Weaving the "Why?" Strands:
The Bushevik Puzzle
January 24, 2006
By Bernard Weiner, The
Let's try to puzzle out together some recent political events.
The unifying thread will appear; it always does because it's always
there, even if sometimes out of conscious reach.
1. Why would the Bush Administration deliberately break the
law by engaging in electronic surveillance of Americans without
getting the required court warrants?
Since the rubber-stamp FISA court had turned down only five applications
for domestic spying warrants out of about 15,000 since its inception
in 1979, why wouldn't the Bush Administration automatically go to
it for the required warrants? One implication, certainly, is that
even the amenable FISA court might rebel when it found out the true
motives and scope of the ongoing domestic spying, for, you see,
Bush's order to NSA to engage in massive communication surveillance
preceded 9/11. (See Jason Leopold's "Bush
Authorized Domestic Spying Before 9/11.")
The Busheviks say they decided not to use FISA because the government
needs the speed and flexibility to move quickly, and agents can't
keep running to the secret court each time. But the law has a built-in
proviso that permits NSA to move quickly in an emergency and fill
out the required paperwork later, within three days.
The technology is now much more advanced that it was in the old
"wire-tapping" days, when you wanted to listen in on someone's
bedroom or office phone. Now humongous computer banks data-mine
millions of phone calls (land-line, cell, satellite) and email messages
to and from Americans; they sweep up, and government agents check
out, masses of "suspects," based on words or patterns
unearthed by the data-mining programs. Of course, the vast majority
of those "clues" turn out to be worthless. (See "Spy
Agency Data After Sept. 11 Led F.B.I. to Dead Ends.") Yet,
regardless of that reality and the invasion of ordinary citizens'
privacy, the Bush Administration continues the massive intercepts.
Rather than stay within the law by going to Congress and saying
"Look, the technology now requires blanket court warrants,
so please amend the FISA bill," the Bush Administration simply
chose to ignore all attempts to stay within the law. They deliberately
did not go to go to FISA court for permission, or to Congress for
rewriting the authorization bill - and they did (and are still doing)
everything possible to keep the issue from going into the federal
courts. In deepest secrecy, they made themselves the law and simply
carried on, all the while trying to get into place their Federalist
Society-type judges, who would rule in favor of the President, always.
The Bush Bunker crew wants the freedom desired by all authoritarian
leaders: to act on their own, free of judicial or legislative restraints.
Arrogant and insecure, they need to know what everyone is thinking
and doing, as a means of enhancing and protecting their political
power. If they accidentally wind up getting some actionable intelligence
about foreign terrorists, all the better.
So the short answer to the question as to why they Bush Administration
broke the law is that they felt they could get away with this top-secret
snooping on American citizens without anyone ever finding out. Once
the word leaked about what they actually were doing, they hauled
out the cockamamie "unitary executive" theory that asserts
the President can violate whatever laws he wants, whenever he wants
to, because he's "commander-in-chief" during "wartime."
(The "war," never declared by Congress, is Bush's "war
on terrorism," which, we're told, will last forever.)
The Bush Administration utilized the same theory to justify Bush's
authorization of torture of prisoners in U.S. care. And, as political
insurance, it added one more rationale for the NSA spying: With
a major leap in interpretation, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales,
for decades a Bush toady, claims that the post-9/11 resolution authorizing
Bush to use "force" against al Qaida provides even more
justification to monitor U.S. citizens' communications. Even if
this interpretation were correct - and most legal scholars think
the opposite - this war-authorization rationale does not explain
away the pre-9/11 surveillance of American citizens.
If I'm right here, the reason the Bushies are fighting so hard
to keep anyone, including the FISA judges, from learning more about
the real reason for their massive domestic surveillance is that
outsiders might discover that it has less to do with foreign terrorists
and more to do with collecting info on their political enemies and
thus creating conditions for more firm control of the American populace
2. Why the "new" Bin Laden audiotape now, warning
of a coming attack on the U.S.?
The CIA, rather than independent experts (as was the case in years
past), announced that this audiotape was indeed made by bin Laden.
Most of the CIA's "recalcitrant" analysts and agents were
purged last year by Bush's hand-picked new director, Porter Goss,
another malleable Bush loyalist. Should one automatically trust
the CIA's claim that this is an authentic bin Laden tape?
The timing of its release is unusually convenient for the Administration,
when Bush's favorable numbers are plummeting and so many scandals
are exploding into public consciousness that impeachment possibilities
are being mentioned - even by Republicans! Let us not forget that
just before the 2004 election, another such taped message alleged
to be from bin Laden appeared, and was believed to have helped Bush
in the balloting.
If the Bush Administration takes seriously this Osama bin Laden
threat to attack America again, why has the color-coded threat-level
not been raised? Remember Tom Ridge admitted,
after he left the directorship of the Homeland Security Department,
that his White House superiors sent him out to issue "terror-threat"
warnings, with little or no evidence to back them up; the clear
implication is that political reasons were at play whenever Bush's
numbers started to slip or a new scandal erupted.
But even if the new "bin Laden tape" is genuine, it
would merely demonstrate that both religious/political extremists
require each other, for their own ends. In this theory, Bush needs
bin Laden as the terrorist boogeyman, to increase the fear quotient
in the American citizenry and thus permit his Administration to
bend and twist the Constitution to aid its own political agenda.
