Eyes in the Sky

As the saying goes; do you ever get the feeling that someone is watching you? Well, as Nat Hentoff at the Village Voice tells us, that feeling could soon become a reality:

Among the additional new extensions of surveillance power over us by the king [President Bush] and his ministers is a plan to give national and local law-enforcement officials much more access to photos taken by spy satellites and aircraft sensors that, as the August 16 Washington Post warned, "can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings. . . . [This] broader domestic use of secret overhead imagery" can begin as early as this fall. However, officials at the Department of Homeland Security and in the office of the Director of National Intelligence give us "total assurance" that our civil liberties will be protected. Play it again, Sam.

Meanwhile, another ceaseless guardian of our civil liberties, the FBI, is working on a project, the System to Assess Risk (STAR), that will allegedly detect traces of terrorist "sleeper cells" here at home before they can strike.

The Bush administration has already set national (and, I expect, world) records for databasing its citizens. But the FBI, in its budget request to Congress for the STAR project—as reported by National Public Radio's ever-watchful Dina Temple-Raston on July 17—"expected the new center would be sifting through some six billion pieces of data by 2012." Temple-Raston added: "That translates to 20 records for every man, woman, and child in America." It's too soon for my newest grandchild, two-year-old Ruby Hentoff, to be included, but if STAR continues under the next president, then Ruby—considering her already-databased grandfather—could well become "a person of interest."

So who can we count on to protect us from these building-penetrating spy satellites? Hentoff notes that at least one Senator from Oregon can be counted on to oppose this assault on civil liberties:

Among the Democratic presidential candidates, only Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut has introduced a bill, the Restructuring the Constitution Act, that cuts out some of this president's most dangerous exclusive powers under the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Unlike Dodd, the two leading Democratic contenders, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have not focused on this regal assumption of unconstitutional authority, which few Americans are likely to have in mind when they vote in November 2008 (though Dennis Kucinich has spoken of it).

But as George Will angrily writes in Newsweek's August 13 issue, the Military Commissions Act, building on the Bush administration's previous arrogation of dark powers, "treats all of America as a battlefield on which even American citizens can be declared 'enemy combatants,' seized and held indefinitely, as intelligence can be collected by any means the president orders"—something that Bush's July 2006 executive order on the CIA's torture techniques further asserts.

In the current Democrat-controlled Congress, what will the leadership do regarding the FBI's STAR program and the surveillance of American citizens from on high by spy satellites? I know I can count on senators Pat Leahy and Ron Wyden—but how many other Democrats, fearful of being tarred as soft on terrorism by our commander-in-chief, will once more refuse to take a stand?

Read the rest.


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    The open question is whether any of the Dem Presidential hopefuls would do anything to circumvent it or otherwise undo it? If not then the onus of responsibility is on whomever wins as much as it is with Dubya.

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    Yep. In my personal experience (and reading the efforts of others), it's a very heavy slog getting alleged progressive legislators to care about the Bill of Rights.

    Mostly they fidget and look away (as one does when confronted by flying saucer enthusiasts; but the polite ones give you eye contact looking puzzled at the entire topic.

    Insane conspiracy theorists like myself will recall that post 9/11, 65% of those surveyed thought that the BOR afforded Muricans too much freedom.

    I'm still waiting for a presidential contender (other than Ron Paul) to come out for strict adherence.

  • Brian (unverified)

    "I'm still waiting for a presidential contender (other than Ron Paul) to come out for strict adherence."

    Why wait? I'm not. I figure that if most of my registered Democrat and Republican friends think I'm nuts to dig Ron Paul then I must be doing something right. He has little to chance of being a nominee, but we need guys like him in the race.

  • Rest of the Story (unverified)

    Sorry, but Hentoff's praise is misplaced when it comes to Leahy and Wyden. The fact is, both of them --- lawyers who should have known better and failed when tested --- voted for the PATRIOT Act


    Only Sen. Feingold --- a non-lawyer who did know better --- was a hero and rose to the moment by being the lone patriot in the Senate who voted "Nay".

    In the House, Blumenauer, DeFazio, and Wu did us proud by joining just 65 other patriots in voting "Nay", but Hooley voted along with Smith, Walden, and Wyden.

    The damage was done with that vote and nothing can undo that.

    While Ron Paul's libertarian support for some civil rights is commendable, he actually fundamentally and completely opposes any meaningful government action to PROTECT those rights. Most notably, his anti-historical opposition to abortion rights (abortion was legal at the founding) is rooted in an extremely inaccurate view of the beliefs of the Founders, who advocated that the Federal government most certainly has a role in protecting individual freedoms against infringement by State and local governments. That's one big reason why we have a Consitutition, with the 5th and 14th Amendments ("No STATE shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the UNITED STATES"), rather than the Articles of Confederation.

    Ron Paul is just plain wrong about of our political history when he does not discern and respect that the Founders were against a strong EXECUTIVE, but not against a strong LEGISLATURE, because they fully intended the Congress to be the representative of the people assembled together to collectively defend their privileges and immunities. When the people fail in their duty to send capable, intelligent representatives to Congress to do that work, it is not legitimate to argue that power should devolve to the States, since the people will be equally incapable of selecting competent representatives in the states, but to instead work to inspire or shame (and probably both) the people into sending capable representatives to Congress. The Founders correctly argued the American experiment was over when the people were no longer interested in doing that. As Dan Rather recently argued, we have to decide for ourselves if that day is upon us.

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