Over the past two weeks, the news cycle has obsessively focused on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, his psychology, and most recently, his whereabouts. Lost in this emphasis is the original focus on the real criminals at the NSA, and across the executive branch, who have conspired to assault the Constitution.
Many of the same officials complicit in dragnet domestic spying, including director of national intelligence James Clapper, have attempted to cover outright lies to Congress with self-serving claims that Snowden's leaks undermined national security.
Not since Wall Street banks claimed that their failure would destroy the American economy has such brazenness found such pervasive, uncritical acceptance. Nor has there been a similarly grotesque misappropriation of public funds since the resulting bailouts. NSA surveillance turns out to be one more channel for corporate welfare, through the spy agency's cooperation with private corporations.
Claims that Snowden's leaks undermines national security are, at best, influenced by the self-interest of the spokespeople promoting this canard. Officials repeating these lies include the head of the NSA, whose interest in the issue is apparent. What remains obscure are any facts that would support his self-serving statements.
The documents that Snowden leaked are general surveillance orders untethered to a particular suspect or investigation, do not reveal any sources or methods that could allow advantages to our nation's enemies, and consequently could not undermine national security by being disclosed. The only security impacted by the leaks is the job security of executive officials who continue to assault the rights of the American people using our tax dollars.
Unfortunately, those officials are not the only ones who have violated their oaths of office. By approving these powers without even understanding their full contours, members of Congress from each of the corporate political parties have rendered themselves complicit in dragnet domestic surveillance. Rather than check or balance the executive branch, Congress has become its lapdog, leaving the American people at risk of the arbitrary government intrusions that our Constitution was written largely to prevent.
Several other casualties have gone largely unnoticed in the debate so far. Beyond the loss of judicial independence and democratic transparency, which I've addressed elsewhere, lies a more troubling phenomenon: outright corruption.
The NSA operates in secret, channeling secret amounts of taxpayer dollars (at least dozens of billions of dollars each year, in a time of budget crisis) to essentially engage in wartime activities against the American people. Even worse, it does so in complicity with private corporations that facilitate unconstitutional surveillance, yet have won congressional immunity from worthy lawsuits seeking to vindicate the rights of law-abiding Americans assaulted en masse.
What could possibly be more corrupt than using taxpayer dollars to fund private corporations' activities violating fundamental constitutional rights, then lying about it in public, and prosecuting the conscientious individuals who reveal tips of the iceberg to the press and the public?
Welcome to America in 2013.
Shahid Buttar is executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.