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To the people in control of the Executive Branch, violating our civil liberties is an essential government service. So -- to ensure total fulfillment of Big Brother’s vast responsibilities -- the National Security Agency is insulated from any fiscal disruption.

The NSA’s surveillance programs are exempt from a government shutdown. With typical understatement, an unnamed official told The Hill that “a shutdown would be unlikely to affect core NSA operations.”

At the top of the federal government, even a brief shutdown of “core NSA operations” is unthinkable. But at the grassroots, a permanent shutdown of the NSA should be more than thinkable; we should strive to make it achievable.

NSA documents, revealed by intrepid whistleblower Edward Snowden, make clear what’s at stake. In a word: democracy.

Wielded under the authority of the president, the NSA is the main surveillance tool of the U.S. government. For a dozen years, it has functioned to wreck our civil liberties. It’s a tool that should not exist.

In this century, the institutional momentum of the NSA -- now fueled by a $10.8 billion annual budget -- has been moving so fast in such a wrong direction that the agency seems unsalvageable from the standpoint of civil liberties. Its core is lethal to democracy.

A big step toward shutting down the National Security Agency would be to mobilize political pressure for closure of the new NSA complex that has been under construction in Bluffdale, Utah: a gargantuan repository for ostensibly private communications.

During a PBS “NewsHour” interview that aired on August 1, NSA whistleblower William Binney pointed out that the Bluffdale facility has a “massive amount of storage that could store all these recordings and all the data being passed along the fiberoptic networks of the world.” He added: “I mean, you could store 100 years of the world’s communications here. That's for content storage. That's not for metadata.”

The NSA’s vacuum-cleaner collection of metadata is highly intrusive, providing government snoops with vast information about people’s lives. That’s bad enough. But the NSA, using the latest digital technology, is able to squirrel away the content of telephone, e-mail and text communications -- in effect, “TiVo-ing” it all, available for later retrieval.

“Metadata, if you were doing it and putting it into the systems we built, you could do it in a 12-by-20-foot room for the world,” Binney explained. “That’s all the space you need. You don’t need 100,000 square feet of space that they have in Bluffdale to do that. You need that kind of storage for content.”

Already the NSA’s Bluffdale complex in a remote area of Utah -- seven times the size of the Pentagon -- is serving as an archive repository for humungous quantities of “private” conversations that the agency has recorded and digitized.

Organizing sufficient political power to shut down the entire National Security Agency may or may not be possible. But in any event, we should demand closure of the agency’s mega-Orwellian center in Bluffdale. If you’d like to e-mail that message to your senators and representative in Congress, click here.

“The U.S. government has gone further than any previous government … in setting up machinery that satisfies certain tendencies that are in the genetic code of totalitarianism,” Jonathan Schell wrote in The Nation as this fall began. “One is the ambition to invade personal privacy without check or possibility of individual protection. This was impossible in the era of mere phone wiretapping, before the recent explosion of electronic communications -- before the cellphones that disclose the whereabouts of their owners, the personal computers with their masses of personal data and easily penetrated defenses, the e-mails that flow through readily tapped cables and servers, the biometrics, the street-corner surveillance cameras.”

“But now,” Schell continued, “to borrow the name of an intelligence program from the Bush years, ‘Total Information Awareness’ is technologically within reach. The Bush and Obama administrations have taken giant strides in this direction.”

Those giant strides have stomped all over the Fourth Amendment, leaving it gasping for oxygen. That amendment now reads like a profound articulation of opposition to present-day government surveillance -- a declaration of principle that balks at the lockstep of perpetual war mentality and rote surrender of precious civil liberties. To acceptance of the NSA and what it stands for, we must say and say and say: No way. No way. No way.

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Comment Preferences

  •  No, I can't agree with this. (4+ / 0-)

    And I say that as someone who sees enormous actual and potential abuse in the system as it stands.  We absolutely need massive reform - curtailing the types of collection (or acquisition, or whatever you want to call it to evade the NSA's peculiar re-definition of common words) and especially the long-term retention of data, imposing truly effective independent oversight including ongoing independent auditing of all activities, greatly reducing the participation and especially access granted to corporate contractors (who likely have their own financial interests and agendas) and so on.

    But trashing our SIGINT capability entirely is foolish, IMHO.

    "That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything ... There would be no place to hide." - Senator Frank Church

    by jrooth on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 10:17:26 AM PDT

    •  The Fourth Amendment is a necessary barrier (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      aliasalias

      to tyranny. I value freedom more than SIGINT.  As for the terrorists, I'll take my chances. A world with complete security would not be worth living in - just ask Winston Smith.  

      Rivers are horses and kayaks are their saddles

      by River Rover on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 03:30:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The huge budget for the expanding NSA is why (6+ / 0-)

    in part that the government is broke and has to shut down.  

    Let them eat cake?  

    No, let them eat nothing, while the NSA gobbles up the budget.

