Friday, May 12, 2006

What Is the Government Doing?

President Bush made a statement about the USA Today story claiming that the NSA is keeping a database of phone call records of tens of thousands of Americans:

I want to make some important points about what the government is doing and what the government is not doing.
When the President addresses the nation, in my opinion, his words should be held to the standard as if he were under oath. So, allow me to be picky.
First, our international activities strictly target al Qaeda and their known affiliates. Al Qaeda is our enemy, and we want to know their plans.
This describes “international activities.” We Americans who do not want our rights violated are interested in our government's “domestic activities.”
Second, the government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval.
This is an admission that they are listening to domestic calls. If court approval is required, then evidence must be presented to a court. Evidence must be collected. Therefore, before the NSA can get a court order to listen to a domestic phone call, they must spy on Americans to gather the required evidence. The NSA is spying on Americans.

No agency is right 100% of the time. So, we can assume that they have spied on innocent Americans. They may not have listened to innocent American’s phone calls because they did not find enough (or any) evidence of wrongdoing to allow them to get permission to listen. But, in order to determine that no court order was needed, some spying must have occurred.
Third, the intelligence activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat.
Question for the White House Press Corps: “Mr. President, are there any intelligence activities that have gone on or are going on without your authorization?” If he answers “no,” then we can assume that everything the NSA does has his approval. Therefore, he is okay with the NSA spying on innocent Americans. If he answers “yes,” that’s a huge story in itself.
Fourth, the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities.
Bush said in his statement “Al Qaeda is our enemy” and “I authorized the National Security Agency to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations” and “We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.” Given these statements, we can assume that Americans “with known links to al Qaeda” are “our enemy” and are not members of the “millions of innocent Americans.” We can also assume that these Americans are not “ordinary Americans” and their privacy is not “fiercely protected in all our activities.” We can also assume that if you are falsely suspected of being one of these Americans you will be spied on.

Here is a thought experiment. Let’s say Joe is an American. He believes that his country is off the right path. He is deeply religious and thinks his country and fellow citizens need to follow more closely the teachings of his God.

His god is Allah. He listens to Al Qaeda and likes what he hears. He believes in their core values. He wants his country to follow those core values, or be destroyed.

But, before he goes and learns how to fly a plane, he decides to change the country by working within its laws. He runs for political office.

Where he lives there are many people who agree with him and are politically active. Joe is elected mayor of his small city. After a few years and some vigorous campaigning, he puts together a group of supporters that gets him elected to the governorship. The whole time he has not made it a secret that he agrees with a lot of what Al Qaeda says. But, he has done nothing illegal and was democratically elected to the governorship of his state.

Joe is a religious fundamentalist and attempts to pass laws that agree with his fundamentalism. While extreme to many Americans outside his state, all these laws are passed through his state’s legislative process and affirmed by the judicial branch of both his state and the country.

Though it was considered improbable by many Americans, one day Joe is elected President of the United States of America. He takes this as a sign from his God that Allah’s work should be done by America. He desires to use America’s might to smite those leaders and organizations he deems evil or contrary to Allah’s teachings. He feels he can circumvent the Constitution to achieve the goals of a higher power, his God.

Should he be allowed to do this?

This is a thought experiment. It is only meant to make you think. Don’t take it as a comment on the moral worth of any religion or as an analogy to any current world leader. This is not the point. Thinking is the point.

I am an American and I am afraid that my government does not want me to think. And if I do, I am afraid that they are listening. If they are, right now I am thinking…

…that listening to me thinking sucks.

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