Belaboring the Obvious

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Portnoy's Posner's Complaint

It seems that, as Election Day approaches, all the loonies on the right are trying to outdo each other in the attempt to find ever more absurd and dangerous ways to sabotage the Constitution, and thereby, the country.

The latest totalitarian nightmare proposed is for yet another intelligence service--this time an internal spy shop--offered with a grand flourish by Judge Richard Posner (the very same who found such delight and satisfaction in Tony "The Fixer" Scalia's use of torture on the 14th Amendment in Bush v. Gore).

Posner is so thoroughly pleased with himself and his idea that he even suggests that Bush could create an American version of the UK's MI5 by executive order, thus encouraging Bush and Cheney to further subvert civil rights and usurp power. (I wonder if he's given any thought to who will be paying for that little number. Maybe Bush can skirt the Congressional appropriations process by taking the money out of the White House housekeeping budget.) Posner also has a lot of other neat ideas to make Bush the King of the United States, as Glenn Greenwald outlines here.

Maybe it's time for some review. When the Bushies rammed the PATRIOT Act down the terrified collective throat of Congress in near-record time, a few weeks after 9/11, the rationale given was that it was needed to better fight terra and that it would improve information sharing between the FBI and the CIA. In fact, it was a wish list of the law enforcement community to skirt Constitutional rights that had been in the works for some time, and introduced us all to sneak-and-peek searches without prompt notification, the accelerated use of warrantless National Security Letters and gag orders for just about everything the government does to someone.

At virtually the same moment, the Bushies began using the NSA to listen in on anyone they pleased, without warrants from the FISA court, although we didn't know it at the time.

Not long after the passage of the PATRIOT Act, we found that Adm. John Poindexter (of Iran-Contra infamy) was busy as a bee working on the most massive database of citizen data ever and data-mining tools to accompany it, collectively known as "Total Information Awareness." The truly Orwellian and creepy name was only outdone by the agency logo.

Then we're subjected to Tom Ridge's coded terrorist threat warning system with a color scheme borrowed from a kid's xylophone.

Then, minutes later (or so it seemed), Ashcroft announced his TIPS program, which was short for the "Be A Snitch Bitch For Bush Club."

Then, even though, as we were told by Congress, the problem with the 9/11 attacks was that the CIA and the FBI weren't talking to each other, the Bushies decided to launch the Nazi-sounding Homeland Security Department (after dissing Congress for suggesting it first), which was supposed to consolidate agencies with territorial responsibilities and make communication better. In fact, the Bushies created the biggest corporate boondoggle in history, making communications so much better, in fact, that the White House could ignore the drowning of New Orleans. But, along with Homeland Security came new intelligence capabilities embedded in agencies such as the Transportation Security Agency (which gave us no-fly lists which caused known terrorists such as Ted Kennedy to be searched repeatedly at airports--all the while making the reasons for adding names to the lists and the means to get off such lists a secret).

Then, we got an invasion of Iraq, which we were told would reduce world terrorism, and actually made it worse, and which set off a whole host of intelligence agencies--local, state, and national--spying on peace activists and anti-war demonstrators.

Then, Congress, in its infinite wisdom, decided to listen to yet more bad advice from the independent 9/11 commission and passed the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act, which created yet another new intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Directorate, with the director of the Directorate to be a cabinet officer (nah, that wouldn't politicize intelligence gathering and analysis, now, would it?), currently headed by the chief Contra spook, John Negroponte; it also added yet more items from the law-enforcement Christmas list that they couldn't get passed in the PATRIOT Act, and set up yet another layer of bureaucracy onto an intelligence system already over-buttered with same. Did it consolidate all intelligence operations under one umbrella--as was the intention? Well, no. Various intelligence agencies living in the dark corners of the basement of the Pentagon aren't affected--some of which are spying on U.S. citizens.

Meanwhile, the bribers and the bribees have been doing everything they can to privatize intelligence functions because intelligence appropriations are secret, y'know.

Then we find, with all this new cooperation between agencies and better flow of communication and nifty new agencies, that we're torturing the mentally ill to get leads on terrorists which have sent all the wonderful agencies above, and especially the FBI, scurrying around on wild-goose chases.

