSA to engage in
massive communication surveillance preceded 9/11. See
Domestic Spying Before 9/11" and
"How Cheney Used
the NSA for Domestic Spying Prior to 9/11.
The Busheviks say they decided not to use FISA because the government
needs the speed and flexibility to move quickly, and agents can't keep
running to the secret court each time. But the law has a built-in proviso
that permits NSA to move quickly in an emergency and fill out the required
paperwork later, within three days.
The technology is now much more advanced that it was in the old
"wire-tapping" days, when police agencies wanted to listen in on someone's
bedroom or office phone. Now humongous computer banks do data-mining of
millions of phone calls (land-line, cell, satellite) and email messages to
and from Americans; they sweep up, and government agents check out, masses
of "suspects," based on words or patterns unearthed by the data-mining
programs. Of course, the vast majority of those "clues" turn out to be
Data After Sept. 11 Led F.B.I. to Dead Ends". Yet, regardless of that
reality and the invasion of ordinary citizens' privacy, the Bush
Administration continues the massive intercepts, and apparently will be
proudly citing this "national-security" program for the coming midterm
Rather than stay within the law by going to Congress and saying "Look, the
technology now requires blanket court warrants, so please amend the FISA
bill," the Bush Administration simply chose to ignore all attempts to
remain legal. They deliberately did not go to go to FISA court for
permission, or to Congress for rewriting the authorization bill -- and
they did (and are still doing) everything possible to keep the issue from
going into the federal courts. In deepest secrecy, they made themselves
the law and simply carried on, all the while trying to get into place
their Federalist Society-type judges, who would rule in favor of the
The Bush Bunker crew wants the freedom desired by all authoritarian
leaders: to act on their own, free of restraints, especially those coming
from the courts or legislature. Arrogant and insecure, they need to know
what everyone is thinking and doing, as a means of enhancing and
protecting their political power. If they accidentally wind up getting
some actionable intelligence about foreign terrorists, all the better.
So the short answer to the question as to why they Bush Administration
broke the law is that they felt they could get away with this top-secret
snooping on American citizens without anyone ever finding out. Once the
word leaked about what they actually were doing, they hauled out the
cockamamie "unitary executive" theory that asserts the President can
violate whatever laws he wants, whenever he wants to, because he's
"commander-in-chief" during "wartime." (The "war," never declared by
Congress, is Bush's "war on terrorism," which, we're told, will last
forever. Dictatorship for perpetuity.)
The Bush Administration utilized the same theory to justify Bush's
authorization of torture of prisoners in U.S. care. And, as political
insurance, it added one more rationale for the NSA spying: With a major
leap in interpretation, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for decades a
Bush toady, claims that the post-9/11 resolution authorizing Bush to use
"force" against al Qaida provides even more justification to monitor U.S.
citizens' communications. Even if this interpretation were correct -- and
most legal scholars think the opposite -- this war-authorization rationale
does not explain away the pre-9/11 surveillance of American citizens.
If I'm correct here, the reason the Bushies are fighting so hard to keep
anyone, including the FISA judges, from learning more about the real
reason for their massive domestic surveillance is that outsiders might
discover that it has less to do with foreign terrorists and more to do
with collecting info on their political enemies and thus creating
conditions for more firm control of the American populace in general.
THE NEW BIN LADEN AUDIOTAPE
2. Why the "new" Bin Laden audiotape now, warning of a coming attack on
The CIA, rather than independent experts (as was the case in years past),
announced that this audiotape was indeed made by bin Laden. Most of the
CIA's "recalcitrant" analysts and agents were purged last year by Bush's
hand-picked new director, Porter Goss, another malleable Bush loyalist.
Should one automatically trust the CIA's claim that this is an authentic
bin Laden tape?
The timing of its release is unusually convenient for the Administration,
when Bush's favorable numbers are plummeting and so many scandals are
exploding into public consciousness that impeachment possibilities are
being mentioned -- even by Republicans! Let us not forget that just before
the 2004 election, another such audiotape alleged to be from bin Laden
appeared, and was believed to have helped Bush in the balloting.
If the Bush Administration takes seriously this Osama bin Laden threat to
attack America again, why has the color-coded threat-level not been
Tom Ridge admitting, after he left the directorship of the Homeland
Security Department, that his White House superiors sent him out to issue
"terror-threat" warnings, with little or no evidence to back them up; the
clear implication is that political reasons were at play whenever Bush's
numbers started to tank or a new scandal erupted.
But even if the new "bin Laden tape" is genuine, it would merely
demonstrate that both religious/political extremists require each other,
for their own ends. In this theory, Bush needs bin Laden as the terrorist
boogeyman, to increase the fear quotient in the American citizenry and
thus permit his Administration to bend and twist the Constititution to aid
his own political agenda. And bin Laden needs Bush as the Western
imperialist boogeyman, for recruitment purposes and for solidifying the
growing anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world and his leading role
in that revolt.
THE "DISAPPEARING" OF AL GORE
3. Why the virtual absence of mainstream-media coverage of Al Gore's
amazingly tough speech last week?
