Posts Tagged ‘justice department’

“The evil was not in bread and circuses, per se, but in the willingness of the people to sell their rights as free men for full bellies and the excitement of the games which would serve to distract them from the other human hungers which bread and circuses can never appease.” — Admiral Ben Moreell (1892 – 1978), chief of the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks and of the Civil Engineer Corps

As the grandfather of three young ones, ages 5 to 9, I get to see my fair share of kid movies: plenty of hijinks, lots of bathroom humor, and an endless stream of slapstick gags. Yet even among the worst of the lot, there’s something to be learned, some message being conveyed, or some aspect of our reality being reflected in celluloid.

So it was that I found myself sitting through The Angry Birds Movie on a recent Sunday afternoon, doling out popcorn, candy and drinks and trying to make sense of a 90-minute movie based on a cell phone video game that has beendownloaded more than 3 billion times.

The storyline is simple enough: an island nation of well-meaning, feel-good, flightless birds gets seduced by a charismatic green pig and his cohort who comes bearing food, wine and entertainment spectacles (the Roman equivalent of bread circuses). Ignoring the warnings of one solitary, suspicious “angry” bird that the pigs are up to no good, the clueless birds eventually discover that the pigs have stolen their most precious possessions: their eggs, the future of their entire society. It takes the “angry bird” to motivate the normally unflappable Bird Nation to get outraged enough to do something about the violation of their trust by the pigs and the theft of their personal property.

While one would be hard-pressed to call The Angry Birds Movie overly insightful, it is, as The Atlantic concludes, a “feather-light metaphor for our times… The film functions, effectively, as a fairy tale: It uses its status as fantasy to impart lessons about reality.”

It turns out that we’re no different from the wine-guzzling, food-noshing, party-loving Bird Nation. We too are easily fooled by charismatic politicians bearing gifts. And we too are easily distracted as those same politicians and their cohorts rob us blind.

Case in point: while Barack Obama winds down his presidency with a flurry of celebrity-studded events that is causing the media to hail him as the “coolest” president, and the presidential candidates continue to distract us with spectacular feats of chest-thumping, browbeating and demagoguery, the police state continues its steady march onward.

All of the revelations of government wrongdoing, spying and corruption disclosed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowdenseem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Nothing has improved or changed for the better.

There has been no real reform, no significant attempts at greater transparency, no accountability, no scaling back of the government’s warrantless, illegal domestic surveillance programs, and no recognition by Congress or the courts that the Fourth Amendment provides citizens with any protection against unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents.

In fact, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we’ve been subject to even more obfuscation, even more lies, even more sleight-of-hand maneuvers by government agencies determined to keep doing what they’re doing without any restrictions on their nefarious activities, and even more attempts by government agencies to listen in our phone calls, read our emails and text messages, monitor our movements, and generally imprison us within an electronic concentration camp.

Writing for the New Yorker, investigative reporter Maria Bustillos concludes, “the machinery of our government seems to have taken on an irrational life of its own. We live in a surreal world in which a ‘transparent’ government insists on the need for secret courts; our President prosecutes whistle-blowers and maintains a secret ‘kill list’; and private information is collected in secret and stored indefinitely by intelligence agencies.”

It’s no coincidence that almost exactly three years after Snowden began his steady campaign to leak documents about the government’s illegal surveillance program, Congress is preparing to adopt legislation containing a secret provision that would expand the FBI’s powers to secretly read Americans’ emails without a court order.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The government is planning to push through secret legislation that would magnify its ability to secretly spy on us without a warrant.

After three years of lying to us about the real nature of the government’s spying program, feigning ignorance, dissembling, and playing at enacting real reforms, it turns out that what the government really wants is more power, more control and more surveillance.

A secret provision tacked onto the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act will actually make it easier for the government to spy on Americans’ emails as well as their phone calls.

If enacted, this law would build upon the Patriot Act’s authorization of National Security Letters (NSL) which allows the FBI to secretly demand—without prior approval from a judge and under a gag order that carries the penalty of a prison sentence—that banks, phone companies, and other businesses provide them with customer information and not disclose the demands to the person being investigated or even indicate that they have been subjected to an NSL.

As Reuters reports, federal agencies do not need a warrant to access emails or other digital communications more than 180 days old due to a provision in a 1986 law that considers them abandoned by the owner. However, legislative efforts to require government authorities to obtain a search warrant before accessing old emails have been turned on their head by the insertion of this secret provision giving the FBI carte blanche access to Americans’ emails.

As if the FBI didn’t have enough corrupt tools in its bag of tricks already.

