The Current Surveillance State Is The End Result Of Two Consecutive Presidents Rewriting Their Job Descriptions

from the go-back-to-bed,-America,-your-government-is-in-control dept

The escalating build-out of the American surveillance state since 9/11 can’t be attributed to any one factor. There have been several contributors, most of which have used the omnipresent “threat” of terrorism as leverage to increase governmental power and control at the expense of its citizens. But one undeniable aspect is the fact that two consecutive presidents have recast their presidential responsibilities, as Micah Zenko points out at Foreign Policy.

When asked last September if he personally chose which individual terrorist suspects could be targeted with lethal force, President Barack Obama gave a response that would have astounded the founding fathers: “What is absolutely true is that my first job, my most sacred duty, as president and commander in chief, is to keep the American people safe.” This is false. As the presidential “Oath or Affirmation” in the Constitution reads: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

As Zenko states, Obama should know better. After all, he spent more than a decade lecturing on constitutional law at the University of Chicago. But his predecessor led the way, informing Americans that “safety” would trump rights.

George W. Bush told a cheering crowd at the 2004 Republican National Convention: “I believe the most solemn duty of the American president is to protect the American people.

While on the campaign trail, Obama vowed to correct Bush’s skewed priorities. But rather than follow through on that promise, he has gone the other direction, expanding on his inherited policies and defending various agencies accused of abuse. Unfortunately, once this mindset is in place, it is almost impossible to roll back. The policies it creates only move in one direction.

The essential and enduring feature of both post-9/11 presidents has been their shared contention that their core objective — and by extension, that of the executive branch — is to protect U.S. citizens from one particular form of harm: terrorist violence. Both success and failure at achieving this objective have justified the expansion of additional authorities and tools. If there are no terrorist attacks, then all policies in place must remain, but when terrorist plots are revealed or the rare attack occurs, then additional tools and secrecy are mandated.

The executive branch is a key part of the system of checks and balances this country’s founders mandated in order to prevent the sort of mission creep and rights erosion occurring today. Instead of protecting the Constitution and their constituents, two consecutive presidents have relegated it to the background, preferring to pursue the unobtainable: safety and security.

Other government agencies are tasked with protecting the public. The executive branch is ultimately responsible for preventing abuses and excesses. Instead, this branch has willingly paved the way for a surveillance network that undermines protections and rights in exchange for vague assurances of security.

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Comments on “The Current Surveillance State Is The End Result Of Two Consecutive Presidents Rewriting Their Job Descriptions”

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Anonymous Coward says:

i think we also need to ask, given Obama’s time lecturing on constitutional law, who has instigated this change? there has to be someone that is at the heart of USA security, someone that has such sway as to make 2 Presidents believe the Constitution is now a lesser needed, lesser important entity and that safety is the most important, followed closely by corporate interests! i doubt if Obama or Bush went down the same path without a hell of a lot of pushing. how could, in Obama’s case, a person that valued the Constitution so highly as to spend years of his life lecturing about it, suddenly change his opinion and put the most sacred book of the USA farther down the priority list? there must be more to it than just two leaders changing their minds as to what is most important. there also has to be a hell of a lot of people in high positions that didn’t pull either of them up on it as well, making those that did question the course being taken clam up real quick!!

TheLastCzarnian (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Unfortunately I get the same feeling. There has to be a group of individuals who’s mindset is so skewed that throwing the Constitution in the round file is an attractive option. Their positions would also have to be nearly unassailable.
I would look first at the ex-lobbyists who were hired in his first month of presidency. He had signed an oath promising not to hire any former lobbyists. It would take something extraordinary to force his hand.
If we don’t get to the bottom of this, elections really aren’t going to mean much.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Why does there have to be a nebulous ‘true evil’ to all this? Why can’t they just both be ordinary men: hypocritical beings who are against government largess and power only when they or their allies are not in charge. Arrogant creatures that think the prohibitions are for their lessers who would use the power ‘wrongly’ where they have (obviously) only used it rightly.

Riccardo Cabeza says:

If Chimpy thought his “most solemn duty of the American president is to protect the American people,” he would of resigned from office. Unfortunately the hallmark of the truly stupid is that they don’t realize how dumb they are.

