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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?

by
Abraham H. Miller

Bio

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.

Comments are closed.

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
All Comments   (14)
All Comments   (14)
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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
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
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 typo...read "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

The problem is access to the databases...corporations do not contribute millions into PACS for no reason, they get access to secret databases in return. This has been going on since long before Nixon, stretching back to the industrial Barons of the 19th century who combined their resources to elect and control presidents.
The NSA, CIA, MIlitary Intelligence, etc, they have worked closely with Corporate interests for decades. This is the danger, when its not your government reviewing your file but a defense contractor, or a banking consortium, or Insurance company that now has access to your every email, phone, fax and text.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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
Toothpaste, meet tube. How apropos. I agree that Obama is "just a symptom" and he might even be part of the Lord's work in waking us up and guiding us back to what has passed for normalcy for generations. No, I am not talking about taking away women's rights or anything like that. I am talking only about social norms prior to the disruption of the sixties.

I don't expect that we will ever get back to the time when a man's word was his bond, when contracts were made with a handshake, not twenty pages of lawyer's prose. But there is a lot that we could recover if we were determined to raise good citizens, free from the Leftist propaganda. Old fashioned things like self-sufficiency, responsibility, actually working to advance and not expecting to get a free lunch all one's life are some of the things we must strive for at a minimum.

As for trust, I might start trusting a Fed government that was truly working to restore the balance between Federal and state responsibilities ala the 10th Amendment. Once I see the EPA, Dept. of Education etc bite the dust, I might see things differently. Today, unfortunately, I see the Fed government as an enemy which seeks to take away my Constitutional rights.



1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I wish that exchanging the Rule of Law for the Rule of Men, or the Rule of Force,
was the worst threat we faced; Lately I have been remembering Herman Kahn's
estimate that during a Global Thermonuclear War, the US could lose up to 25%
of its population, and still survive as the USofA. A Global Economic Collapse
might hit the US harder than that, given how deteriorated our infrastructure
has become, and how reliant for delivery of the necessities of life we have
become on a Just-In-Time delivery system with about one week of reserves.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The 'Rule of Thumb' is that NO U.S. community is more than THREE DAYS from starvation. So dependent are we on the Supermarket shelf.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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