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The National Security Agency depends on huge computers that guzzle electricity in the service of the surveillance state. For the NSA’s top executives, maintaining a vast flow of juice to keep Big Brother nourished is essential -- and any interference with that flow is unthinkable.

But interference isn’t unthinkable. And in fact, it may be doable.

Grassroots activists have begun to realize the potential to put the NSA on the defensive in nearly a dozen states where the agency is known to be running surveillance facilities, integral to its worldwide snoop operations.

Organizers have begun to push for action by state legislatures to impede the electric, water and other services that sustain the NSA’s secretive outposts.

Those efforts are farthest along in the state of Washington, where a new bill in the legislature -- the Fourth Amendment Protection Act -- is a statutory nightmare for the NSA. The agency has a listening post in Yakima, in the south-central part of the state.

The bill throws down a challenge to the NSA, seeking to block all state support for NSA activities violating the Fourth Amendment. For instance, that could mean a cutoff of electricity or water or other state-government services to the NSA site. And the measure also provides for withholding other forms of support, such as research and partnerships with state universities.

Here’s the crux of the bill: “It is the policy of this state to refuse material support, participation, or assistance to any federal agency which claims the power, or with any federal law, rule, regulation, or order which purports to authorize, the collection of electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant that particularly describes the person, place, and thing to be searched or seized.”

If the windup of that long sentence has a familiar ring, it should. The final dozen words are almost identical to key phrases in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In recent days, more than 15,000 people have signed a petition expressing support for the legislation. Launched by RootsAction.org, the petition is addressed to the bill’s two sponsors in the Washington legislature -- Republican Rep. David Taylor, whose district includes the NSA facility in Yakima, and Democrat Luis Moscoso from the Seattle area.

Meanwhile, a similar bill with the same title has just been introduced in the Tennessee legislature -- taking aim at the NSA’s center based in Oak Ridge, Tenn. That NSA facility is a doozy: with several hundred scientists and computer specialists working to push supercomputers into new realms of mega-surveillance capacities.

A new coalition, OffNow, is sharing information about model legislation. The group also points to known NSA locations in other states including Utah (in Bluffdale), Texas (San Antonio), Georgia (Augusta), Colorado (Aurora), Hawaii (Oahu) and West Virginia (Sugar Grove), along with the NSA’s massive headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland. Grassroots action and legislative measures are also stirring in several of those states.

One of the key organizations in such efforts is the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, where legal fellow Matthew Kellegrew told me that the OffNow coalition “represents the discontent of average people with … business-as-usual failure to rein in out-of-control domestic spying by the NSA and other federal departments like the FBI. It is a direct, unambiguous response to a direct, unambiguous threat to our civil liberties.”

In the process -- working to counter the bipartisan surveillance-state leadership coming from the likes of President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, the House Intelligence Committee’s chair Mike Rogers and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s chair Dianne Feinstein -- activists urging a halt to state-level support for the NSA include people who disagree on other matters but are determined to undermine the Big Brother hierarchies of both parties.

“By working together to tackle the erosion of the Fourth Amendment presented by bulk data collection,” Kellegrew said, “people from across partisan divides are resurrecting the lost art of collaboration and in the process, rehabilitating the possibility of a functional American political dialogue denied to the people by dysfunction majority partisan hackery.”

From another vantage point, this is an emerging faceoff between reliance on cynical violence and engagement in civic nonviolence.

Serving the warfare state and overall agendas for U.S. global dominance to the benefit of corporate elites, the NSA persists in doing violence to the Constitution’s civil-liberties amendments -- chilling the First, smashing the Fourth and end-running the Fifth.

Meanwhile, a nascent constellation of movements is striving to thwart the surveillance state, the shadowy companion of perpetual war.

This is a struggle for power over what kind of future can be created for humanity.

It’s time to stop giving juice to Big Brother.

______________

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The notion that if you don't like a federal agency (8+ / 0-)

    ...you should mobilize state and local authorities to defang it (emasculate? defenestrate?) is a staple of the most boneheaded radical conservatism, and they should keep it.  

    It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

    by Rich in PA on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 10:15:25 AM PST

  •  No thanks. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, MidwestTreeHugger, marina, cfm, Wisper

    This smacks to me of nullification.

    We do need to rein in the NSA, but that's going to have to be done by Congress, the White House, and/or the federal court system—not by states claiming the authority to decide which federal programs are constitutional or beneficial and which ones aren't.

