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First Amendment expert and author Nat Hentoff's recent column warns us about the ever-expanding surveillance state and quotes extensively from my recent Kos diary.

Hentoff writes:

And now for the first time in American history, according to the Government Accountability Project’s Jesselyn Radack, Attorney General Eric Holder has officially and publicly declared “new guidelines that permit the federal counterterrorism investigators to collect, search and store data about Americans who are not suspected of terrorism, or anything …

“According to the Justice Department, law enforcement and other national security agencies can copy entire databases and sift through the data for suspicious patterns to stop potential terrorist threats” . . . .

Where in the Constitution do “suspicious patterns” – otherwise undefined and outside the jurisdiction of our courts – allow the government to put large and growing numbers of us into databases for future tracking?

Hentoff provides a telling piece of history:
And dig what [Senator Frank] Church said in 1975, that the NSA’s “capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter.”

Even though this technology was in its infancy compared to its ever-increasing range and depth today, Church had already found out enough to warn:

“There would be no place to hide … There would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know.”

Yet, even after the Church Committee hearings and resulting Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) - which is supposed to be the exclusive means under which the government is permitted to monitor Americans electronically - the NSA is more powerful than ever. See Jim Bamford's recent blockbuster articles in Wired Magazine (here and here). Congress, instead of providing oversight when the NSA overstepped its bounds after 9/11, gutted FISA with the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) of 2008, effectively "legalizing" much of NSA's conduct. (The FAA is up for renewal this year). For good measure in protection of the large campaign contributing telecommunications industry, Congress also gave the telecoms retroactive immunity for handing over innocent Americans' private data to the government.

We now know, as Bamford's articles reveal in new detail, the NSA's illegal surveillance went far beyond what was originally disclosed.

Hentoff also points out out that both sides of the aisle bear responsibility for expanding surveillance powers:

Indeed, Radack writes, this gossamer of “information” is being stored “on Americans who are not even thinking about committing a crime.”

As of this writing, Mitt Romney appears very likely to be the Republicans’ choice to thwart President Barack Obama’s desire for a second term. Have you heard any objection from him on this purge of privacy?

Thirty years after Church’s principled stand, the Washington Post reported that the NSA had already been enlisting other intelligence agencies to assist its surveillance of “people inside the country suspected of having terrorist connections” (“Bush Authorized Domestic Spying,” Dan Eggen, Dec. 16, 2005).

On what basis? That’s classified.

And here we are today, with Obama urgently working to extend his power as commander in chief over all of us not in uniform.

Meanwhile, despite all of the evidence of illegal conduct at NSA, the only person to be criminally prosecuted in connection with the NSA's warrantless surveillance programs is a whistleblower who objected to them - Thomas Drake. And, it was the Obama administration - which insists on "looking forward, not backward" when advocates demand accountability for G.W. Bush-era crimes - which oversaw the prosecution of Drake, and has prosecuted more people under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidents combined.

Similarly, the only person to be criminally prosecuted in connection with the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) Bush-era torture program is the whistleblower who refused to engage in torture - John Kiriakou. The Justice Department refused to prosecute the attorneys who authored the "torture memos," the CIA agents who tortured prisoners, the officials who ordered them to torture, and the officials who destroyed the videotapes of torture interrogations. The Justice Department refused even to refer the torture memo authors to the bar associations. Yet, the Justice Department is prosecuting Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on waterboarding and was one of the first CIA officers to call waterboarding torture. (To support Kiriakou, you can go here or "like" the "Defend John K" Facebook page).

The Justice Department's priorities are dangerously out of whack.

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