NSLs—in existence since the 1970s—empower FBI operatives to delve into Americans’ most personal affairs based only on the say-so of an agency that has come to be known as America’s Gestapo, or secret police. Incredibly, all the FBI needs to assert in order to justify such a search is that the information sought is relevant to a national-security investigation.

Nicholas Merrill can tell you all about NSLs. The head of a web-hosting company, he challenged the FBI’s unwarranted request for information on one of his customers and its companion gag order. Only after the FBI withdrew its request and a subsequent court-ordered lifting of the gag order was Merrill able to share his experiences. As Merrill recounts:

It was not a warrant. It was not stamped or signed by a court or a judge. It was this letter demanding this information from me. And it also told me that I could never tell anyone that I had gotten the letter. It said that I could tell ‘no person.’ The amount of information that the government can get with one of these letters can paint an incredibly vivid picture of all aspects of a person’s life — from the professional, to the personal, to the political, to their religious beliefs, to invading the privacy of their marriage, to being able to figure out what their sexual preference is. The amount of information that comes out of a national security letter is just so invasive. The fact that the government has been treating it so casually, and essentially going out on mass fishing expeditions and gathering the data of potentially millions of Americans without any suspicion of wrongdoing is very upsetting to me as someone who was raised on ideas about American exceptionalism and the belief that our system of government — with its built-in checks and balances and safeguards against abuse — were what made our country different from other countries.

Clandestine requests. Broad powers. Minimal insight. Intimidation tactics.

That’s how the FBI’s use of NSLs are described, but it can easily be applied to the government-at-large and its voracious quest for ever-greater powers without any real accountability to the citizenry or any adherence to the rule of law.

It’s estimated that the FBI issues approximately 40,000 to 60,000 such NSLs per year and that number is growing.

In 2008, the Justice Department’s inspector general revealed that the FBI had been abusing its NSL authority by making improper requests, collecting more data than they were allowed to, not having proper authorization to proceed with a case, and attempting to sidestep the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret court charged with overseeing the government’s secret surveillance program. In one case, after having its search request denied by the FISA Court on the basis that “the ‘facts’ were too thin” and the “request implicated the target’s First Amendment rights,” the FBI used its NSL power to carry out its surveillance.

Even after being called on the carpet for abusing its information-gathering powers, the FBI continued to flout the very laws put in place to keep government abuses in check.

Incredibly, Barack Obama criticized President Bush for his administration’s mass government surveillance programsonly to fully embrace them once he himself had attained the White House. Indeed, the Obama administration has been lobbying for years to expand the FBI’s use of NSLs to include emails.

Now, here we are, eight years later, and we’re still being treated like the gullible birds in The Angry Birds Movie, easily pacified with bread, easily distracted by circuses, and easily robbed of our most precious possessions—our freedoms, our privacy and our right to have a government that abides by the rule of law and answers to us.

There are many ways of reacting to this latest news about the government’s treachery.

You can subscribe to the simplistic, head-in-the-sand routine and do as one of my so-called Facebook “friends” suggests and just obey the law, hoping that it will keep you out of the government’s clutches, but that’s no guarantee of safe passage. Of course, that will mean knowing the law—federal, state and local—in all of its convoluted, massive, growing permutations, understanding that overcriminalization has resulted in the average person unknowingly committing three crimes a day. As author Harvey Silvergate points out, even the most honest and informed citizen “cannot predict with any reasonable assurance whether a wide range of seemingly ordinary activities might be regarded by federal prosecutors as felonies.” For instance, you could be charged criminally for receiving an odd package, taking a fake sick day, reporting on government wrongdoing based on an anonymous source, or creating a website for a religious charity.

You can insist that such concessions to security are making us safer, even though facts suggest otherwise.Barring a few notable exceptions, the politicians are singing the same tune: security at any cost. The NSL provision sailed past the 15-member Senate Intelligence Committee with only Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) dissenting. In a joint statement that underscores the ease with which the Republicans and Democrats work together in order to sell us out, Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) declared the expanded powers necessary to “keep America safe” and “vital” in order to “provide intelligence agencies with all the resources they need to prevent attacks both at home and abroad.”

This whole line of reasoning, as Nicholas Merrill explains, is hogwash. As he points out, the terrorist attacks in Paris were carried out by individuals “communicating without the use of any type of security or encryption. They were speaking in Facebook groups and using regular text messaging on their phones, without taking any steps to cover their tracks or make it harder to listen in on what they were doing. To me this proves that the whole dragnet surveillance system that we’ve built is actually useless, because it didn’t help us at all to prevent that type of attack.”

