The issue of "National Security Letters" (NSL) abuse highlights the abdication of congressional oversight of Executive branch national security activities. And it confirms what many suspected, that the Executive branch is uninterested in safeguards to protect American civil liberties from obliteration. Serious stuff.
But the NSLs are a symptom of a far darker and more ominous development.
Recent news accounts as discussed by Firedoglake here set forth the extent of the abuse of NSLs by the FBI and the dereliction of duty by both Congress and the Executive. (See the underlying 2005 decision by Judge Hall striking down the NSLs issued under the Patriot Act in Doe v. Gonzales). The matter is now pending before the Supreme Court.
Far more troubling, however, is the relative acceptance of this state of affairs in many quarters across government and even in American civil society at large. The willingness to accept that (or sullen resignation to) the United States is now a MachtState or SekuritatState is a remarkable testiment to political engineering to change consciousness.
And bodes ill for the Future. As long time visitors to Stiftung Leo Strauss may recall, we have long believed that 43 is himself a transitional figure.
Yet how did the Republic get to this position? One part of the answer is easy: the Patriot Act was rushed through Congress just 45 days after the 9/11 attacks. Yet it contained sunset provisions to ensure protection of civil liberties. The embrace of its MachtState rationale was not total. (These provisions will be renewed -- and even expanded -- shortly by Congress).
Something deeper and more pernicious has altered the political equilibrium and consciousness beyond the shock of 9/11 and panic afterwards. What happened after October 26, 2001 and the passage of the Patriot Act was 4 years of sustained political agitprop by the Administrion and its allies to condition the American people and Congress to accept a drastic political coup d'main -- the invisibile re-writing of the Constitution to change the status of Citizen from owner and director of government to supplicant before the State.
Using fear mongering, agit prop through media distribution channels on cable, broadcast and echo chambers on radio and in the blogosphere, the Administration seduced long-standing regard for limited government and concern of abuse of civil liberties. Using fear and "the threat of the mushroom cloud" to bludgeon political discourse and even self identity, the Administration and the permanent national security apparat have created a National Security State beyond Richard Nixon's more feverish musings.
Now, in the case of the NSL, the State apparatchiks in the FBI can issue NSLs on any American, without a court order or oversight. A recipient must remain silent and turn over requested information. An American citizen as supplicant before the MachtState must prove to the State that he or she has nothing to hide. Until 2001, it was the burden of government to show a need for information and to demonstrate due care about its collection, handling and dissmenination.
It is neo-Soviet for the FBI and its alleged overseerers in DoJ to claim that "if someone has nothing to hide they have nothing to fear from us." For the DoJ Inspector General to muse in the press item cited by Firedoglike that he has not had many complaints about NSL abuses, but then note, complaining would mean that the complainant violated the Patriot Act by even admitting it received a NSL in passing is not even Kafka-esque. It is Terry Gilliam Brazil territory.
This concern about NSLs is not theoretical. The FBI is issuing 30,000 a year. There are no totals for how many the Defense Department has issued under delegated authority. More than that is not known, because the FBI and the Department of Justice refuse to provide information to Congress.
We do know, however, that the FBI is not destroying information collected even if it turns out to be on persons who pose no threat to national security. In fact, the FBI is expressly authorized to share that information with other agencies in the government and with certain undefined private sector entitites.
J Edgar Hoober would be stunned at the chutzpah of the current permanent national security apparat. But of even greater concern? The NSLs and the creation of a supra Constititonal National Security State seem to be acceptable to large segments of the population and Congress.