    Information is the currency of democracy. ~Thomas Jefferson

    by CIndyCasella on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 10:21:21 AM PDT

  •  The entire system should be shut down and (9+ / 0-)

    reevaluated.  But of course with the War OF Terror being permanent, the surveillance state is permanent as well.  The NSA is just one agency, there are something like 16 which according to the Washington Post in 2010

    "there were 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies in 10,000 locations in the United States that are working on counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence, and that the intelligence community as a whole includes 854,000 people holding top-secret clearances."

    For what?  They state it's for catching terrorists, for our safety but then can't point to any success stories other than ones the FBI manufactured.  Regardless if one believes in the War OF Terror or not, it's hard to argue that the solution far exceeds the problem, particularly compared to other problems we face, such as 50 million people living under or near the poverty line.

  •  Would you ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sewaneepat, cfm

    propose doing away with the LA Police Department because they beat Rodney King? Would you propose eliminating the US Army because they illegally invaded Iraq, leading to millions of deaths?

    This cure is worse than the disease.

    •  What about if they were 'pre-beating' up Rodney... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      corvo

      doing it before he ever drove his car?  They are recording your life in the even they get a chance to use it against you in the future...this is a police state not a democracy.

      If debugging is the process of removing bugs, then programming must be the process of putting them in.

      by kharma on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 10:58:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  But Rodney was essentially pre-beaten-up (0+ / 0-)

        The LAPD had a history of institutionalized discrimination against African Americans. This wasn't just a one-time freak occurrence. (This is what fed into the riots ... if it had just been a one-time freak occurrence, there wouldn't have been any riots.) The LAPD was a seriously messed up institution when Rodney was beaten, and it was a tremendously difficult job to reform it.  

        But we need police. We also need cryptographers. If we hadn't had them in World War II, we could easily have lost the war. We can't afford to eliminate the NSA.  What we need to do is to put major effort into reforming it.

        •  sooooo... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          aliasalias

          exactly how many overlapping "security" agencies do we need?

          Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

          by corvo on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 12:51:35 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I agree wholeheartedly... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    corvo, Crider, blueoasis, aliasalias

    just because the NSA can do it, doesn't make it right.  It has proven to be ineffective (Boston Marathon?) and is detrimental to our democracy.  No one should searched in the event that someday they may do something wrong.  We don't operate like that.  What's to keep them from recording the camera from your smart tv?  If you can sweep up everything under the pretext that you aren't technically searching through it, why not record through your phone while you aren't even using it?  The government had the capacity to wiretap you in the old days, would Dick Tracy have had the authority to record you but promise to not use it unless?  This is how a police state operates.  This is the Terminator coming alive around us.  Total information, robot killing machines in the sky.  No rule of law.  This is not the America I fought fight for.

    If debugging is the process of removing bugs, then programming must be the process of putting them in.

    by kharma on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 10:57:16 AM PDT

    •  Your argument is silly. (0+ / 0-)

      NSA isn't a domestic intelligence agency, despite the continual attempt to spin it that way.  The Boston Marathon bombers by all accounts never communicated their intent to anyone outside the US. The way to have caught them would have been to have someone (ATF) watching the purchase of gun powder.

      And if you fear domestic surveillance, it isn't the NSA that you need to worry about, its your local PD or the FBI.

  •  It's bigger than just the NSA. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    corvo, kharma, jrooth, blueoasis

    I doubt if anyone will fess up but there are a number of agencies conducting internal surveillance, the FBI, DEA and Army to name a few. It might be a good idea to push Congress into finding out just how many, including contractors.

    "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." Richard K. Morgan

    by sceptical observer on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 11:03:55 AM PDT

  •  I do want the Army spying on Americans (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    corvo

    The NSA is under the Department of Defense, you know. Getting the Army involved with domestic spying is simply a fucking no-no in a nation of the people. It provides a path to a military coup.

    They should move some of the current, reasonable NSA operations over to the FBI and move the current, reasonable foreign operations to the CIA (after the top dogs at the current CIA are fired).

    And shut down the remainder.

    "Societies strain harder and harder to sustain the decadent opulence of the ruling class, even as it destroys the foundations of productivity and wealth." — Chris Hedges

    by Crider on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 11:30:01 AM PDT

    •  ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Crider
      Getting the Army involved with domestic spying is simply a fucking no-no
      Unless... we are, under the John Warner defense authorization act of 2007 definition, in a state of emergency. Which would be very disturbing in-and-of itself.

      Atheistic Determinist and Contemplative Contrarian.

      by ShockandAwed on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 01:39:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'll say the same thing I've been saying... (0+ / 0-)

    for the last several weeks about Republicans who want to shut down the government over repealing Obamacare...

    If that's what you think needs to be done, then nominate and elect people who want to do that.

    Good luck.

    I'm not paranoid or anything. Everyone just thinks I am.

    by Jim Riggs on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 11:30:29 AM PDT

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