In other words, government spying isn’t making us safer, but it is making us less free. “In the end we’ve lost part of our freedom that maybe we’ll never get back. We’ve lost some part of what makes our system great, but in the end we’ve not really gained the security we thought we would get in the tradeoff for the freedom that we’ve given up.”

You can cast your ballot for one of the many slogan-spouting politicians who are long on lies and short on loyalty to their constituents. At the end of the day, these people work for the government and their primary purpose is to remain in office, living the kind of rarefied, pampered, privileged life that the average American only gets to dream about. Every one of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who voted for this legislation is a traitor to their oath of office and should be booted off that committee. What’s more, any member of Congress who votes for this legislation should be sent packing back to where they came from. As Brewster Kahle, another recipient of an NSL who successfully challenged the government’s gag order, reminds us, “The government is not one monolithic thing. It’s a bunch of people, thinking they’re doing their jobs.” It’s our job to make them toe the line when their thinking goes awry.

Or you can stop drinking the happy juice, stop believing the politicians’ lies, stop being so gallingly gullible and out to lunch, and start getting angry. In our politically correct, feel-good, play nice culture, anger has gotten a bad rap, but there’s something to be said for righteous anger acted upon in a nonviolent, effective fashion. It’s what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as “military nonviolent resistance.” It means caring enough to get off your caboose, get on your feet and get actively involved in holding government officials accountable to the simple fact that they work for “we the people.”

It’s not an easy undertaking.

The government has been playing fast and loose with the rules for too long now, and its greed for power and riches is boundless.

Still we are not powerless, although the government’s powers grow daily. We have not yet been altogether muzzled, although the acts of censorship increase daily. And we have not yet lost all hope for restoring our republic, although the outlook appears bleaker by the day.

For the moment, we still have some small allotment of freedoms by which we can express our displeasure, push back against injustice and corruption, and resist tyranny. One Texas man, outraged at being fined $212 for driving 39 in a 30 mph zone, chose to pay his fine with 22,000 pennies. It was a small act of disdain in the face of a government machine that tolerates little resistance, but it was acts such as these that sowed the early seeds of resistance that birthed this nation.

As revolutionary patriot Samuel Adams observed, “It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”

 

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“Do exactly what I say, and we’ll get along fine. Do not question me or talk back in any way. You do not have the right to object to anything I may say or ask you to do, or ask for clarification if my demands are unclear or contradictory. You must obey me under all circumstances without hesitation, no matter how arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory, or blatantly racist my commands may be. Anything other than immediate perfect servile compliance will be labeled as resisting arrest, and expose you to the possibility of a violent reaction from me. That reaction could cause you severe injury or even death. And I will suffer no consequences. It’s your choice: Comply, or die.”— “‘Comply or Die’ policing must stop,” Daily KOS

Americans as young as 4 years old are being leg shackled, handcuffed, tasered and held at gun point for not being quiet, not being orderly and just being childlike—i.e., not being compliant enough.

Americans as old as 95 are being beaten, shot and killed for questioning an order, hesitating in the face of a directive, and mistaking a policeman crashing through their door for a criminal breaking into their home—i.e., not being submissive enough.

And Americans of every age and skin color are being taught the painful lesson that the only truly compliant, submissive and obedient citizen in a police state is a dead one.

It doesn’t matter where you live—big city or small town—it’s the same scenario being played out over and over again in which government agents, hyped up on their own authority and the power of their uniform, ride roughshod over the rights of the citizenry. In turn, Americans are being brainwashed into believing that anyone who wears a government uniform—soldier, police officer, prison guard—must be obeyed without question.

Franklin Graham, the heir to Billy Graham’s evangelical empire, offered up this “simple” piece of advice for “Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else” hoping to survive an encounter with the police:

Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience. If a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air. If a police officer tells you to lay down face first with your hands behind your back, you lay down face first with your hands behind your back. It’s as simple as that. Even if you think the police officer is wrong—YOU OBEY.

Clearly, Graham’s message resonated with a core group of Americans: almost 200,000 individuals “liked” the message on Facebook, with an astounding 83,000 fans sharing his words of advice with their own friends, none of whom seem to recall that Jesus Christ, whom they claim to follow and model their lives after, not only stood up to the police state of his day but was put to death for it.

It’s not just mainstream evangelicals who have been brainwashed into believing that a good citizen is a compliant citizen and that obedience will save us from the police state. In the wake of a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer responsible for the choking death of Eric Garner, Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, declared:

“We have to teach our children, our sons and our daughters, no matter what they look like, to respect New York City police officers, teach them to comply with New York City police officers even if they think it’s unjust.”

