Repeal the PATRIOT Act is the Lesson of Bush White House Spying

Very unfortunately, President Obama just signed a four-year extension of the so-called PATRIOT Act, with three central provisions that permit warrantless spying by government agencies on US residents. This extension was rushed through the Congress with parliamentary maneuvers and opponents of it who wanted a public debate were shut down by Reid and Boehner.

If the Bush White House blithely picked up the phone and asked the Central Intelligence Agency to gather information on my private life for the purpose of destroying me politically– a set of actions that was illegal every which way from Sunday– then imagine how powerful government officials are using the legal authorization they receive from the PATRIOT Act to spy on and marginalize perceived opponents.

The act is clearly unconstitutional and guts key Bill of Right protections. Among its disturbing aspects is the access it gives government agencies to individuals’ library records, business records and other personal effects without requiring probable cause of a crime being committed. And while the wiretap provisions target non-US citizens, they extend to any conversations the latter have with US citizens. The framers of the constitution in any case believed that the liberties they proclaimed extended to “all men,” not just citizens.

Worse, Sen. Ron Wyden has said that there is a “secret PATRIOT Act” in the sense that there is a government interpretation of the act that allows surveillance and intrusiveness far beyond what the letter of the statute seems to permit.
The scale of the electronic surveillance of Americans’ private correspondence by the National Security Agency is barely imaginable, and we have no idea how much of our communications are being stored on NSA servers and sifted through by computer programs.

The Congress should revisit the PATRIOT Act in the light of the revelation of what was attempted in my regard, and should repeal the damn thing. Failing that, the federal judiciary should find it unconstitutional, which it is. But one of the things that worries me is that some of the key political and judicial personnel who might want to move against it may themselves already have been victims of surveillance, entrapment and blackmailing. Just how corrupt has our whole governmental apparatus become, that clear violations of our Constitution are blithely accepted?

30 Responses

  1. The whole system is caterwampus. You, professor Cole, are perceived as a war critic and a liberal. Stephen Colbert said that reality has a liberal bias.

    This blog has always been a source of relatively unbiased information. The only people giving it a political slant are the lying liars who resent the way your blog provides information that gets in the way of their delusions.

    It makes no sense until you consider that fear drives conservatives, and protection from perceived threats is all they seek, even if the protection is to be feared more than the threat they conjure. Enter the Koch brothers to fuel the idiocy.

    The NY Times article called you a critic of the war. The facts and reason were critical of the war, and all you did was present them.

    • To which I must add,

      And to oppose this blog is outrageous. There must be an investigation because when the truth is suppressed, then we no longer have any freedoms because the primary freedom is to perceive reality without interference.

      Remember, these are the same people who torched Valerie Flame for petty politic purposes. They deserve nothing but hard time.

  2. This is an interesting discussion. It seems this discussion has been going on in the United States since the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts.

    It is a true shame the underlings in the Bush Administration desired to discredit Dr. Juan Cole, as his well reasoned thoughts and insightful observations could have been well used to focus the war towards America’s true enemies.

    It is a dangerous world out there, and there are enemies of our nation. But there are also many people of good will out there that simply desire the freedom and peace required to do business, earn a living, and share the good life with their children, family, and friends.

  3. The Bush administrations actions have had one positive effect they allowed me to learn about your excellent blog. Please continue your work. Thank you.

  4. Fundamentally, I agree with you, but I do acknowledge the political realities—if there are any slip-ups on the security front, the GOP will be all over Obama as not caring about national security. If this were to occur after Obama had spearheaded a repeal of the (un-)Patriot Act, it would be that much worse for him. I think this is a form of domestic “political defense.” I think/hope/pray that, if he is re-elected, he will let the Act lapse. I do find the timing interesting—the extension means it will come up for renewal in 2015. I also acknowledge that I could be wrong—Presidents throughout history have had a habit of working to acquire more power.

    Keep up the good work—I read the blog regularly and post the best entries on Facebook in a no doubt vain attempt to educate my right-wing friends ;-)

    JFE

  5. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness… The first encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

  6. A “secret PATRIOT Act”? Sounds like double secret probation from Animal House. I know we should be worried about this, but sometimes, they just sound like a lot of fools.

  7. “The act is clearly unconstitutional and guts key Bill of Right protections. Among its disturbing aspects is the access it gives government agencies to individuals’ library records, business records and other personal effects without requiring probable cause of a crime being committed. And while the wiretap provisions target non-US citizens, they extend to any conversations the latter have with US citizens. The framers of the constitution in any case believed that the liberties they proclaimed extended to “all men,” not just citizens.”

