If You Build It, They Will Come

big brotherJust over one month after repeated assurances from the government that the NSA’s data-collection program wasn’t anything like what we thought it was, we’re now finding out that they were right.  It’s worse.

A review of some recent headlines:

“NSA ‘dragnet’ wider than previously suspected” – NBC News

“Report: NSA Searches and Stores Americans’ Emails” – Mashable.com

“The NSA is giving your phone records to the DEA. And the DEA is covering it up” – Washington Post

“White House: NSA monitors ‘very small percentage’ of Web traffic” – The Hill

“US directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans” – Reuters

“Other Agencies Clamor for Data NSA Compiles” – New York Times

“FBI pressures Internet providers to install surveillance software” – CNET

“IRS manual instructed agents how to hide secret DEA/NSA intel” – Reuters

Despite the fact that when the scandal first broke, the government claimed that it was just harvesting “meta data” – supposedly just the same records that your phone company has – we now learn what most people suspected: that they are indeed collecting emails, texts, Internet search and social media data, along with some content.  Further, the snooping isn’t limited to communications from terrorist suspects outside the US, but covers those between regular people right here in the good ol’ US of A.

We were told that this was exclusively about stopping terrorists, but now we find out that the NSA has been sharing its notes with the DEA to assist in its investigations too.  Worse, the DEA is hiding the use of that information from judges and prosecutors; meaning there’s no legitimate oversight of their criminal surveillance practices, making it harder for defendants to challenge the evidence against them.

Now before you shrug this off as not being your problem, (hey, it’s drug dealers!), read further.

According to a New York Times report last week, other government agencies have been looking to get their hands in the NSA’s treasure chest too, in order to “curb drug trafficking, cyber-attacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and even copyright infringement”.

Still not close enough to home?  A Reuters report found that the IRS had also been receiving NSA intelligence by way of the DEA connection.  You’ve dealt with the IRS before, haven’t you?  Remember, those are the guys whose leadership and staffers have been found to deliberately target certain Americans based on their political beliefs.

The other reason these agencies want access to the NSA’s data is that any warrants they get for their own investigations have to be specific, whereas the NSA obtains its vast data through secret, generalized warrants.  It’s just easier not to follow the rules.

What we have now with the NSA is an agency that is taking advantage of the legitimate need Americans see in spying on our enemies to build a vast infrastructure that is now being directed at us, even if just incrementally.  But as long as such an infrastructure exists, it WILL be used for things that neither Congress nor the American people ever intended.

It is metastasizing into less of an intelligence agency and more of an intelligence warehouse that is subject to being accessed by other government agencies whose missions would never allow them to conduct this type of spying on Americans.

If you build it, they will come.

Meanwhile, some politicians on both sides of the aisle act as though there’s nothing to see here.  Liberals who manage to find a right to an abortion hiding in the Fourth Amendment don’t seem to know the meaning of the right of Americans to “be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects”.  And some “conservatives” have forgotten that one of the defining aspects of real conservatism is a very healthy dose of skepticism and distrust of government.

But the politics here is clearly on the side of liberty.  Sixty-nine percent of Americans believe that this is a real scandal that needs to be taken seriously, despite Obama’s lumping it into what he recently referred to as “phony scandals”. Most people think it’s a pretty big deal.

It is now possible to construct a government that could legally snoop on the content of every conversation we have, know everywhere we go, when and with whom, (via cell phone location data and closed circuit cameras), every dollar we spend, when, where and on what – and record every bit of it.  And that information would most certainly enable the government to catch a lot of bad guys and save a lot of lives, but would that make it worth the costs?

Once we decide that we are willing to give up “x” in exchange for more security, we’ll soon hear from the “If it would save a single life” crowd telling us that we should also be willing to give up “y”, and then “z”, etc..

As Ben Franklin put it, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

We’re on a slippery slope.