Similarly, Officer Sunil Dutta of the Los Angeles Police Department advises:

If you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the right, it doesn’t matter if a cop is in the wrong, it doesn’t matter if you’re being treated with less than the respect you deserve. If you want to emerge from a police encounter with your life and body intact, then you’d better comply, submit, obey orders, respect authority and generally do whatever a cop tells you to do.

Battlefield_Cover_300In this way, the old police motto to “protect and serve” has become “comply or die.” As I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State and in my forthcoming book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is the unfortunate, misguided, perverse message being beaten, shot, tasered and slammed into our collective consciousness, and it is regrettably starting to take root.

Despite the growing number of criminal charges (ranging from resisting arrest and interference to disorderly conduct, obstruction, and failure to obey a police order) that get trotted out anytime a citizen voices discontent with the government or challenges or even questions the authority of the powers that be, the problems we’re experiencing in terms of police shootings have little to do with rebellion or belligerence or resistance.

Rather, the problem arises when compliance doesn’t happen fast enough to suit the police.

For instance, 15-year-old Jamar Nicholson was shot in the back by police after they spotted him standing next to a friend holding a toy gun. “Officers ordered the boy to drop the weapon multiple times,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “When he didn’t comply, one of the officers opened fire.”

Martese Johnson, a 20-year-old college student, unarmed and in the process of walking away from a bar where he’d just been denied entry for being underage, was tackled by police and had his head slammed to the ground and bloodied, allegedly for being intoxicated, belligerent and using a fake ID. Johnson, who it turns out was polite, had a legal ID and was not drunk, survived the encounter after 10 stitches to his head.

And then there was Christopher Lollie, who was tasered, arrested and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstruction of the legal process for refusing to identify himself to police while waiting to pick his children up from their daycare. Footage of the encounter shows Lollie asking, “Why do I have to let you know who I am? I don’t have to let you know who I am if I haven’t broken any laws.” The charges against Lollie were eventually dropped.

Nicholson, Johnson and Lollie aren’t the only Americans being taught a hard lesson about compliance at the end of a government-issued gun.

World War II veteran John Wrana, 95 years old, dependent on a walker to get around, and a resident of an assisted living center, was rushed by five police officers—one with a Taser and riot shield, others with handguns and a 12-gauge Mossberg pump shotgun—after refusing treatment for a urinary tract infection and brandishing a shoehorn. One of the officers, allegedly fearing for his safety, fired multiple beanbag rounds at Wrana at close range, who bled to death from internal injuries.

Martese Johnson, slammed and bloodied by ABC police.

James Howard Allen, 74 years old and recovering at home from a surgery, was shot and killed by police who were asked by family members to do a welfare check on him. When police crashed through the man’s back door, they found Allen, perhaps having just awoken and fearing a burglary, armed with a gun.

These shootings and deaths, and many more like them, constitute a drop in the proverbial bucket when it comes to police killing unarmed American citizens, and yet you’d be hard-pressed to find exact numbers for how many unarmed citizens are killed by police every year. Indeed, while police go to great lengths to document how many police are killed in the line of duty, police agencies aren’t actually required to report the number of times police officers engage in homicide. Suffice it to say, however, that the numbers are significantly underreported.

One website estimates that police kill on average three citizens a day in the United States. In 2014, 1100 individuals were killed by police in the U.S. That’s 70 times more than other first-world nations, and almost 20 times more than the number of U.S. troops killed in the same year in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Rarely are these officers given more than a slap on the wrist. More often than not, they operate with impunity, are shielded from justice by the governmental bureaucracy, and are granted qualified immunity by the courts.

A recent report by the Justice Department on police shootings in Philadelphia, which boasts the fourth largest police department in the country, found that half of the unarmed people shot by police over a seven-year span were “shot because the officer saw something (like a cellphone) or some action (like a person pulling at the waist of their pants) and misidentified it as a threat.”

Now it’s one thing for those who back the police—no matter what the circumstance—to insist that if you just obey a police officer, you’ll be safe. But what happens when compliance isn’t enough?

What happens if you play it safe, comply and do whatever a police officer tells you to do, don’t talk back, don’t threaten, and don’t walk away—in other words, don’t do anything that even hints at resistance—and still, you find yourself staring down the wrong end of a government agent’s gun? After all, the news is riddled with reports of individuals who didn’t resist when confronted by police and still got tasered, tackled or shot simply because they looked at police in a threatening manner or moved in a way that made an officer “fear” for his safety.

For instance, Levar Jones, pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, was shot after complying with a police officer’s order to retrieve his license. The trooper justified his shooting of the unarmed man by insisting that Jones reached for his license “aggressively.”

