Today President Obama will issue an executive order, ostensibly to help crack down on human rights atrocities in other countries –
by conducting surveillance, blocking access to the Internet or tracking the movements of opposition figures.
If this is the true, and only reason, that would be laudable. But the ulterior purposes to which secret domestic spying has been put belie the real reason: worldwide control of information.
If you think this is mere hyperbole, listen to my client, former NSA Senior Analyst Bill Binney, on Democracy Now! this past Friday. (He was the technical director of NSA's World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, so he knows a thing or two about surveillance.) He discusses the NSA's massive power to spy on Americans, why the FBI raided his home after he became a whistleblower, and how the government made him the target of a federal criminal investigation.
Is America tracking Julian Assange because he's an authoritarian dictator guilty of human rights abuses? No, it's because we don't like him.
Watch Binney's Democracy Now! Interview:
Of course all controversial government actions are going to be shrouded in good intentions. WaPo reports:
The new steps are designed primarily to target companies explicitly aiding authoritarian governments with new technology that assists in civilian repression.
It sounds noble and seductive in theory.
But America's electronic targeting of its own people--for example, New York Times reporter Jim Risen--betrays the true purpose of this initiative, or at a minimum, a real danger that is already being realized.
Binney was a key source for investigative journalist James Bamford’s recent exposé in Wired magazine about how the NSA is quietly building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah. The Utah spy center will contain near-bottomless databases to store all forms of communication collected by the agency, including private emails, cell phone calls, Google searches and other personal data of wholly innocent Americans.
Since retiring from the NSA in 2001, he has warned that the NSA’s datamining program has become so vast that it could
create an Orwellian state.
I would submit that it already has.
And now we're openly going to help other countries do so in order to stop human rights abuses. I hope that's true. But if America is any example, it's not. We continue to perpetrate human rights abuses, from indefinite preventive detention to targeted assassination of Americans, while cracking down on whistleblowers like my NSA clients, Thomas Drake and Bill Binney, who were both targeted (and Drake unsuccessfully prosecuted) as part of the massive, years-long, multi-million dollar investigation into – not why the NSA was using warrantless wiretaps on Americans – but into who leaked the story to the New York Times.
Side note: later today, I'll be discussing whistleblowing on the The Kojo Nnamdi Show on NPR.
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.