    The bill throws down a challenge to the NSA, seeking to block all state support for NSA activities violating the Fourth Amendment. For instance, that could mean a cutoff of electricity or water or other state-government services to the NSA site. And the measure also provides for withholding other forms of support, such as research and partnerships with state universities.
    So if Tom Corbett and the right-wing Pennsylvania legislature don't like the Affordable Care Act and think it violates the Constitution, does that mean that you think they should be able to cut off electricity or water from federal offices that administer the ACA, or withhold partnerships with state university hospitals?

    Since Rick Perry and the Texas Wingnut Legislature are strongly opposed to reproductive choice, do you think they should be able to cut off electricity or water from abortion clinics?

    For those intrigued by this post's proposal, please do check out this ThinkProgress article and tell me if you still think this is a good idea.

    "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

    by JamesGG on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 10:23:06 AM PST

    •  If this is the path open to us (7+ / 0-)

      then we should take it. There's little difference between this and something like a strike. I honestly can't imagine this will actually work though. I'm sure there will be a court case if any of these laws pass and they'll be struck down. I'm happy just to see people registering their discontent.

      Would you support direct action blockades by citizens instead? It wouldn't be nullification because it wouldn't be by the government.

      If knowledge is power and power corrupts, does that mean that knowledge corrupts?

      by AoT on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 10:34:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Nullification is not civil disobedience. (0+ / 0-)
        Would you support direct action blockades by citizens instead? It wouldn't be nullification because it wouldn't be by the government.
        That's a pretty profound difference.

        It doesn't completely undermine the Constitution if individual citizens choose to engage in nonviolent direct action against the NSA—because civil disobedience is, as Dr. King wrote, an act of profound respect for just laws.

        Because it's done under the cover of law, though, the idea that state governments could get away with cutting off electricity or water to any federal department, agency, or program in their state that the legislature finds objectionable is completely undermines the authority of the federal government to make any law.

        "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

        by JamesGG on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 10:42:23 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I was asking if you'd support it (4+ / 0-)

          not saying they were equivalent.

          If knowledge is power and power corrupts, does that mean that knowledge corrupts?

          by AoT on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 10:53:23 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Sorry, blockquoted the wrong part. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            AoT
            There's little difference between this and something like a strike.
            That's what I was replying to in the above comment—and it's a pretty clear parallel you're drawing between state government action and individual citizen action.

            As for whether or not I'd support direct action, that's a pretty general category for me to declare blanket support or opposition. My support for direct action would depend on what the action was, who was engaging in it, to what end, the likelihood of success in achieving that end, and what those seeking my support were asking me to do in support of it.

            "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

            by JamesGG on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 11:00:47 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I guess I was thinking in practical terms (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              corvo

              But yes, there is a difference.

              I guess the direct action I was thinking would be a blockade of said places that would have a similar effect of shutting it down. Obviously there aren't enough people currently to do this, but it seems possible if there are this many people supporting shutting down their water supply.

              If knowledge is power and power corrupts, does that mean that knowledge corrupts?

              by AoT on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 11:11:34 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  and everybody knows (0+ / 0-)
          because civil disobedience is, as Dr. King wrote, an act of profound respect for just laws
          that our security apparatus is founded solidly on the principle of "just laws."

          Hell, it would be nice if they were even vaguely constutionally justified laws.

          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 Jan 27, 2014 at 12:38:27 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  You're missing my point. (0+ / 0-)

            Dr. King writes that civil disobedience is not anarchy precisely because it respects the authority of the law and of government in general—by accepting the legal punishment for disobedience—while also demonstrating that an unjust law is an invalid law.

            Nullification, on the other hand, is a state essentially rejecting the very notion of the federal government's authority and declaring itself to be an authority unto itself. That does not demonstrate respect for the authority of the law or government.

            Nullification is simply not comparable to civil disobedience.

            "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

            by JamesGG on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 01:00:09 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Then let the nullifiers (0+ / 0-)

              be legally punished. :-)

              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 Jan 27, 2014 at 01:12:04 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  The laws have no chance of being implemented, (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        AoT, Numb Nuts, corvo

        but these initiatives are a good way to keep the surveillance issues front and center.

    •  Yes, it's nullification. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      maggid, Numb Nuts, corvo

      But what's wrong with channeling the Right's deranged opposition to imaginary assaults on their freedom to opposition to an actual assault? What would happen if they coalesced around defending the 4th as well as the 2nd and 10th Amendments? The NSA is guilty of federal over-reach. Just because that is a right-wing meme doesn't mean it's not true. Nullification won't succeed but it will get a lot of attention. That's the point.

      •  Because it validates nullification. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        artisan
        But what's wrong with channeling the Right's deranged opposition to imaginary assaults on their freedom to opposition to an actual assault?
        Here's what's wrong with that: It provides validation for the right-wing's belief that states somehow have the authority to ignore or hobble any federal law, agency, or department that the states believe to be unconstitutional.