What more could Jones or anyone have done to protect himself in that situation? How does a citizen protect himself against a police officer’s tendency to shoot first and ask questions later, oftentimes based only on their highly subjective “feeling” of being threatened?

The short answer is you can’t.

The assurance of safety in exchange for compliance is a false, misguided doctrine that has us headed towards a totalitarian regime the likes of which the world has seen before.

Rest assured, if we just cower before government agents and meekly obey, we’ll find ourselves repeating history. However, history also shows us a different path, one that involves standing up and speaking truth to power. Jesus Christ walked that road. So did Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless other freedom fighters whose actions changed the course of history.

Indeed, had Christ merely complied with the Roman police state, there would have been no crucifixion and no Christian religion. Had Gandhi meekly fallen in line with the British Empire’s dictates, the Indian people would never have won their independence. Had Martin Luther King Jr. obeyed the laws of his day, there would have been no civil rights movement. And if the founding fathers had marched in lockstep with royal decrees, there would have been no American Revolution.

The long answer, therefore, is that we must adopt a different mindset and follow a different path if we are to alter the outcome of these interactions with police.

No matter what path you follow, it will be fraught with peril. America is in the midst of a nervous breakdown, brought about by prolonged exposure to the American police state, and there are few places that are safe anymore.

A good test is this: if you live in a community that has welcomed the trappings of the police state with open arms (surveillance cameras, forced DNA extractions, Stingray devices, red light cameras, private prisons, etc.), all the while allowing its police forces to militarize, weaponize and operate beyond the reach of the Constitution, then you don’t live in a democratic republic—you live in a microcosm of the American police state.

If you have no real say in how your local law enforcement operates, if the only oversight of police actions is carried out by fellow officers, if any attempt to criticize the police is edited out or not covered by your local newspaper or TV station, drowned out by your fellow citizens, or intimidated into silence by your local police, then you have no recourse when it comes to police abuses.

Finally, if, despite having done nothing wrong, you feel nervous during a police encounter, you fear doing or saying the wrong thing in front of an officer will get you shot, and your local police dress and act like extensions of the military and treat you like a suspect, then it’s safe to say that you are not the one holding the upper hand in the master-servant relationship anymore.

This is the death rattle of the American dream, which was built on the idea that no one is above the law, that our rights are inalienable and cannot be taken away, and that our government and its appointed agents exist to serve us.

“If you’re not a terrorist, if you’re not a threat, prove it. This is the price you pay to live in free society right now. It’s just the way it is.”—Sergeant Ed Mullins of the New York Police Department

Immediately following the devastating 9/11 attacks, which destroyed the illusion of invulnerability which had defined American society since the end of the Cold War, many Americans willingly ceded their rights and liberties to government officials who promised them that the feeling of absolute safety could be restored.

In the 12 years since, we have been subjected to a series of deceptions, subterfuges and scare tactics by the government, all largely aimed at amassing more power for the federal agencies and extending their control over the populace. Starting with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, continuing with the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and coming to a head with the assassination of American citizens abroad, the importing of drones and other weapons of compliance, and the rise in domestic surveillance, we have witnessed the onslaught of a full-blown crisis in government.

Still Americans have gone along with these assaults on their freedoms unquestioningly.

Even with our freedoms in shambles, our country in debt, our so-called “justice” system weighted in favor of corporations and the police state, our government officials dancing to the tune of corporate oligarchs, and a growing intolerance on the part of the government for anyone who challenges the status quo, Americans have yet to say “enough is enough.”

Now, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, we are once again being assured that if we only give up a few more liberties and what little remains of our privacy, we will achieve that elusive sense of security we’ve yet to attain. This is the same song and dance that comes after every tragedy, and it’s that same song and dance which has left us buying into the illusion that we are a free, safe society.

The reality of life in America tells a different tale, however. For example, in a May 2013 interview with CNN, former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente disclosed that the federal government is keeping track of all digital communications that occur within the United States, whether or not those communicating are American citizens, and whether or not they have a warrant to do so.

As revelatory as the disclosure was, it caused barely a ripple of dismay among Americans, easily distracted by the torrent of what passes for entertainment news today. Yet it confirms what has become increasingly apparent in the years after 9/11: the federal government is literally tracking any and all communications occurring within the United States, without concern for the legal limitations of such activity, and without informing the American people that they are doing so.

Clemente dropped his bombshell during a CNN interview about authorities’ attempts to determine the nature of communications between deceased Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his widow Katherine Russell. In the course of that conversation, Clemente revealed that federal officials will not only be able to access any voicemails that may have been left by either party, but that the entirety of the phone conversations they had will be at federal agents’ finger tips.

