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Ever feel like you’re being watched?

Posted: June 12, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 12, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

 

There’s someone crawling in my yard
There’s someone creeping on my roof
There’s someone tapping my phone
I feel it deep in my bones
They want to probe my intuition
They want to find out what I know
Why don’t they leave me alone?
I got to run
I got to run

— Oingo Boingo

Between 2000 and 2001, 15 crazed fundamentalist Saudis and four similarly bent Arabs moved to the United States to take flying lessons and otherwise prepare the most devastating foreign attack on American soil ever.

Their low-tech, box-cutter hijackings brought down two skyscrapers, murdered over 3,000 people, and set the United States on a course from the world’s “Beacon of Freedom” to the world’s Greatest Surveillance State.

These box-cutter terrorists caught George W. Bush’s administration dead flat-footed, and the cost to America was incalculable.

Beyond life and financial costs, the subsequent reaction and recoil allowed an opportunistic Bush administration to sell Congress and the public on an inadequately considered, Orwellian-named “Patriot Act.”

A decade later, government leaks have turned to admissions, and we learn the obviously ominous Patriot Act has spawned programs having your government monitoring every phone call in America.

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

— Buffalo Springfield

Back in 2001, those 19 box-cutting foreign infiltrators went about their terrorist business in the relative open without much fear of eavesdropping.

Some took unusual commercial jet flying lessons. Others, known as muscle-hijackers, trained in physical conditioning.

They used email, made phone calls, rang up bills on charge cards, and otherwise communicated and moved around the U.S. with relative ease.

Our guard was way down, and even when intelligence agencies forwarded suspicions to Bush, none of the warnings proved too worrisome.

To our slack-jawed commander in chief, the light evidence provided didn’t warrant further investigation.

But retrospectively it’s clear our leaders were caught snoozing, and Americans continue to pay steep prices for that incompetence.

After the 9-11 tragedy came the overreaction. The Patriot Act was purposely named to manipulate the support of terrified Americans whose rights would be compromised.

True “patriots” would surely willingly surrender constitutional privacy rights to do their part to protect their Fatherland. And anyone not supporting such wartime-necessary intrusions must be less than a patriot — perhaps even an enemy sympathizer.

After all, the innocent have nothing to hide, right? Without much prodding, our fearful and lemming Congress approved the Patriot Act granting government little-understood powers of secret surveillance and hidden operations against the American people.

Civil rights prophets were long outraged over Patriot Act excesses, yet most Americans nevertheless became accustomed to the notion of this or that secret eavesdropping against folks labeled with “connections” to this or that “terrorist” group.

The label “terrorist” became a magic key unlocking any door, email, or phone call the spooks wish to access. Say “terrorist” and your searches are granted.

Last week we learned we have been compromised more than even the civil rights prophets suspected. The NSA’s “PRISM” program uses the most powerful data search extractors, coupled with government strong-arming against communications companies, to literally monitor all phone and email transactions in America.

President Obama says, “Not to worry,” they’re not actually “listening in” on the content of your communications. Obama says they don’t know the details of your love notes, or your stock trades, or what you asked your wife to pick up at the store.

We’re told it’s just call frequency and call numbers and duration that are statistically analyzed for anti-terrorist insights.

I understand this methodology is an extremely powerful law-enforcement tool. Had PRISM been in place back in 2000, much more conclusive evidence would have been presented to a sleepy George W. Bush undeniably demonstrating that 19 infiltrating Arabs were learning to fly jets and buying box cutters with the purpose of disrupting life as we knew it.

Surely, when George saw the hard and prolific data that these 19 men were in cahoots, he would have sent out G-men to ask a few more questions.

I very much believe PRISM would have stopped 9-11, and America would be a dramatically different and better place today.

So here we are in a cost/benefit conundrum. You and I now know that everything we say or do electronically is subject to some level of government monitoring.

If your communications create “suspicious patterns,” you will be identified and will have some explaining to do.
Our dignity and rights were first surrendered at airports. Now, our interests, associations and proclivities are electronically statistically monitored.

Lord help us if we phone too many Muslims or type “box cutter” or “fertilizer” too often. Thanks to the Patriot Act, someone will come knocking at your patriotic door.

Still, we are doubtless much safer today in what has become the world’s greatest surveillance state. There have been no large-scale goof-ups as Obama presses forward with Bush’s “patriotic” intrusions.

But what is the cost to freedom? And will we ever again recover our privacy? And where might all this lead in the future?

In matters of privacy rights, the ill-named Patriot Act may prove to be the 19 terrorists’ greatest damage inflicted on an unsuspecting America.

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