A quick guide to Obama’s scandalrama

If you feel like you need a program to keep up with the rash of scandals coming out of Washington, you’re not alone.  There’s stifling of political opposition, lying to Congress, intimidation of whistle blowers, lying to the public and a healthy dose of general incompetence.

Suffice it to say that Obama has found his legacy.  He has set the new presidential speed record for achieving lame-duck status, going from inauguration to irrelevance in just four months.  With three major scandals all coming to a boil at the same time, Democrats will be distancing themselves in droves before the dust settles.

The IRS Hokey-Pokey

All of America just found out what many conservative groups have known all along – that the IRS has spent years targeting them in order to minimize how effective they can be.

New information confirms that over a course of three years the IRS singled out groups for abuse if their names or descriptions included certain keywords like “tea party”, “9-12”, “patriot”, “constitution”, “voter fraud”, “government spending”, “limited government” or “Bill of Rights”.

The IRS demanded that such groups turn over more information about their activities, their donors, their websites and social media accounts, even asking questions about the political beliefs of personnel.  Worse, at least one liberal group has admitted that the IRS sent them confidential copies of applications and other documents from thirty-one conservative groups.

Despite initial White House claims that the problem was just a bunch of low-level bureaucrats, we now know that top IRS appointees in Washington knew all about it – including IRS commissioners and chief counsels.

In the end, the abuse affected almost five-hundred conservative groups, with none receiving tax-exempt status for over twenty-seven straight months – time enough to reduce their impact on the 2012 elections.  Meanwhile, liberal groups with words like “progressive” in their titles zipped right through the approval process.

There even seems to be evidence that such government abuse extended to other agencies.  One group that was founded to fight against voter fraud found itself the target of an alphabet soup of government agencies, including a series of FBI inquiries about the group and its founders, ATF demands to see the family’s firearms, surprise audits of the founder’s gun dealership, and an OSHA audit of a family manufacturing business.

There are already calls from Congress for a special prosecutor to conduct an independent investigation, and once such a process gets started it can lead pretty much anywhere.  Just ask Bill Clinton.

The Benghazi Shuffle

Despite months of disinterest by the press, the Obama administration is facing serious questions and a probable congressional select committee over how it dealt with the September 11th attacks on our consulate in Benghazi.

There are three key elements to the scandal:

First, why did our State Department ignore repeated requests for more security from our diplomatic personnel in a place that intelligence agencies had reported as being frequented by terrorists?

Second, when our people were under attack, why didn’t our government begin moving Heaven and earth to help them?  The White House claims there wasn’t time, as it would have taken too long to respond.  But since they didn’t know “when” it would be over, why weren’t assets put in motion and kept in motion until it was?

Third, in the immediate aftermath why did the administration insist that this was just a violent movie review instead of a terrorist attack?  Who whitewashed the official story of any references to terrorists, and why?  (OK, you probably know the answer to that one, but they’ll never admit it.)

The biggest loser in this one is going to be Hillary.  The odds that she will now actually have to fight for the 2016 nomination are increasing by the day.

The Telephone (records) Blues

This is the most recent and, for the press, the most creepy of the scandals.

The Justice Department admitted this week that it grabbed two months worth of phone records for over twenty phone lines used by the Associated Press in the Capitol Building, in addition to the personal phone records of at least five reporters in the process of investigating who leaked a story about a potential terrorist attack back in 2011.

Of course subpoenaing phone records is nothing new, but there are rules and procedures to follow which were ignored, plus two months worth is a rather wide net to cast.  What future sources and whistle blowers are going to be confident that their anonymity will be protected now?  Will they have to return to the days of trench coats and dark parking garages in order to avoid the prying eyes of Big Brother?

This scandal probably has shorter legs than the others, but it has burned a lot of goodwill in what has otherwise been Obama’s steno pool.  Goodwill he will probably need when it comes to how they cover the other scandals.

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The danger for Democrats is that Americans will note that these abuses of government power come courtesy of the same people who keep asking us to trust bigger and bigger government with more and more influence over our lives.