“We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation,” stated Clemente. “All of that stuff [meaning phone conversations occurring in America] is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.” A few days later, Clemente was asked to clarify his comments, at which point he said, “There is a way to look at all digital communications in the past. No digital communication is secure.”

In other words, there is no form of digital communication that the government cannot and does not monitor—phone calls, emails, text messages, tweets, Facebook posts, internet video chats, etc., are all accessible, trackable and downloadable by federal agents.

At one time, such actions by the government would not only have been viewed as unacceptable, they would also have been considered illegal. However, government officials have been engaged in an ongoing attempt to legitimize these actions by passing laws that make the lives of all Americans an open book for government agents. For example, while the nation was caught up in the drama of the Boston bombing and the ensuing military-style occupation of the city by local and federal police, Congress passed a little-noticed piece of legislation known as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The legislation, which the House of Representatives approved by an overwhelming margin of 288-127, will allow internet companies to share their users’ private data with the federal government and other private companies in order to combat so-called “cyber threats.”

In short, the law dismantles any notion of privacy on the internet, opening every action one undertakes online, whether emailing, shopping, banking, or just browsing, to scrutiny by government agents. While CISPA has yet to clear the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the spirit of it is alive and well. In fact, officials in the Obama administration have for some time now been authorizing corporate information sharing and spying in secret through the use of executive orders and other tactics.

The Justice Department, for instance, has been issuing so-called “2511 letters” to various internet service providers like AT&T, which immunize them from being prosecuted under federal wiretapping laws for providing the federal government with private information. Despite federal court rulings to the contrary, the Department of Justice continues to assert that it does not require a warrant to access Americans’ emails, Facebook chats, and other forms of digital communication.

NSA Surveillance Octopus

While it may be tempting to lay the full blame for these erosions of our privacy on the Obama administration, they are simply continuing a system of mass surveillance, the seeds of which were planted in the weeks after 9/11, when the National Security Agency (NSA) began illegally tracking the communications of American citizens. According to a Washington Post article published in 2010, the NSA continues to collect 1.7 billion communications, whether telephone, email or otherwise, every single day.

The NSA and Department of Justice are just two pieces of a vast surveillance network which encompasses and implicates most of the federal government, as well as the majority of technology and telecommunications companies in the United States. For the past two years, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has approved literally every single request by the federal government to spy on people within the United States. There have been some 4,000 applications rubberstamped by the court in the past two years, applications which allow federal officials to monitor the communications of any person in the United States, including American citizens, if they are believed to be in contact with someone overseas.

These government-initiated spying programs depend in large part on the willingness of corporations to hand over personal information about their customers to government officials. Sometimes the government purchases the information outright. At other times, the government issues National Security Letters, which allow the government to force companies to hand over personal information without a warrant or probable cause.

Some web companies, such as Skype, have already altered their products to allow government access to personal information. In fact, government agents can now determine the credit card information and addresses of Skype users under suspicion of criminal activity. Aside from allowing government agents backdoor access to American communications, corporations are also working on technologies to allow government agents even easier access to Americans’ communications.

For example, Google has filed a patent for a “Policy Violation Checker,” software which would monitor an individual’s communications as they type them out, whether in an email, an Excel spreadsheet or some other digital document, then alert the individual, and potentially their employer or a government agent, if they type any “problematic phrases” which “present policy violations, have legal implications, or are otherwise troublesome to a company, business, or individual.” The software would work by comparing the text being typed to a pre-defined database of “problematic phrases,” which would presumably be defined on a company-by-company basis.

The emergence of this technology fits in well with Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s view on privacy, which is that “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Unfortunately, this is not just the attitude of corporate benefactors who stand to profit from creating spy technology and software but government officials as well.

Additionally, police officials throughout the country have become increasingly keen on monitoring social media websites in real time. Rob D’Ovido, a criminal justice professor at Drexel University, has noted that, “The danger of this in light of the tragedy in Boston is that law enforcement is being so risk-averse they are in danger of crossing that line and going after what courts would ultimately deem as free speech.”

Cameron Dambrosio

For example, Cameron Dambrosio, a teenager and self-styled rap artist living in Metheun, Massachusetts, posted a video of one of his original songs on the internet which included references to the White House and the Boston bombing. While the song’s lyrics may well have been crude and ill-advised in the wake of the Boston bombing, police officers exacerbated the situation by arresting Dambrosio and charging him with communicating terrorist threats, a felony charge which could land him in prison for twenty years.

