Monday, July 23, 2007

What does it mean to be free?

Janet Nocek, a Connecticut librarian describes what it feels like to live in American under George Orwell Bush:

A gag order is very difficult to deal with. A person cannot tell her family or friends she has received a demand from the government to turn in information on another person. Whether you agree with the security-letter provision or not, receiving such a letter is an emotionally wrenching experience.

And if the government requires you to compromise your professional and personal ethics, it can be an intensely disturbing experience. You feel like a character in an Orwellian book. You feel trapped in a world that others like you may inhabit, but you cannot reach outside of that world to find out.

Ms. Nocek was aided in a lawsuit against the government by the American Civil Liberties Union and is now free to discuss parts of the case. Last March an anonymous citizen wrote this to the Washington Post:

Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case -- including the mere fact that I received an NSL -- from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

The inspector general's report makes clear that NSL gag orders have had even more pernicious effects. Without the gag orders issued on recipients of the letters, it is doubtful that the FBI would have been able to abuse the NSL power the way that it did. Some recipients would have spoken out about perceived abuses, and the FBI's actions would have been subject to some degree of public scrutiny. To be sure, not all recipients would have spoken out; the inspector general's report suggests that large telecom companies have been all too willing to share sensitive data with the agency -- in at least one case, a telecom company gave the FBI even more information than it asked for. But some recipients would have called attention to abuses, and some abuse would have been deterred.

I found it particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early 2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes in the law. The inspector general's report confirms that Congress lacked a complete picture of the problem during a critical time: Even though the NSL statute requires the director of the FBI to fully inform members of the House and Senate about all requests issued under the statute, the FBI significantly underrepresented the number of NSL requests in 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to the report.

So here's my question: How much longer do we have to live like this? All of this surveillance and the best we've turned up are several cells of Ninja clad goofballs playing YouTube worthy games, not actual terrorists. Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence, told Tim Russert yesterday that he is unaware of any Al Qaida sleeper cells in the United States. Couldn't that mean Al Qaida has been eradicated and we can declare the homefront battle on the Global War on Terror over and restore our civil liberties we have "temporarily suspended" to deal with the threat?

Silly Rabbit, republican tricks are for kids. No, our president just keeps amassing more and more authority pressing the 'fear' and 'panic' buttons to get the sheep to go along. And he's using it in areas that have nothing to do with National Security.


MUD said...

And what did all that freedom get us prior to Bush? The Kobar Towers, the assault on a Navy ship and finally 9/11. More people died in New York than in Pearl Harbor and yes we needed to make some changes. If people hat you so much that they are willing to strap on bombs (and airplanes) and kill us maybe we do need to make some changes. What price are you willing to pay to stay safe. Perhaps sometime in the future we will drop the patriot act but don't be surprised when something goes boom in NYC. MUD

Jess Wundrun said...

I'm sure you have heard the saying, mud:

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
--Benjamin Franklin

And you forgot to add the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in the list of terrorist attacks on America. Why not all out war on white christian far right wingers? Because that could include you?

Then, I guess I would direct you to Reverend Neimoller's famous poem, which begins "first they came for the communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist".

The price you want to pay for safety is much higher than what I am willing to pay.

Please forward a note among your friends that, according to you, we are no longer the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, but the land of the safe, home of the surveilled.

Splotchy said...

Nice post, jess!

And mud, thanks for sharing your views and opinions. If you wanna check out my blog, I'd love to hear your feedback (though mine is just as likely to be a series of fart jokes as informed political commentary).

I think it's much more interesting when someone brings their own thoughtful comment, a critique or a differing point of view, etc., as opposed to the "Nice post!" comments we see from time-to-time (like this one!).

Too often, blogging can take place in an insular world of similar viewpoints, so it's great when that bubble is poked a bit.

Splotchy said...

If that previous comment came across as condescending or obnoxious, my apologies.

Jess Wundrun said...

Not at all, Splotchy. You were a gentleman where I went straight to harpy.

I was feeling a little besieged today because in addition to Mud's post a good friend sent me one of those chain e-mails expressing how we ought to be hatin' on the muslims.

It is getting me down. The needle is pointing to 'flight' on the Fight or Flight meter today.

Oh, and I may have gone too far accusing mud of being a far right wing christian. Nothing in his bio or a quick perusal of his blog showed that to be the case. Maybe is maybe isn't.

White guy/ex military just like McVeigh, tho.

Johnny Yen said...

Orwell is an apt metaphor. One of the points that seems to be missed about Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four was the idea of modern nations creating the perpetual war state, in which civil rights and liberties are permanantly abridged due to the "threat."

I am furious when the Bushies portray themselves as our protectors. Read the 9/11 report. Their rank incompetence would be comic if it hadn't had such tragic results. For instance, if they hadn't ignored an FBI field agent frantically warning them that Arabic guys were training to fly jumbo jets, and not, they reported bothering to learn to take off and land the jets they were learning to fly. Or how about the airport security guy who almost lost his job in refusing entry to a guy because his paperwork was completely fucked-- and it turned out that the guy was supposed to be one of the 9/11 terrorists. If the agencies in place had just done their jobs, no law would have to be changed, no liberty need be taken away.

I love how they try to blame Clinton. Clinton agressively attacked Bin Laden-- when he ordered the military to attack Bin Laden's training camp with cruise missles, the very Republican idiots that are now claiming he didn't do enough were accusing him of "wag the dog"-- of using the attack to take attention from the Lewinsky affair.

Another thing that's missed is that it is the explicit intent of terrorism as a method to make your target overreact and attack it's own citizenry-- and restrict civil rights and liberties. With that as a measure, the terrorists have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

And of course, ironically, by entering into a war with a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, we've greatly increased the anger toward the United States among many peoples, increasing their willingness of to join in attacks on the United States, all while crippling our military ability to respond to real threats. "What changes am I willing to make?" How about starting by not giving people reasons to hate
us-- supporting horrific regimes like the Saudis, or downright genocidal ones, like the Guatemalan and Salvadoran governments in the eighties? And let me remind that we gave aid to both the Hussein regime in Iraq and Iran's regime during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. And of course, themujadeen in Afghanistan were trained and supplied by us. We now know them as the Taliban.

Dr. Zaius said...

Maybe it is just me, but I think the name of the person who first commented is very appropriate.

Suzy said...

There is a librarian blogger named Jessamyn West (no relation to the Quaker author) who put up a sign in her library that reads "The FBI has not been here today." Patrons are instructed to pay attention to the sign; if it is gone then they will know they've been there. Brilliantly subversive.

But in my library classes too many people are timid, meek or even conservative; censorship is OK, etc.