William Hague, U.K. Foreign Secretary, made a statement to the House of Commons today in response to British concerns about the Prism operation. He made the following remarks which I fear sum up the insidious logical fallacies of our own government as well.

First he claims the government has to operate in secret because the enemies of the country act in secret. He then lavishes compliments on those in the government who are engaged in secret undertakings saying if only the people could know how fine and wonderful they are, the people would feel very confident about the work they do.

After saying the government must be secretive with respect to informing its citizens, in this case about an intelligence gathering capability, he admonishes terrorists, spies and criminals to be aware that the government has capabilities to protect its citizens from evil deeds.

We should never forget that threats are launched at us secretly, new weapons systems and tactics are developed secretly and countries or terrorists groups that plan attacks or operations against us do so in secrecry. So, the methods we use to combat these threats must be secret just as they must always be lawful.

Mr. Speaker, if the citizens of this country could see the time and care taken in making these decisions, the carefully targetted nature of all our interventions and the strict controls in place to ensure the law and our democratic values are upheld. And, if they could witness, as I do, the integrity and professionalsim of the men and women of our intelligence agencies who are among the very finest public servants our nation has, then I believe they would reassured by how we go about this essential work.

The British people can be confident in the way our agencies work to keep them safe, but would-be terrorists, those seeking to spy against this country, or those who are the center of organized crime, should be aware that this country has the capablity and partnership to protect its citizens against the full range of threats in the 21st century and that we will always do so in accordance with our laws and values but with constant resolve and determination.

It does not logically follow that a government must act in secret because criminals act in secret. The same argument could be made for acting illegally.

When the people do not even know what programs and operations are in place it does not help to be told that the government employees implementing those programs are glowing examples of human kind. It is primarily the nature of the programs that are a threat moreso than the personnel hired to implement them although it would be informative to know that as well.

Finally, why is it that terrorists, spies and criminals should be aware that governments are engaged in operations to monitor them but the law-abiding citizens should not be informed they are subject to similar surveillance?

Citizens of a democratic country realize the operational details of their government’s intelligence work are not to be openly shared. It is preposterous to suggest that is what is expected. It is not acceptable to keep citizens unaware of wholesale data collection on every law-abiding citizen just in case the government believes there is a reason to further invade your privacy at some point in the future. Law-abiding citizens as well as criminals expect governments to engage in covert intelligence against criminals. Why would anyone assume law-abiding citizens are subjects of covert government operations as well?

The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”
—- Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry was speaking about Congress conducting its business in secret. He also conceded there are exceptions…

…affairs of great consequence, the immediate promulgation of which might defeat the interests of the community, I would not wish to be published, till the end which required their secrecy should have been effected.

The public has a right to know what authority the government claims in gathering data on citizens, what kind of information is obtained, how often it is collected, how long it is stored. The executive branch has given us misleading information or outright lied about the surveillance programs–

SENATOR RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?


WYDEN: It does not?

CLAPPER: Not willingly.

yet expects us to trust that the programs are benign to law-abiding citizens. The Senate defeated amendments protecting internet and phone privacy, but we are to be assured there is adequate oversight. There is some question whether some FISA court orders go beyond their legal authority.

The acts of terrorists, spies and criminals do not legitimize the acts of governments against law-abiding people. If governments begin to believe they can act like criminals for the presumed good of the people there is no other end than a police state.

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6 Comments | Leave a comment
  1. strider says:

    Prism? Seems more like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

  2. Alain41 says:

    Remember how one congressman was concerned over the AP phone tapping that Congress’ cloak room phones were tapped and that that was a separation of powers issue. Should point out to Congress that NSA datamining includes all Congressional phones, cell phones, internet connections, skype, Republican National Committee phones, etc. Do they think, no separation of powers issue there?

  3. Maynard says:

    I’m trying to sift through the various scandals, because some strike me as more important than others.

    With respect to the latest phone and Internet stuff…my initial reaction is this isn’t very important. I mean, postured indignation aside, I’ve never felt secure from snoops on my phone records or Internet transactions. There’s just too much of a paper trail, sitting there, waiting for someone to access it. I’m not saying I’m okay with what the government is doing, but are we really surprised?

    I’ll also acknowledge that there are legitimate reasons for selective government snooping, just as there are legitimate reasons for Obama to maintain a “kill list”.

    The biggest scandal on this phone/Internet issue isn’t what the government is doing; the strange angle is that what we’re seeing Obama doing strikes most of us as the opposite of what he told us he was doing. So some of the lefties are disappointed in their hero, who has “lost all credibility”. But it’s not like any of those people are now going to vote Republican. As a political matter, though, this may reinforce the thing we’ve been saying for a long time: Obama is a liar, and he says whatever he needs to say to get his 51% of the vote, and then does whatever he wants. Obama’s defenders will not be quite so smug anymore.

    The IRS strikes me as a much bigger scandal, since it is a systematic attack on political free speech. Obama’s proclamations of distance and shock ring utterly false. We all know the IRS was doing exactly what he telegraphed them he wanted. Just as a dog knows when its master wants it to attack.

    And Benghazi strikes me as a much bigger scandal, since it’s beyond denial that Obama and Hillary and Rice trumpeted a major fabricated fantasy for the purpose of muddying the waters so people wouldn’t get a clear picture of Obama’s failures. Thus an al Qaeda military assault became a demonstration that got out of hand. Instead of facing the enemy that took our embassy and slaughtered our people, Obama and Hillary and Rice used their lying narrative to rail against the “hateful video” that nobody had ever heard of. Instead of an Administration failure with deadly consequences, Obama’s talking points focused on greater sensitivity to Muslims. We ended up jailing a man for making a YouTube video. There’s your assault on the 1st Amendment.

    And of course the criminal investigation of a Fox reporter strikes me as a bigger scandal, for reasons that are obvious enough.

    Back to the phone/email stuff…It seems to me we dealt the Fourth and Fifth Amendments a death blow when we passed the income tax a century ago. It wasn’t obvious at the time, but in retrospect it becomes obvious: When the government taxes your income, you’re stripped of all financial privacy. The government must know what you have, where you got it from, and where it went. You must turn yourself in, and turn in everyone you transact with. Your employer reports on you, as does your bank. And if there’s any question, the burden is placed on you to prove your innocence. That’s a dangerous situation, and the IRS scandal makes it clear that — well, as the New York Times said — “Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive branch will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it.” Welcome to post-Constitutional America, comrades.

    So we’ve come to a dire situation, but this business of telephone data being monitored strikes me as pretty much a footnote.

  4. Alain41 says:

    I think the NSA snooping is a big story. Article from March 2012, discusses exactly what Snowden said and points out that Congress specifically denied this in 2002, but Bush started it anyway in 2003. Executive branch spying on Americans when it was specifically not authorized by Congress is a big deal. #RuleofLaw

    “A new feature story in this month’s Wired blows the lid off plans for a massive new National Security Agency data center in Utah that represents the resurrection of a program that Congress killed in 2003, known as “Total Information Awareness,” targeting literally all electronic communications all over the world — including those made by American citizens….When Congress struck down the Pentagon’s “Total Information Awareness” program, they did, however, authorize funding for ”processing, analysis, and collaboration tools for counter terrorism foreign intelligence,” which is precisely how the NSA describes this data center. Just a year after that authorization, Bamford notes that the Department of Energy founded a computing facility where scientists developed technology that was secretly being funneled to the NSA for the data center currently under construction….”

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