It never ceases to amaze how reactive Americans are to news items they should be aware of if they had a memory, or paid as much attention to government policies during a white president’s administration as they do when an African American occupies the White House. The current furor over “breaking news” the NSA has the ability to collect and monitor electronic communications is troubling for many Americans, but after 12 years of the practice; why is it a big deal now and why is the media treating the story like it is a shocking revelation when they were aware of, and covered, the story several years ago? Possibly, the media feels comfortable inciting public outrage against the government after four years of Republican efforts to convince Americans to hate Washington while a Black man is President, or they are deliberately assisting the GOP to distract public attention from issues that portray Republicans in a negative light.
There is a divide among Americans whether or not “whistle blower” Edward Snowden who leaked “breaking news” that the NSA uses ‘PRISM’ to “collect data directly from the servers” of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and other online companies, and carefully included the phrase “direct access” that implied the NSA took time to listen in, or monitor, Jimmie’s phone calls, emails, and text messages to his sweetheart across the country. The only problem with Snowden’s story was that the government did not have “direct access” to anyone’s accounts through direct server access,” a claim vehemently denied by Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, the Washington Post, New York Times, and even The Guardian that first published Snowden’s claim.
Still, millions of Americans came to Snowden’s defense and hailed him a hero who certainly deserves to win the Nobel Peace Prize for exposing the NSA’s practice regardless it was, by any stretch of the imagination, old news that garnered outrage during the Bush administration. In fact, in the May 11, 2006 edition of USA Today, a story with a glaring headline reading, “NSA has massive database of Americans’ phone calls” and detailed that three telecommunication companies shared records with the NSA by contract when the program was launched in 2001 under the aegis of the Bush Patriot Act shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The story even described the program’s aim was “to create a database of every call ever made,” and to identify and track suspected terrorists, which is close to the same explanation the public has been given during the current exposé that’s engendered outrage from Americans who were told the NSA was “reading your emails as you type them.”
The truth is that in order for the NSA “to eavesdrop on communications and review email,” they need permission under the recently reauthorized FISA Amendments Act that “allows federal agencies with a warrant from the secret FISA court” to monitor communications. According to rules under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, “The N.S.A. (1) may not intentionally target any person known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States; (2) may not intentionally target a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States if the purpose of such acquisition is to target a particular, known person reasonably believed to be in the United States; (3) may not intentionally target a United States person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States; (4) may not intentionally acquire any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of the acquisition to be located in the United States; and (5) shall be conducted in a manner consistent with the fourth amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” Although the notion of any National Security Agency snooping may be troubling, they are not reading emails, text messages, or listening in on hundreds-of-millions of communications daily of Americans sharing recipes, or setting up a card game at the local watering hole.
All of this information has been in the public record, and well-known, since at least 2006 and likely earlier, and is certainly not breaking news or an exposé from a heroic whistle blower or “noted journalist” and staff writer at The Guardian living in Brazil. The respected journalist who, by the way, reported the NSA was given “direct access” to tens-of-millions of Americans accounts from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, or Facebook’s servers containing personal data failed to fact check Edward Snowden’s “direct access” remark. What few critics are talking about are the thousands of private companies such as “makers of hardware and software, banks, Internet security providers, satellite telecommunications companies” that are handing over personal data and allegedly in return “are receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence” according to Bloomberg News. The question Americans should be outraged over is why are private corporations “selling personal data” for access to classified intelligence on Americans, and not whether some NSA employee is reading personal expressions of affection between lovers across town as they type text messages.
None of this information so many Americans have gotten caught up in is a revelation, and it is curious why the sudden interest after nearly a dozen years of intelligence agencies monitoring communications to ferret out contacts between suspected terrorists. While the American people, and the media, are battening down their Internet connections and fretting over their mobile phone conversations, media has conveniently covered over news items Republicans in Congress are likely not interested in reaching the people’s ears and eyes. For example, Republicans in Congress are pushing through a ban on abortions after 20-weeks, deregulating derivative trading to give Wall Street and the financial sector the precise mechanisms they used to create a world economic crash during the Bush administration, and Wisconsin Republicans pushing forced ultrasound legislation on women seeking an abortion now waiting for Governor Scott Walker to sign. There was improving economic news Americans likely missed while they were fuming over the NSA “breaking news” such as consumer confidence is at a 5-year high, U.S. job creation is the best in five years, or that the IMF warned America economic growth will suffer for the next two years due Republican’s sequester and suggested following President Obama’s recommendation of balanced cuts after repealing the Draconian cuts. There has also been little reporting (except on liberal blogs) that Republicans in the House are pushing at least $20 billion in cuts to food stamps while pushing subsidies benefiting the corporate agriculture industry.
Doubtless it is worrisome to many Americans the government monitors communications, but it has been going on since after the terror attacks in 2001, and hopefully there will be investigations and hearings that are twelve years too late. However, the calls for Edward Snowden’s capture and arrest for treason, or his sainthood as a whistle blower exposing a several years-old intelligence agency practice are little more than distraction from some real damage being leveled on the American people by Republicans in Congress and state legislatures. There important issues affecting the American people are being ignored and it is not because they are happening in secret, but because Americans need outrage, a scandal, or reason to distrust the government while real damage is covered over by the mainstream media and it is unclear if it is because an African American is President, or because Republicans will be exposed as Wall Street, religious-right, or corporate servants that if Americans knew about should incite rioting in the streets.