May 18, 2006
Sixty-three percent (63%) of Americans polled, when asked if
surveillance of their personal telephone calls was a fair trade-off
against possible terror strikes, said yes.
I am amazed by that.
These same Americans polled decisively against a National Identity
Card. National identity cards are undisputed across Europe, but
they smack too much of government in your face for Americans.
What difference could possibly make up for this anomaly?
- An identity card must be filled out, filled in, stamped,
approved and carried around in a purse or back pocket. “Not
in my country you don’t!”
- Telephone intercepts are
fiddled-with in secrecy, unstamped, unapproved and carried
surreptitiously within the archives
of a government who didn’t
bother to ask your permission. “Ah, who cares? If you have nothing
to hide . . . “
And they could have asked, of course they could, just
CIA nominee Hayden’s premise of matching phone chatter
to patterns is not unknown. The similarity to racial-profiling
is inescapable and we are nearly 63% ambivalent about racial-profiling
because we white Americans are approximately 63% of the race
that is not profiled.
Yet, leaving that issue aside, the administration could have
gone to Congress and asked for permission to extend a surveillance
(formerly reserved for enemies on foreign shores) to the American
butcher, baker and candle-stick maker.
Congress might well have
gone along. Had they gone along and had they made
the public case for the ‘emergency nature’ of such a request,
we would at least not have been blind-sided by yet another creepiness
on the Bush presidential watch.
And they will tell you (if they care to) that public awareness
is exactly what they didn’t want, exactly what would have
kept the bad-guys from falling into the net. Yeah, sure. The ‘net’ thus
far has jailed a possible shoe-bomber (no one ever actually blew
up the shoe to see) and a self destructive, egocentric and delusioned
awareness is what makes law-enforcement
work and (frustratingly) what has us all taking off our shoes
in airports. Clandestine phone surveillance is (or has been until
now) reserved for foreign lands where the laws are less pervasive
and effective than ours.
So, where’s the big problem?
The big problem is that this pattern-searching of our private
phone use will be hailed as a success. There will be no demonstrable
evidence to support that conclusion because there are no measurable
parameters. In the absence of elephants, elephant-repellant
If we suffer another terrorist attack, it will be in spite
of surveillance and if we don’t, it will be because your
call to the baby-sitter proved not to be part of a plot.
A true win-win for the White House. The Bush-Cheney administration
boasts of success either way.
If that doesn’t actually sound like a big problem, consider
the creative uses to which ‘success’ may be put.
Expertise ‘learned in the trenches of terrorist warfare’ will
be palatable to Americans when it is served up in the next war,
- Drug interdiction
- Corporate fraud
- Income tax evasion
- Etc., etc. and another twenty or thirty
Should your phone intersect the surveilled number of a suspected
terrorist, it may simply be that you ordered a pizza and, when
he was late delivering, you called his cell-phone. “No
problem, Madam, and thank you for your cooperation.”
But suppose, just suppose that as the success of the NSA terrorist
program migrates to the drug war, your phone number shows up
(in similar circumstances) on a dealer’s network. Maybe
you and the dealer share no more than a taste for the same pizza.
Your husband works for Enron and talks regularly to the CEO
because they share a trivial interest. Your Uncle Dave (the one
who actually looks like David Letterman) gets picked up for tax
fraud and you have the same accountant, some of the same investments
and a few shared chat-lines.
All of which can be put down to (A) the possibility of good
plans having unintended consequences, (B) the need to squeeze
lemons to make lemonade or (C) some other tired metaphor.
that this government has an interest in abortion and all those
connected with it, a preoccupation with the drug culture and
all those connected with it, a fascination with premarital
sex and all those connected with it, a determined stance
against environmental policy and all those connected with it, a
presumption of guilt when it comes to poverty and all those connected with
And if that were not the case, it would still be incredibly