Over a year after the Edward Snowden leaks, the NSA and its defenders have still not quit. They are still waging a public relations battle against civil liberties activists and other critics to keep invasive, ubiquitous spying on all Americans a reality. A recent example of this comes from Politico Magazine which featured an article titled “The Truth About Executive Order 12333” by the civil liberties protection officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Alexander Joel.
Joel’s Politico piece is a response to a Washington Post op/ed by former state department employee John Napier Tye, who claimed that Executive Order 12333 is even more dangerous to Americans’ privacy rights than Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
Signed into existence by President Reagan, it allows the collection of Americans’ communications with no court order as long as it is ‘incidental’ and apart of a ‘lawful foreign intelligence investigation.’ These classifications are vague enough to allow widespread abuses, Tye argued. It also allows the NSA to exist in its present form. This should alarm privacy rights advocates the most.
Joel’s opinion piece was meant to address the concerns posed by Tye, and allay any concerns that the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) whom he works for are up to no good.
Joel did not do a particularly convincing job of defending his bosses. He began by claiming that the FISA Court, which has already been exposed as little more than a rubberstamp for limitless government power, is an effective measure of oversight. Afterward, he made an even more audacious statement. He claimed that Attorney General Eric Holder needs to approve the procedures outlined in Executive Order 12333, and that this provides an “important additional check.” In addition, the DNI, Department of Defense and NSA provide more alleged oversight. Joel expects mere assurances from state employees to quell the fears and skepticism of Americans, but that is a tough sell in the post-Snowden era.
The sum of what Joel wrote for Politico is: “Trust us. We know what we are doing.”
Snowden definitely proved that the NSA and its defenders could not be trusted. He proved that we cannot trust an army of bureaucrats to do what is right for the people. When Joel mentions the accountability resulting of the feds policing themselves, it is a shallow argument, and not supported by the facts. It might have carried some water before Snowden, but now it is laughed off by serious, well-informed individuals.
It is no surprise that someone like Joel would take this stance though. After all, he reports directly to James Clapper. Clapper infamously lied under oath to Congress about the NSA’s spying operation. Since he was exposed for his deceitful, criminal behavior, no charges have been filed. There has been no prosecution of Clapper to speak of. Joel still reports to this man, and yet he claims to be a defender of civil liberties. How can this be? How is Joel supposed to be protecting Americans’ rights from being violated when his boss and paymaster is one of the most egregious violators of rights within the government?
Joel’s screed is reminiscent of Baghdad Bob’s infamous speech assuring everyone that Saddam Hussein’s government was fine as Iraq literally fell to pieces around him. Joel similarly assures the public that the emperor has clothes on when Snowden’s revelations permanently changed the public’s perception forever. There is no putting the genie back in the bottle at this point, no matter how much slick propaganda the feds issue. Everyone knows what the NSA is doing, and transparency can no longer be avoided by the snoopers.
The NSA and its underlings have been caught lying on so many occasions that they have exhausted their credibility. Alexander Joel may be a nice, well-intentioned fellow for all we know. However, he works for an agency and a government that has broken the public trust far too many times with the people. These wounds cannot be healed by trite lip service. We need huge changes in the status quo. We need substantive reforms. We need indictments. What we don’t need is more PR spin telling us that everything is going to be alright as long as we obey our government.
That is why the OffNow Project exists. While the federal government sits on its hands, we get involved from the bottom up to force changes to our broken system. Instead of accepting the same old excuses from bureaucrats, we must become the leaders ourselves to do what is necessary to preserve the 4th Amendment.