Then, we find that the NSA is collecting everyone's phone logs and looking for interesting tidbits in those--without warrants, of course. Gee, after all, they're just business records... or so the complicit phone companies assert.

And now, after all of that officious and intrusive rigamarole--which was put in place to "stop" terrorism, Judge Richard A. Posner, he of the "give the President all the power he desires" branch of government, wants a brand-new domestic spy service modeled after Great Britain's MI5.

Seems Posner has forgotten a few things in his haste to further enslave the population. The basic legal structure of Great Britain hasn't changed a whole lot since the English Revolution, and some of the things they do were the reasons why we fought a war of independence. They have an Official Secrets Act--which we don't, because we have a Constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press, which they don't (although there's a certain Judge T.S. Ellis III who's doing his damnedest to change that by, gasp, legislating from the bench). They also have an MI5 because they don't have a Constitutionally-guaranteed Bill of Rights regarding simple civil rights which prevent the government from acting without the concurrence of the courts and without adhering to due process. Quaint, I know, but that's still the law here, however much the authoritarians in government have sought to chip away at those rights.

Posner's reason (poor word for what he's suggesting) for his recommendation is that, well, darn, the FBI would be much more interested in catching real criminals, such as--as Posner offers helpfully--eco-terrorists who make corporations look bad, instead of doing the disappointingly boring work of intelligence-gathering, which might lead to dead ends instead of criminal prosecutions. (Gee, did Posner think, even for a moment, that they might actually be tired of chasing down Abu Zubaydah's delusional fantasies extracted by torture? See link above.)

What this train wreck of a thought process suggests to me, however, is that Posner, like his cohorts in the Bush administration, wishes to elevate terrorists to some exalted position far above that of criminal in order to justify both international military action in the "war on terra" as a cover for neo-colonial operations and to further diminish civil rights at home as a means of intimidating dissenters and inflating the power of the Executive Branch.

The people who struck this country on 9/11 are terrorists, and they are criminals. They are not a sovereign state upon which the military can be set with any hope of doing anything but increasing their ranks. They have engaged in criminal behavior. Even before 9/11, we had all the tools necessary to find, capture and convict such criminals. Some in the FBI even then were doing the intelligence work to divine the particulars of the criminal plot and were thwarted by their superiors in the FBI. Even then, there was signals intelligence to suggest an imminent strike against our territory, but which the NSA--despite its massive computer power and equally massive budget--was too slow in translating and communicating to other authorities. On the day of the attacks, the most complicated and expensive early warning/air defense system in the world couldn't communicate quickly and efficiently with officials in other agencies such as the FAA, and couldn't discern reality in the air from its own drills underway at the same time. Even in early August, the CIA was predicting near-future, if not imminent, attacks on targets in the country, and the President, the very same President whom Posner believes should now have even more unlimited power to spy on citizens, told the CIA, "fine, you've covered your ass."

Posner cites as further necessity for a new spy agency the fact that the FBI has wasted $100 million on a computer system intended to streamline its data collection and data sharing abilities. This is yet another non-reason, and is completely unrelated to the matter of needing more spies--it is, rather, a sign of the need to end corruption in the procurement processes of government (which Congress has been loathe to do, because the root of that corruption is in the Congressional appropriations process) and of an even greater need to throw out the top management of the FBI (something which should have been done by the President when it was revealed that FBI officials did not act on actionable intelligence from its field offices--especially from its offices in Arizona and Minnesota). Instead, the offenders were promoted.

What we have here, as the warden of the prison in "Cool Hand Luke" says, "is a fail-ya to commu-na-cate." Every action the Bush administration and Congress have taken after 9/11 has complicated this effort, principally by creating a new intelligence bureaucracy and, equally, by imposing new standards of secrecy which are politically motivated and have little to do with actual security--these are actions which will make us less secure and will cause us to lose essential rights as citizens--the foremost of which is knowing what our government is doing in our names.

To correct that, Judge Posner wants yet another domestic agency spying on us. Yeah, that'll help a whole helluva lot. Judge, you'd better hope your smiley-faced Stasi spooks never have a reason to spy on you. Of course, you can never be sure about that in a secret police state, can you?


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