Whether or not one finds merit in Gore's toughest charges in his
incendiary speech, the former Vice President of the United States (who,
don't forget, received more votes nationwide than Bush in the 2000
election) practically called the sitting President a lying crook whose
policies approach police-state status. He urged a Special Counsel to
investigate this Administration's alleged high crimes and misdemeanors,
especially those having to do with the destruction of the
checks-and-balances system in our governmental system, as evidenced by
Bush's illegal behavior in the NSA spying scandal.
By any definition, a former Vice President saying that a sitting President
is violating the Constitution is news. But one would be hard-pressed to
find any significant coverage, or even a mention, of it in the mainstream
media. It was as if it never happened.
In the so-called "liberal" media, PBS's The News Hour had no mention
Monday evening, even though the speech had been delivered around noontime,
and then no coverage Tuesday as well. The New York Times, the "newspaper
of record," buried a mention of Gore's speech in the final three
paragraphs of a long story about something else. ABC News had a quick
mention toward the end of its Monday broadcast, but no excerpts from the
speech. Nothing on CBS or NBC newscasts. (The entire speech was covered
verbatim on CSPAN, but not a lot of Americans watch that channel.)
One can only speculate why the mainstream media would freeze-out news of
such major import. It's easy enough to understand why the rightwing cable
networks and commentators would try to ignore or play down Gore's
hard-hitting charges against Bush, but the more serious journalists at
CBS? NBC? ABC? True, these are giant conglomerate-owned corporations, but
they've covered big anti-Bush stories before. (PBS was somewhat declawed
by its right-wing then-overseer, Ken Tomlinson, but usually the News Hour
With Jim Lehrer is more even-handed.)
No, it's clear that Gore's frontal attack on Bush Administration mendacity
and police-state tactics hit a raw nerve and network execs decided, either
after having been warned by Bush officials or by self-censoring their own
newscasts, that discretion was the better part of valor.
The result, of course, reminds one of the old koan: If a huge tree falls
in the forest and nobody hears it, was there a sound? Millions of American
citizens were deprived of hearing that loud sound, and thus having more
information available to make intelligent choices in a democracy.
Precisely what the Rove/Bush/Cheney forces were hoping for.
FISHING IN THE SEARCH-ENGINE PONDS
4. Why the Bush Administration's demand that Google, Yahoo, AOL and
other search-engines provide them with a week's worth of data about search
requests by their users?
The Bush Administration says the aim is not to collect personal
information, only generic patterns that will help convince the courts to
keep certain anti-pornography laws in place. It's hard to imagine that any
court would authorize such wide-sweeping fishing expeditions on an
unrelated matter with no reasonable criminal reason for the search -- but,
with Bush-appointed judges in place throughout the appellate court system,
who knows? (Note: Google says it will go to court to resist the
government's request for these archived, private records.)
The additional dangers of permitting such immense data searches are
1) The government's massive computer system may be capable of
back-tracking the data to email addresses of those seeking illegal porn on
the 'net, with harassment and arrests to follow.
The Busheviks assert that they have no such intent. But who supervises
what the government will do with this raw information? In short, who
polices the police? Would you trust the Bush Administration to do the
right thing? They've shown no evidence of that before, and have displayed
a willingness to hide the truth, distort and lie, to keep the public from
ever learning their dirty little secrets. In general, it's not wise to
trust ANY government with too much information about what you're up to,
but especially this government.
2) On the surface, the government's demanding to see all those millions of
searches focus on a subject designed to elicit support from the American
people -- stopping kiddie-porn. But feed that search-engine data into
NSA's massive computers and, voila, out comes whatever other info you want
to look for. In short, it's data-mining from another angle -- not through
phone calls and emails but through internet search-engines' databases.
Once the precedent is established with pornography, other "topics of
interest" might not be far behind.
3) One aim of the Bush Administration is to make citizens suspicious of
information sources other than the government and its far-right media
cohorts. The Busheviks already have made many people doubt the so-called
"liberal" mainstream media; now the target is the internet, a
free-flowing, difficult-to-control information-delivery system. How to
remove some of the respectability of that source of non-official (and
often anti-Bush) information? One way would be to let folks know that
everything they do on the internet -- even logging onto a search-engine
and surfing the web for information -- may well be observed by the
thought-police. More citizens might then choose to retire into their
individual data shells, and get their informational fixes through more
THE ARROGANCE OF UNCHECKED POWER
So, we've done the news-analysis dance. Can you spot the unstated
throughline in all the items discussed above? Yes, of course, it's the
reckless dangers associated with the arrogance and abuse of power, be it
corporate or governmental. "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power
We are living through one of America's darkest periods in its history,
when mendacity, the lust for power, and greed have corrupted even the best
of our institutions. There must be some way out of here, and right now the
exits can be found in stopping the worst actors from doing more damage
(see: Alito, Sam), starting impeachment hearings to learn the whole rotten
truth, and re-establishing electoral integrity by eschewing
easily-manipulated computer-voting systems and returning to paper ballots
hand-counted. A fair and honest election system certainly would help bring
more light into this dark time.
So, friends, there are ways out of here, but it will take lots of hard
work, money, energy and extreme courage. Get ready: It's going to get even
Let the rumpus begin.
Copyright 2006 by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught government &
international relations at various universities, worked as a writer/editor
with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers
(www.crisispapers.org). To comment, write: >> firstname.lastname@example.org <<.