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Liberty vs. Security: A False Choice?

The U.S. has violated the law for security many times. Were we ever safer?

Abraham H. Miller


June 13, 2013 - 1:34 pm
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A thought experiment, to get beyond the partisan blinders of the current National Security Agency scandal: close your eyes and pretend that it is 1973, and you just learned the government is spending two billion dollars to build a data-storage facility for the NSA in the Utah desert. The government has been secretly data-mining your phone records and your credit card statements. The president assures you that it’s not a problem, and reaffirms that no one is listening in on your private phone conversations. Besides, this is all being done in the interest of national security. The president who is telling you this is Richard M. Nixon, and the Watergate scandal is in full bloom.

Do you believe him?

You do if you were one of those ultra-partisan Republicans who thought Nixon should hang in there and fight impeachment. But if you had an ounce of objectivity, you judged Nixon to be a liar.

The situation today with Barack Obama is strikingly similar yet more frightening, because when Nixon was trying to lie his way out of the Watergate scandal by cloaking it in national security, the press was doing its job and relentlessly challenging him.

Today, the press has shamelessly been a propaganda arm of the Obama administration. Had any other administration stood down while four Americans fought for their lives and our honor, it would have been excoriated by the media. If Richard M. Nixon’s whereabouts could not be accounted for during a security emergency — for six hours — the press would have been zealous in finding out where he was.

If the media’s response to Nixon’s scandals had been similar to their current response to Obama’s scandals, Watergate would have ended as an insignificant burglary undertaken by rogue agents of the Committee to Reelect the President.

The CIA, from 1955-1974, had an operation titled HT-Lingual in the main New York post office. Using the technology of the time — steamy tea kettles — it went about opening the mail going to and coming from the then-Soviet Union. Ironically, one of the letters opened was written by Richard M. Nixon. The operation violated the Fourth Amendment and the 1947 National Security Act, which restricted the CIA’s operations to foreign intelligence.

What stops us from being victims of the oppression of fanatics in government who trample the law in the pursuit of our security are the rule of law and the willingness of the courageous few to blow the whistle on them. Thomas Andrews Drake, an employee of the NSA, revealed that the Bush administration was secretly intercepting phone conversations without FISA warrants. Not only did the Bush administration seek to prosecute Drake to the fullest extent of the law, so too did the Obama administration under the 1917 Espionage Act. Eventually, Drake was able to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and to do community service. In 2010, a federal judge in San Francisco struck down the Bush administration’s warrantless searches as unconstitutional.

All democratic states find that when they are under siege, they need to balance freedom and order, privacy and security. Of course, the balance tips toward order and security in those situations. Yet it is highly questionable whether giving up liberty has ever really enhanced security.

The CIA’s nearly twenty-year tea kettle project in the New York post office ferreted out not one act of espionage, and exposed not one traitor.

The FBI’s COINTELPRO operations violated the rights of Americans to organize, assemble, and fully use their constitutional liberties. It disrupted the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, and the environmental movement. There is no evidence to prove we were more secure as a result of the government’s violation of basic liberties.

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Top Rated Comments   
Toothpaste, meet tube.
The lost trust now reaches into most corners of the government, and rots away at the heart of our institutions, the legal profession above all. As the rule of law collapses, the levels of instability spread and rise -- maybe a grim mix of disequilibrium theories bumping into a 'Minsky moment' hidden by a black swan, if you'll forgive the mixed thought -- so the whole system creaks and grinds ever more slowly, then goes thunk all of a sudden.

Somewhere ahead there's an ugly catalyst that will trigger...well what, who knows? We'll only know with hindsight. My guess: it'll be public sector pensions, a catastrophe that's been building for decades and is now about to bust wide open.

History will be hard on Obama. We can all agree he's a disaster, but he's really just a symptom.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (21)
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At the height of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, one of my acquaintances said that the character of any president was irrelevant. In his words: "I don't care if the president sleeps with sheep, it's the policies that matter."
Miller's article is the perfect response to the above stupid mindset. He addresses the liberal capacity to overlook the faults of presidents who advance their agenda.
The latest NSA scandal, though, suggests that even liberals must strain to accept Obama's behavior. Liberals, indifferent to sexual morality, were indifferent to the Lewinsky episode. Obama, on the other hand, has violated civil rights that Liberals care about.
Miller proposes something that will give even Liberals pause---Nixon was better and less dangerous.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Nixon was at least competent.
A master at using Presidential authority and prestige in the national interest.
And a total failure when trying to cover his behind. He just couldn't do it. And I still feel that this failure was intentional. He would go through the motions for his administration but his heart wasn't in it.
Now compare to today..........
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One cannot be free, thus enjoy liberty, if one lives in a surveillance/police state. Both constructs are simply diametrically opposed.
And Obama Inc can't feign, in order to secure the nation, a TOTAL surveillance must be done. Not only that, but if this was the case, then the people should have expected that 9/11/01 would have been thwarted, as well as Boston's jihad!
Not only that, but a clear case was made through the following embedded documentary: NSA totally dropped the ball re 9/11/01, even though they had ALL the communications, both from Al Qaeda's safe house in Yemen, in tandem with ALL the conversations from the terrorists inside the US, even in NSA's own neighborhood. Seek and you shall be amazed -
Most mendaciously, a regime gone wild attempts to conflate securing the name with a need for TOTAL surveillance. Dangerous hogwash!

