Washington is reeling from revelations that the NSA is turning the country into a virtual Panopticon. Americans are now learning that all our phone calls are turned over to the feds, who also have their tentacles in the servers of the major internet providers. The whistle-blower, 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a remarkably articulate former CIA employee and contractor with the NSA, also happens to be a Ron Paul supporter.
From somewhere in Hong Kong, Snowden has provoked a national debate over the Surveillance State, and the lines are now being redrawn politically. It’s no longer liberals versus conservatives, but authoritarians versus anti-authoritarians, the regime versus the dissidents. You know—like in the old Soviet Union.
A couple of weeks before the Snowden story broke, the ACLU fled a lawsuit on behalf of myself and Antiwar.com’s webmaster, Eric Garris, asking for documents related to FBI surveillance of our site and organization. We know they have such documents because of a Freedom of Information Act release granted to another party.
The revelation of a system described by Snowden as enabling him to spy on anyone, up to and including a federal judge or even the president (“if I had a personal email”), casts a new and sinister light on my relationship to the FBI. If indeed they can do what Snowden says they are doing, then to what extent have they been doing it in my case? Are they actually listening in on my three-hour conversations with my sister over her love life and her cats? Do they really take an interest in my e-mails to editors wondering where their long-promised copy is? It’s both funny and creepy to contemplate.
In the old days J. Edgar Hoover’s boys used to go through the garbage, looking for evidence of subversion. Today they rifle through the trash folder in your e-mail. They don’t have the gonads to sneak around your house in person; they spy on you remotely, just like they conduct their drone wars from a very safe distance. Some dimwit sitting in a cubicle somewhere is deciding whether you are a terrorist, whether you need to be investigated, whether you get to live or die.
In going through the document calling for an investigation into myself, Garris, and Antiwar.com, I’m struck by the number of databases they checked: something called the Universal Index, which revealed—well, that’s blacked out, and it’s a very big redaction. What could they have found out? A cold chill goes down my spine as I comb my memory for past transgressions.
The document continues, “File 65T-HQ-1427774 serial 26, dated 04/14/2004, from the Counterintelligence Unit CD-4E/11869 to the Washington Field Office furnished Washington Field with information received by”—and another large redaction. There are also apparently “four FISA derived references [to me, Garris, and/or Antiwar.com] located at Newark. They are 315-NK-102595-EL6 serials 65, 71, 72 and 80.”
Ah yes, FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the legislative seed from which sprang the Panopticon, which sets up a special court to “legalize” government snooping: These courts meet in secret, and their decisions are classified. One of Snowden’s alleged “crimes” is revealing the contents of one such court order, which gives the government a blanket OK to track the details of every phone call made and received in the United States. So what the FBI document is saying is that information gleaned from a FISA-authorized snooping expedition is contained in their dossier on myself and Antiwar.com.
After building a case that I am a dangerous person who may well be an “agent of a foreign power,” the anonymous author of this memo concludes that a fuller investigation is called for. Really? On what basis? The first page of the memo gives some hint: It references four case IDs, one of which is so secret that the case number is redacted. The memo also refers to the “title” of these cases, identified as “Pakistan” and “UBL/Al Qaeda.”
So I’m being investigated, or have been investigated, as part of a larger investigation into terrorist activities in Pakistan conducted by Al Qaeda? If that is true, and continues to be true, then no doubt they’ve looked into every nook and cranny of my life.
The memo writer says I may be an agent for a “foreign power,” and when this document first came out I asked myself—in jest—what foreign power is he talking about? California? Now, in light of the Snowden revelations, I see that the memo’s author was eerily perceptive, although not in the way he intended. For I am indeed an agent of a foreign power—the Old America, where the Panopticon was only a dystopian fiction, a warning sign posted by those who saw what was coming. I confess to that, here and now, because the country I am living in is not that America anymore. It is a conquered nation, under occupation by truly foreign forces.