And bin Laden needs Bush as the Western imperialist boogeyman, for
recruitment purposes and for solidifying the growing anti-American
sentiment in the Islamic world and his leading role in that revolt.
3. Why the virtual absence of mainstream-media coverage of
Al Gore's amazingly tough speech last week?
Whether or not one finds merit in Gore's toughest charges in his
incendiary speech, the former Vice President of the United States
(who, don't forget, received more votes nationwide than Bush in
the 2000 election) practically called the sitting President a lying
crook whose policies approach police-state status. He urged a Special
Counsel to investigate this Administration's alleged high crimes
and misdemeanors, especially those having to do with the destruction
of the checks-and-balances system in our governmental system, as
evidenced by Bush's illegal behavior in the NSA spying scandal.
By any definition, a former Vice President saying that a sitting
President is violating the Constitution is news. But one would be
hard-pressed to find any significant coverage, or even a mention,
of it in the mainstream media. It was as if it never happened.
In the so-called "liberal" media, PBS's The News Hour
had no mention Monday evening, even though the speech had been delivered
around noontime, and then no coverage Tuesday as well. The New
York Times, the "newspaper of record," buried a mention
of Gore's speech in the final three paragraphs of a long story about
something else. ABC News had a quick mention toward the end of its
Monday broadcast, but no excerpts from the speech. Nothing on CBS
or NBC newscasts. (The entire speech was covered verbatim on CSPAN,
but not a lot of Americans watch that channel.)
One can only speculate why the mainstream media would freeze out
news of such major import. It's easy enough to understand why the
right-wing cable networks and commentators would try to ignore or
play down Gore's serious charges against Bush, but the more serious
journalists at CBS? NBC? ABC? True, these are giant conglomerate-owned
corporations, but they've covered big anti-Bush stories before.
(PBS was somewhat declawed by its right-wing then-overseer, Ken
Tomlinson, but usually the News Hour With Jim Lehrer is more even-handed.)
No, it's clear that Gore's frontal attack on Bush Administration
mendacity and police-state tactics hit a raw nerve and network execs
decided, either after having been warned by Bush officials or by
self-censoring their own newscasts, that discretion was the better
part of valor.
The result, of course, reminds one of the old koan: if a tree
falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it make a sound? Millions
of American citizens were deprived of hearing that loud sound, and
thus having more information available to make intelligent choices
in a democracy. Precisely what the Rove/Bush/Cheney forces were
4. Why did the Bush Administration demand that Google, Yahoo,
AOL and other search-engines provide them with a week's worth of
data about search requests by their users?
The Bush Administration says they're not after personal information
here, only generic patterns that will help them convince the courts
to keep certain anti-pornography laws in place. It's hard to imagine
that any court would authorize such wide-sweeping fishing expeditions
on an unrelated matter with no reasonable criminal reason for the
search - but, with Bush-appointed judges in place throughout the
appellate court system, who knows? (Note: Google says it will go
to court to resist the government's request for these archived,
The additional dangers of permitting such immense data searches
First, the government's massive computer system may be capable
of back-tracking the data to email addresses of those seeking illegal
porn on the 'net, with harassment and arrests to follow.
The Busheviks assert that they have no such intent. But who supervises
what the government will do with this raw information? In short,
who polices the police? Would you trust the Bush Administration
to do the right thing? They've shown no evidence of that before,
and have displayed a willingness to hide the truth, distort and
lie, to keep the public from ever learning their dirty little secrets.
In general, it's not wise to trust any government with too
much information about what you're up to, but especially this government.
Second, on the surface, their demanding to see all those millions
of searches involves a subject designed to elicit support from the
American people - stopping kiddie-porn. But feed that search-engine
data into NSA's massive computers and, voila, out comes whatever
other info you want to look for. In short, it's data-mining from
another angle - not through phone calls and emails but through internet
search engines' databases. Once the precedent is established with
pornography, other "topics of interest" might not be far
Third, one aim of the Bush Administration is to make citizens
suspicious of information sources other than the government and
its far-right media cohorts. The Busheviks already have made many
people doubt the so-called "liberal" mainstream media;
now the target is the Internet, a free-flowing, difficult-to-control
information-delivery system. How to remove some of the respectability
of that source of non-official (and often anti-Bush) information?
One way would be to let folks know that everything they do on the
Internet - even logging onto a search-engine and surfing the web
for information - may well be observed by the thought-police. More
citizens might then choose to retire into their individual data
shells, and get their informational fixes through more "official"
THE ARROGANCE OF UNCHECKED POWER
So, we've done the news-analysis dance. Can you spot the unstated
throughline in all the items discussed above? Yes, of course, it's
the reckless dangers associated with the arrogance and abuse of
power, be it corporate or governmental. "Power tends to corrupt,
and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
We are living through one of America's darkest periods in its
history, when mendacity, the lust for power, and greed have corrupted
even the best of our institutions. There must be some way out of
here, and right now the exits can be found in stopping the worst
actors from doing more damage (see: Alito, Sam), starting impeachment
hearings to learn the whole rotten truth, and re-establishing electoral
integrity by eschewing easily-manipulated computer-voting systems
and returning to paper ballots hand-counted. A fair and honest election
system certainly would help bring more light into this dark time.
So, friends, there are ways out of here, but it will take lots
of hard work, money, energy and extreme courage. Welcome to the
fray. Let the rumpus begin.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught government & international
relations at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with
the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The
Crisis Papers. To comment, write: email@example.com.
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