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The surveillance state of America.

Whether or not they attended church regularly, J. Edgar Hoover and his deputies must have heard some interesting sermons during Hoover's 48-year reign as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Curt Gentry in his 1991 biography J. Edgar Hoover: the Man and His Secrets wrote that the Rev. Ralph Abernathy once preached a sermon to Hoover by means of an electronic listening device--in common parlance, a "bug"--planted in the preacher's pulpit. When the legendary 0-Man died in 1972, Abernathy, a civil rights leader who succeeded Martin Luther King, Jr. as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, said Hoover was not the only one listening to and watching over America.

"With the passing of J. Edgar Hoover, I am reminded that almighty God conducts the ultimate surveillance," Abernathy said.

If God's surveillance still surpasses the eyes and ears of the U.S. government, it's not because our nation's alphabet soup "snoops" (FBI, CIA, NSA) aren't trying, with technology exceeding anything Hoover knew. As the FBI's current director, Robert Mueller, acknowledged in a June appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the agency has been using unmanned aerial vehicles for domestic surveillance.

"We are in the early stages of doing that, and I will tell you that our footprint is very small, we have very few, and have limited use. And we're exploring not only the use, but the necessary guidelines for that use," Mueller said.

No word yet on when, or if, those guidelines will be announced. But presumably they will at least officially prohibit mission creep from surveillance drones to armed drones, and follow the admission that Sen. Rand Paul finally elicited from Attorney General Eric Holder--that the president does not have the authority to order a drone strike on an American citizen on American soil. America, after all, is not Yemen. Concerning that very small footprint, it surely has lots of room to grow. This is a big country, from sea to shining sea, and it's a safe bet Mueller or his successor will soon be petitioning Congress for funds to expand both the number and the limited use of drones.

The recent news that the National Security Agency has been collecting daily billions of telephone call records--along with e-mails, text messages, and other communications--has awakened the nation once again to the fact that we are living in a surveillance state, under a government whose means of tracking our every move and every communication appear to be growing exponentially. In December 2005, we learned that the NSA had been intercepting and recording international telephone, e-mail, and fax messages to and from people in the United States, an ambitious enterprise undertaken without even a request for a warrant from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. President Obama defends the current program despite having strongly condemned the NSA "fishing expedition" under President George W. Bush. And while his critics have pointed to his conversion of convenience, Obama has likewise noted "some folks on the right," now voicing alarm about the surveillance, "weren't very worried about it when it was a Republican president."

But there are clearly some Americans who seem unworried about any level of government surveillance, no matter who is in the White House. They have, they say, "nothing to hide." But Congress over the years has made criminal so many activities that federal criminal statutes now cover some 27,000 pages. People certain they have "nothing to hide" may have broken laws without knowing it. A few years ago a lawyer named Harvey Silverglate published a book entitled Three Felonies a Day, the number he estimates the average American commits unwittingly. The subtitle should give us all pause: How the Feds Target the Innocent.

In the 1930s, Hoover's FBI went searching for criminals and subversives, and soon expanded the subjects of its bugs and wiretaps to include political enemies of President Roosevelt, most notably members of the America First Committee, who wanted America to stay out of World War II. In later decades, the agency's COINTELPRO (short for counter intelligence programs) campaign targeted individuals and organizations out of favor with the political establishment. Information uncovered was often useful for blackmail or defamation of adversaries, whether dissidents in an antiwar movement, or a senator or congressman the president wanted silenced.

It would be unwise to assume such motives are not at work in the ongoing NSA surveillance. Given the scope of the agency's data sweep, including virtually all the major Internet servers, the underlying premise appears to be that extremists plotting terrorist attacks communicate with one another on Facebook. The people running these programs can't be dumb enough to believe that.

Maybe they assume we are.
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Title Annotation:THE LAST WORD
Author:Kenny, Jack
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 22, 2013
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