    Would the Patriot Act fall under the definition of fascism?

    Have been pushing BBC world Service and other outlets to have Prof Cole on their programs.

  8. Sure appears they are going off the cliff with surveillance. Similar to the body checks at airports. Fondling 3 years old children at airports etc. Dangerous territory. Wonder what Jefferson and the rest of the founder fathers would think about all of this spying on American citizens?

  9. When you return to the United States, I hope that you contact both your member of Congress and the ACLU to pursue this matter as far as possible. We’ve known since at least 2003 that the Bush Administration not only acted illegally over and over again, but sought to subvert the Constitution. Remember that it was Bush The Younger himself who told a meeting in 2002 where the pre-ordained war in Iraq was being discussed, “Don’t throw the Constitution in my face. The Constitution’sjust a goddamned piece of paper!”

    That the Obama Administration decided – before the president was even inaugerated – not to pursue an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity by the “loyal Bushies” will forever be a black mark in history against it.

  10. Further to my earlier post, in looking at the history of the Bush Administration, it strikes me that it seems quite likely the phone call was probably make by David Addington or convicted felon Scooter Libby – perhaps acting in response to something Dick Cheney suggested or asked about.

    After all, it was Addington and Libby who were responsible for outing Valerie Plame. If they’d destroy the career of a valuable and highly experienced CIA operative to strike a political blow, why not go after a hapless academic?

  11. Juan, this battle was lost, many years ago, possibly during the presidency of John F. Kennedy and certainly by the time of the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” under Lyndon B. Johnson. All we see now are the futile imaginings of those who continue to insist that this system is capable of reforming itself. Such imaginings are not merely in vain, but they are a disservice, for they mislead the naive into believing that there are people of good will in power, and that such people may be persuaded to act to restore “democracy” through the right of petition for the redress of grievances.

    This problem is far more serious than that. In this system, it is likely that even if people of good will were “elected” in a process that loses much of its meaning with an ineffective dichotomy between Republicans and Democrats (with the latter aspiring to be the former), they would be coerced, corrupted, or otherwise induced to uphold the status quo.

  12. The Patriot Act is “unconstitutional” only if a majority of politically appointed Supreme Court justices say so. And the slow-drip court-packing since Reagan pretty much ensures the permanence (barring some kind of American Arab Spring) the difference between “rule OF law,” as the rabble understands it and beeeleeeeves it to exist as a barrier against arbitrary overlordism, and the “rule BY law,” where the Kleptocrats take full advantage of The People’s weepy belief in how “the constitution” enshrines and protects Their Freedom, using legislation and regulations and judicial decisions to render “not illegal” all the stuff that’s being done to them and to protect and defend the theft of all the Real Wealth that they work so assiduously to create.

  13. Juan…you´re the man. I love your opinions…especially your opinions. Keep them coming and don´t let them scare you. a fellow traveler.

    thebrokencorral.wordpress.com

  14. Thank you again Juan Cole for your forthright commentary. One has to wonder now what real difference it makes who is in the White House. I remember the warnings many years ago from less-fearful Senators about the power of the NSA. Now we are seeing it come to pass.

    Even those of us who simply voice criticism of the current president and his limp Attorney General and the past ignorant president and his pygmy AGs, or of the power-mad Republicans and Democrats in the Congress….do we go on a list?

    From Chris Hedge’s recent piece on Kafka’s America:

    “We no longer have freedom; there is only the appearance of freedom. We are consumed by an endless and vague war on terror in which the perfidiousness of our enemy, whose number, location and nature are never clearly defined, justifies the shredding of constitutional rights, torture, kidnapping, detentions without charges or trials and an occult-like battle against an absolute evil. And if you think the state intends to limit itself to the persecution of Muslims, especially once there is an increase in domestic unrest and instability, you know little about human history.”

  15. “But one of the things that worries me is that some of the key political and judicial personnel who might want to move against it may themselves already have been victims of surveillance, entrapment and blackmailing.”

    Is there any reason to think that this is not true already? It certainly would explain a lot about why things happen (or don’t happen) they way they do.

  16. Heartiest congratulations! I can hardly imagine a higher honor than to be targeted for personal destruction by the war criminals of the Bush Administration.

  17. I recall the interesting 2001 Jim Carrey film “The Majestic” which was a semi-fictional look into the Joseph McCarthy era in the early 1950s.

    One character commented that the Constitution was nothing more than a piece of paper with writing on it and signatures at the bottom, in other words a contract.