        If liberals get behind this effort, next time some right-wing state legislator is proposing laws that proclaim that the state has the right to nullify federal gun control legislation, or the Affordable Care Act, or Roe v. Wade, in their state, they're going to cite the liberals who supported cutting off the NSA as "proof" that nullification isn't just some right-wing nut-job idea.

        "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

        by JamesGG on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 01:06:48 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, but (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JamesGG

          the NSA is breaking the law. They need to be stopped. Just as Snowden was left without effective recourse through proper channels, so it seems we are left without legal recourse too. If Yakima wants to shut off their electricity, I'll support it. I wouldn't feel like a lawbreaker because I want the laws to be enforced.

          •  Your opinion is not the law. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            artisan
            Yes, but the NSA is breaking the law. They need to be stopped.
            It is your opinion that the NSA is breaking the law, but there has been no authoritative and final legal finding of such.

            Thus far, one federal court has said that they are breaking the law, and another federal court has found their actions legal. The whole thing will probably end up in front of the Supreme Court at some point in the near future.

            But for the moment, at least from any official standpoint, the NSA's actions are not illegal.

            Just as Snowden was left without effective recourse through proper channels, so it seems we are left without legal recourse too.
            Except that there are at least two cases challenging the NSA's actions working their way through the courts right now. I'm not sure how you get "without legal recourse" from that.
            If Yakima wants to shut off their electricity, I'll support it. I wouldn't feel like a lawbreaker because I want the laws to be enforced.
            By proclaiming that the government of either the city of Yakima or the state of Washington should have the authority to cut off power and water to the NSA because they believe that the NSA's actions are unconstitutional, you are in essence proclaiming that the constitutionality or validity of a given federal law or program should be determined not by the courts, but by the local populace of a city or state and their elected representatives.

            Therefore, aren't you essentially agreeing that right-wing state legislatures should have the authority to nullify federal gun control legislation? After all, they believe that any laws implementing gun control are unconstitutional, and that the federal government is breaking the law when it executes those laws. They believe that no less strongly than you believe that the NSA's actions are illegal.

            If you're truly saying that the constitutionality of federal laws is subject to interpretation by the state, on what grounds do you reject state nullification of federal gun laws (if in fact you do)?

            Nullification would represent nothing less than the end of the United States of America and a return to the Articles of Confederation, where each state has the ability to reject any federal act they find objectionable.

            "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

            by JamesGG on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 02:05:11 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I agree with you about the lack of authority (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              JamesGG

              of state legislatures to nullify federal laws. But by what authority is the NSA spying on us? I think threatening nullification is not as great an existential to the United States of America as is allowing the NSA to keep spying on us.

              •  I think nullification is far worse. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                artisan
                But by what authority is the NSA spying on us?
                That's going to be determined in court. There are numerous laws both creating the NSA and empowering it to engage in data collection and wiretapping, so the question is the extent to which (a) the NSA's data collection practices fall within the bounds of those laws, and (b) whether those laws are themselves constitutional. Both are open questions at this point.
                I think threatening nullification is not as great an existential to the United States of America as is allowing the NSA to keep spying on us.
                I disagree. The NSA has been spying on us in the way it currently is for at least the past five years; various government agencies have been collecting data on Americans, with dubious legality, since at least J. Edgar Hoover's days at the FBI. We're still here. Does that mean those are good things, or that they shouldn't be stopped? Absolutely not; I completely agree that the NSA's surveillance and data collection practices need to be substantially reined in. But I don't think they're an existential threat to the United States, because they've been going on long enough that if they were such a threat, the United States would no longer exist.

                Nullification, on the other hand, would essentially make any notion of federal authority over the states a dead letter, in giving states the power to ignore any aspect of federal law they don't like. If that's the case, then we may as well just throw out the Constitution entirely, because the government that it constitutes will no longer exist in any meaningful way. Progressives opening the door to that possibility—even a hair's-breadth—are playing with fire, in my opinion.

                "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

                by JamesGG on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 03:14:32 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  Halting partnerships with State Universities (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, JamesGG, marina

    seems fair game to me.  That is purely a state decision.

    But trying to physically cut off water and electricity?  That sounds more like some nutbag libertarian militia idea at best and open nullification at worst.

    Either the NSA is doing something illegal or it isn't.  If someone thinks it is, they should sue and let the courts decide.  If they aren't then they shouldn't be besieged by well-intentioned state legislators.

    Good intentions.  Stupid idea.

    Красота спасет мир --F. Dostoevsky

    by Wisper on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 10:34:02 AM PST

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