Adina Kutnicki, Israel
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Easy enough to sympathize with the frustration here; it's impossible to keep all eyes on the interminable bounces of the ball.

Islam is an easy target, too easy. Even the vilest jihadist would say that he's following his beliefs and exploiting his enemy's weaknesses to the maximum. Frankly, what else would you expect? A pat response about ends and means won't get you very far, either. And as for the noisy sub-set of 'Christians' inclined to head for the Rapture rocket, well, you'll serve as a working definition of a clueless coward -- some would dismiss you, IMO unfairly, as hypocrites -- but you aren't the problem, either; and there are many other examples.

The war underway is primarily against our own government and its enforcers, of all kinds. Our institutions are now rotten and co-opted. There's room for hope: most on the gov't payroll are neither evil nor unpatriotic, just as bufuddled and powerless as the rest of us.

Except we're not powerless...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The US military is at war; The US public is at the Mall.
Respect words; 'Insurrection' does not apply to the groups you mentioned
because they did not have and never could have gained enough support
to oppose authority at the City level, let alone the State or Federal level.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When a government becomes so overbearing that it sets to spying, and in mass and in great detail, on it's own people like they were all subjects, if not criminals, it is not doing so on their behalf. The Stasi wasn't in East German and the NSA isn't in America. I don't think the federal government has stopped a single attack, and have caused quite a number (Fort Hood, Boston, Benghazi, Mexican invaders who kill so many and most every day), with their gross dereliction. I don't care how many times Obama and other NSA apologists tell me that's Holy Water they are spraying on my leg to keep me safe, I know that it's something very different. If there were justice in the world, Snowden would be living it up in the White House and Obama would be in hiding.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not what this program's about."

In a very simular news story, a lady goes into the changing room and another lady, maybe a Miss Snow, points out a peephole to her, in fact several of them. She then goes to complain to the manager and he says, ""Nobody is looking at any of you. That's not what this peephole program's about."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
None of this talk is fair to Nixon. Conservatives aren't really helping as much as they think in continually comparing Nixon to Obama. Nixon was a far, far better man and politician. They should be talking about the Liberal view of Nixon while not endorsing that view. That is enough to make the point, and not trash a decent man and a patriot.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

Well said, very well said.

We Americans are in denial that we are in an existential war against our trans-national Muslim enemy deeply embedded and infiltrated inside our Nation. We simply refuse to accept this, all of these years after being attacked by them in 1973 and again in 2001, among other scattered attacks under the term of "terrorism".

We refuse to accept the dogmatic, religious aspect of this new Muslim enemy which is unlike even our previously experienced dogmatic religious-justified Japanese attack against us in 1941. The Imperial Japanese of that time were centrally organized and under the tightest controls their General Staff could enforce.

Not so with our current faction-ridden, undisciplined, trans-national, ad hoc attack inclined, un-uniformed, and basically wilder and unpredictable Muslim enemy.

To fight this new ad hoc style guerrilla warfare, we need imaginative, un-traditional approaches. Not these divisive attacks from within our own borders from among our own point-scoring politicians with their eyes only on their constituencies.

Some of us remember the rigid and very determined unity of this Nation in 1942. That's simply beyond the comprehension of today's politicians and news media.

Our disastrous current wartime "administration" simply is the worst possible under these fluid circumstances. We are handicapping ourselves with this faux "multiculturalism" and nauseous political correctness personified in the chameleon named Obama.

We're in one helluva mess.

Some Flag Day, 2013.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
.....glaring "1993" instead of 1973.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This was supposed to be in reply to:
" sinz54
"I would no more trust Barack Obama data-mining my records than I would trust Richard Nixon."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In Richard Nixon's day China was the problem in Korea but we made a stand. And China was a bigger problem in Vietnam and we lost .Now China is on the way of becoming THE SUPERPOWER in The world.
"He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, 17 and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or[f] the name of the beast, or the number of his name."

Welcome to a peak of REALITY ,what the prophets to saint Paul have known every word you speak is recorded and every thought is examined and feeling weighed for this great war for the immortal soul .
I believe it is wise to be able to have the tools the Angels are given to know who is spying for atheist China or any other nation China is out to control so we not caught with our pants down from too many atheists in our own nation having the demons speak through them this ring of power turns man into a greed monger as Gandolf say in Lord of the rings at first he would use the ring for great good then corruption will take over
let us get back to respecting our own nation knowing the great threats we have in 2013 getting worse with super power nation having spys who are out to ruin our great nation.
Only by uniting the three Abraham faiths to change our culture could we endure what is coming
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
do not chain the hands of the angels for you wild eyes delusions in the name of hiding your sins thus allowing the demons to destroy our nation
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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