Unfortunately, cases like Dambrosio’s may soon become the norm, as the FBI’s Next Generation Cyber Initiative has announced that its “top legislative priority” this year is to get social media giants like Facebook and Google to comply with requests for access to real-time updates of social media websites. The proposed method of encouraging compliance is legal inquiries and hefty fines leveled at these companies. The Obama administration is expected to support the proposal.

The reality is this:  we no longer live in a free society. Having traded our freedoms for a phantom promise of security, we now find ourselves imprisoned in a virtual cage of cameras, wiretaps and watchful government eyes. All the while, the world around us is no safer than when we started on this journey more than a decade ago. Indeed, it well may be that we are living in a far more dangerous world, not so much because the terrorist threat is any greater but because the government itself has become the greater threat to our freedoms. — John W. Whitehead

“I never thought I would see the day when a Justice Department would claim that only the most extreme infliction of pain and physical abuse constitutes torture and that acts that are merely cruel, inhuman and degrading are consistent with United States law and policy, that the Supreme Court would have to order the president of the United States to treat detainees in accordance with the Geneva Convention, never thought that I would see that a president would act in direct defiance of federal law by authorizing warrantless NSA surveillance of American citizens. This disrespect for the rule of law is not only wrong, it is destructive.”—Eric Holder, June 2008 speech to the American Constitution Society

Since the early days of our republic, the Attorney General (AG) of the United States has served as the chief lawyer for the government, entrusted with ensuring that the nation’s laws are faithfully carried out and holding government officials accountable to abiding by their oaths of office to “uphold and defend the Constitution.”

Unfortunately, far from holding government officials accountable to abiding by the rule of law, the attorneys general of each successive administration have increasingly aided and abetted the Executive Branch in skirting and, more often than not, flouting the law altogether, justifying all manner of civil liberties and human rights violations and trampling the Constitution in the process, particularly the Fourth Amendment.

No better example is there of the perversion of the office of the AG than its current occupant Eric Holder, who was appointed by President Obama in 2009. Hailed by civil liberties and watchdog groups alike for his pledge to “reverse the disastrous course that we have been on over the past few years” and usher in a new era of civil liberties under Obama, Holder has instead carried on the sorry tradition of his predecessors, going to great lengths to “justify” egregious government actions that can only be described as immoral, unjust and illegal.

Indeed, Holder has managed to eclipse both John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez, whose tenures under George W. Bush earned them constant reproach by Democrats and other left-leaning groups for justifying acts of torture, surveillance of American citizens and clandestine behavior by the government. Holder, however, has largely been given a free pass by these very same groups in much the same way that Obama has. The reason, according to former Senate investigator Paul D. Thacker, is that “Obama is a Democrat. And because he is a Democrat, he’s gotten a pass from many of the civil liberty and good-government groups who spent years watching President Bush’s every move like a hawk.”

Despite getting a “pass” from those who would normally have been crying foul, during his time as attorney general, Holder has “made the Constitution scream”—that according to one of his detractors. The colorful description is apt. Some of the Justice Department’s (DOJ) “greatest hits” under Holder begin and end with his stalwart defense of the Obama administration’s growing powers, coming as they do at the expense of the Constitution.

Moreover, as head of the DOJ, Holder’s domain is vast, spanning several law enforcement agencies, including the United States Marshals Service; FBI; Federal Bureau of Prisons; National Institute of Corrections; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; and Office of the Inspector General (OIG), as well as the U.S. National Central Bureau for INTERPOL. To say that the agencies under Holder have struggled to abide by the rule of law is an understatement.

The following are just some of the highlights of the dangerous philosophies embraced and advanced by Holder and his Justice Department.

The military can detain anyone, including American citizens, it deems a threat to the country. Not only has the DOJ persisted in defending a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act that sanctions indefinite detentions of Americans, but it has also blasted the federal judge who ruled the NDAA to be vague and chilling as overstepping the court’s authority and infringing on Obama’s power to act as Commander in Chief.

Presidential kill lists and drone killings are fine as long as the president thinks someone might have terrorist connections. Holder has gone to great lengths to defend Obama’s use of drones to target and kill American citizens, even on U.S. soil, as legally justifiable. In fact, a leaked DOJ memo suggests that the President has the power to murder any American citizen the world over, so long as he has a feeling that they might, at some point in the future, pose a threat to the United States.

The federal government has the right to seize the private property—cash, real estate, cars and other assets—of those suspected of being “connected” to criminal activity, whether or not the suspect is actually guilty. The government actually collects billions of dollars every year through this asset-forfeiture system, which it frequently divvies up with local law enforcement officials, a practice fully supported by the DOJ and a clear incentive for the government to carry out more of these “takings.”

Warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans’ telephone, email and Facebook accounts is not only permissible but legal. According to court documents, more Americans have had their electronic communications spied on as a result of DOJ orders for phone, email and Internet information—40,000 people alone in 2011—and that doesn’t even begin to take into account agencies outside Holder’s purview, terrorism investigations or requests by state and local law enforcement officials.

Judicial review is far from necessary. Moreover, while it is legal for the government to use National Security Letters (NSL) to get detailed information on Americans’ finances and communications without oversight from a judge, it is illegal to challenge the authority of the Justice Department. Administrative subpoenas or NSLs—convenient substitutes for court-sanctioned warrants that require only a government official’s signature in order to force virtually all businesses to hand over sensitive customer information—have become a popular method of bypassing the Fourth Amendment and a vital tool for the DOJ’s various agencies. Incredibly, the DOJ actually sued a telecommunications company for daring to challenge the FBI’s secret order, lacking in judicial oversight, that it relinquish information about its customers. The FBI alone has issued more than 300,000 NSLs since 2000.

Due process and judicial process are not the same. In one of his earliest attempts to justify targeted assassinations of American citizens by the president, Holder declared in a March 5, 2012 speech at the Northwestern University School of Law that “The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.” What Holder was attempting to suggest is that the Fifth Amendment’s assurance that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law” does not necessarily involve having one’s day in court and all that that entails—it simply means that someone, the president for example, should review and be satisfied by the facts before ordering someone’s death. As one history professor warned, “Insert even a sliver of difference between due process and judicial process, and you convert liberty into tyranny. Holder, sworn to uphold the laws of the United States, is the mouthpiece of that tyranny, and Obama is its self-appointed judge, jury and executioner.”

Government whistleblowers will be bankrupted, blacklisted, blackballed and in some cases banished. As AG, Holder has reportedly prosecuted more government officials for alleged leaks than all his predecessors combined. Relying on the World War I-era Espionage Act, the DOJ has launched an all-out campaign to roust out, prosecute, and imprison government whistleblowers for exposing government corruption, incompetence, and greed. Intelligence analyst Bradley Manning is merely one in a long line of so-called “enemies of the state” to feel the Obama administration’s wrath for daring to publicly criticize its policies by leaking information to the media.

Government transparency is important unless government officials are busy, can stonewall, redact, obfuscate or lie about the details, are able to make the case that they are exempt from disclosure or that it interferes with national security. AsSlate reports, “President Obama promised transparency and open government. He failed miserably.” Not only has Holder proven to be far less transparent than any of his predecessors, however, but his DOJ has done everything in its power to block access to information, even in matters where that information was already known. For example, when asked to explain the “Fast and Furious” debacle in which government operatives trafficked guns to Mexican drug lords, DOJ officials—unaware that much of the facts had already been revealed—“responded with false and misleading information that violated federal law.” When pressed for further information, the Justice Department retracted its initial response and refused to say anything more.

When it comes to Wall Street, justice is not blind. As revealed in a PBS Frontline report, the Obama administration has driven federal prosecutions of financial crimes down to a two-decade low, buoyed in its blindness to corporate corruption by campaign donations from Wall Street banks (whom Holder has determined are too big to prosecute anyhow) and staffers whose lucrative financial portfolios came about as a result of chummy relationships with financiers. As David Sirota points outs:

After watching the [PBS] piece, you will understand that the word “justice” belongs in quotes thanks to an Obama administration that has made a mockery of the name of a once hallowed executive department… Rooted in historical comparison, it contrasts how the Reagan administration prosecuted thousands of bankers after the now-quaint-looking S&L scandal with how the Obama administration betrayed the president’s explicit promise to “hold Wall Street accountable” and refused to prosecute a single banker connected to 2008′s apocalyptic financial meltdown.

Not all suspects should have the right to remain silent. In 2010, Holder began floating the idea that Miranda rights—which require that a suspect be informed of his right to remain silent—should be modified depending on the circumstances. Curiously, the Supreme Court is presently reviewing a case addressing a similar question, namely whether a suspect’s silence equates to an admission of guilt.

Clearly, it’s not the Constitution that Eric Holder is safeguarding but the power of the presidency. Without a doubt, Holder has taken as his mantra Nixon’s mantra that “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.” It may be that the time has come to create a “non-political” and “independent” Attorney General, one who would serve the interests of the public by upholding the rule of law rather than justifying the whims of the President. — John W. Whitehead