    He went on to state that all contracts are subject to renegotiation, and that the McCarthy people were the people doing the renegotiating.

    Is it not clear that this is the view of the Constitution held by the great majority of our elected Federal officials (with Kucinich and Paul shining exceptions)?

    So dear readers, if you do not like the outcome of the renegotiations, fire the current negotiators and get new ones.

    Hopefully the new ones will not sell you out as did this group.

  18. Our democracy apparently is very weak when the executive branch can violate the Constitution with impunity.

    A few months ago the website Truthout was hacked making archives of some writings unavailable, including my op-ed “The Iraq War and Crony Democracy.” There appears to be a greater intolerance of those who dissent from our government’s erroneous policies, foreign and domestic. Our television media rarely reports on colossal and incompetent government failures that are reported in the often excellent print media. The disconnect is so wide that we do not have adequate television reporting of the shortcoming of our government, where many people, if not the majority receive their “news”.

  19. Prof. Cole, I am sure this disturbing news about the Cheney Administration trying to get the CIA to find dirt on you affects you emotionally in ways that are hard to express. There’s something about the mere threat that just has to creep you out.

    I’m probably paranoid, but during that same era, when Today in Iraq, to which I contribute (now called Iraq Today) was getting a lot of traffic, I suddenly found that every time I flew, I got pulled aside for extra screening and a hand search through my carry-on. As an academic who goes to conferences I fly quit a lot, so I had a decent sample. This happened 4 or 5 times in a row — the agent would look at my boarding pass and announce, “The carrier has selected you for additional screening.” It could not have been a coincidence. Once I went to Mexico and I got a major search and interrogation before I could get on the flight back to the U.S.

    It makes you wonder.

    • What’s to wonder? “Government,” particularly imperial/regal government, has always attracted a self-selected bunch of authoritarian, tyrannical, despotic, rigid, doctrinaire humans, who then go about systematically assembling institutions and staff that in a wonderful, cancerous positive-feedback loop, create the conditions for more such grow-in-the-dark fungi to prosper. And like virulent, untreatable cancer, eventually kill the patient.

      And from all I have ever read and studied about Rome — the Empire, and the various royal and ecclesiastical courts of Europe and Asia, what we suffer today from the Beltway Bubbleheads is nothing new. Lobbying, fraud, theft on a grand scale, repression, “state security” generally, sycophants aplenty, control of information and “management of reality,” threat creation, all of it. And many totally cynical participants, who know their sinfulness and wallow in it and the pleasures that power and unaccounted wealth bring (a la Kissinger and his “Power is the uldimade avrodisiac,” and in case you’re too young or callow to remember, link to en.wikipedia.org) and a lot more mopes who just go along because “everyone else is doing it.” See the “Milgram experiments” and similar trials.

      Ain’t a-gonna change, no, not ever, unless there is some grand surgence (can’t be REsurgence, since we ain’t never risen up to a high moral state ever before)… It’s who we are, what we are, where we are, why we are. Best we can do is make little enclaves for ourselves and our families and near, dear friends, like the band of semi-decent people in their compound in good old “Mad Max…”

      Apologies to Professor Cole, and all the others who have been given the on-the-way-to-the-Gulag treatment by “those people.” I wish I and a huge number of others could say that I’ve, we’ve, tried harder to keep the toadstools in check…

  20. The Patriot Act is a lengthy bit of legislation with numerous sections. Some of them are right at the edge of Constitutional authority.

    —”The act is clearly unconstitutional and guts key Bill of Right protections. “—

    is an overstatement.

    Fear and anger and outrage often produce overly broad reactions.

    • Fus, you are one heck of an apologist. Keep chipping away… I hope, if you end up on the “winning” side, that you and your heirs, if you have any, enjoy what you gain by it…

      “overstatement?” What bunk. link to scn.org
      link to msnbc.msn.com
      and I am sure you can pull up lots of WRONG Wing cites that “prove” your “position” too.

  21. Hi professor Cole,
    I admire your desire to spread truth via this blog. I will recommend this website to my friends. Hopefully they take as much interest in politics as I do. Please continue what your doing, regardless of what the media or government says.

  22. Careful, prof. Cole–you are in dangerous territory here–actually writing the TRUTH.

  23. Chaps

    It is time to drop a few euros, pounds, dollars and similar in the collection tin,

    If Professor Cole is going to become the focus of a campaign to roll back the subversion of your liberties, and the creeping onset of fascism, he is going to need some very expensive lawyers.

  24. Just how corrupt has our whole governmental apparatus become, that clear violations of our Constitution are blithely accepted?

    Damningly rhetorical

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