Sadly, aWol was and remains war criminally stupid. I know how he misses being pampered, but it’s for the best that he is ridiculed and publicly shamed often.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’d observe that the chance of an attack affecting any one person is vanishingly small and all this effort and expenditure does not alter that chance in any meaningful way. The best way we can deal with an attack is to accept that risk is a part of life and we should pick ourselves up, console one another, fix the damage, get on with our lives, and refused to let unbridled terror change our way of life.

The truth is you and the people who talk like this are all fucking snake oil salesman telling your customers ‘if your family dies next weak from the plague what are you going to tell them on their death beads “at least we didn’t buy a remedy from that snake oil salesman.”‘ You don’t actually have any measurable security to offer at all and if you do then let’s judge it on the merits in the open with a results oriented analysis of what we can expect to change under a given proposal. That never happens though.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The Constitution is supposed to protect the American people

Shows how little you know about these things, The Constitution is a document, a frame work, is it NOT “SUPPOSED” to do anything.

So if you are invaded, do you expect the constitution to protect you ?

The Constitution protects you by providing a framework for your Government, Judiciary and defence forces, providing for a President, and Commander in Chief who are bound by the Constitutions guide lines to protect, defend and provide for the tranquillity, and to promote commerce.

The Government without the Constitution is still a Government.
A Constitution without a Government is a piece of paper.

Or put it another way, Masnick wants us to believe that information on the internet is “nothing” then you cannot say this kind of information is ‘property’, if it’s no ones property, search and seizure laws are not applicable.

“To protect the telecommunication carriers cooperating with the US government from legal action, the Congress passed a bill updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to permit this type of surveillance.[80]

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The Government without the Constitution is still a Government.

Yes, but it wouldn’t be the US government. The US government is defined by and exists only because of the Constitution.

The most important protection the Constitution provides is protecting us from governmental power itself. Things like national defense are unquestionably important, but they all are secondary.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

No one said information is ‘nothing’ only that it can’t be owned in the same way the physical property is ‘owned’ and ironically, given the way you’re presenting it, it is this very nature that makes its seizure more threatening. You see if the government unlawfully takes my car or my house I can conceivably get it back. Not so with information. Once they have it nothing can make it private again. In your puerile analysis you would have us believe the in order for the 4th amendment to apply we must concede that information is property but the reality is the 4th amendment secures physical things, like Verizon’s servers, expressly to prevent information from being given to the government unlawfully. The amendment that actually protects our physical things from being taken away is the 14th. So once again we have someone conflating separate issues to create a false dichotomy. There’s a third choice: information isn’t property but it’s still protected and you still have a right to keep it away from the government unless probable cause can be shown.

Anonymous Coward says:

you need to be careful when you start trying to build a strawman argument from the Constitution, and including the Oath of the President.

What someone says is their “Duty” is not in disagreement with framing or working of the constitution.

For example:

Preamble to the United States Constitution..

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Is not in disagreement with:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

First, “Execute the office of the President of the United States”

BEST OF MY ABILITY (within that framework) “DEFEND the CONSTITUTION”

From the Constitution:

“insure domestic Tranquillity”
“provide for the common defence”

It can be easily argued, that anything the President or the Executive does in terms of security is “insuring domestic Tranquillity” and “providing for the common defence”.

So a President stating it’s my most sacred duty, as president and commander in chief, is to keep the American people safe.”

is simply a reflection of his duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States, in ensuring domestic tranquillity and providing for a common defence.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It can also easily be argued that this widespread spying on the US population does the total opposite of “insure domestic Tranquillity”.

Even if I let that slide though there are these other key parts:

“establish Justice”

“and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”

Treating your citizens as criminals is no “justice” and their actions are destroying liberty.

Jason says:

Re: Re:

“It can be easily argued, that anything the President or the Executive does in terms of security is “insuring domestic Tranquillity” and “providing for the common defence”.”

Not if he’s a studied he’s Agrippa, which I have.

No, indeed you CANNOT argue that ANYTHING the President does in terms of security is “insuring domestic Tranquility” and “providing for the common defence,” ESPECIALLY when it OBLITERATES “the Blessings of Liberty” and FACECRAPS on “establish Justice.”

The point where Obama went EXTREMISTLY wrong is when he said that keeping the American people safe is “absolutely…[his]first…most sacred duty.”

The duty is NOT absolute in that it does not take precedence over liberty and justice. His duty to Defense is not more sacred than his duty to liberty, his duty to justice.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re:

That is all fine and good, but last time I checked neither the US Constitution nor the oath for the office of the president of the US says that you can ignore any part of the US Constitution (as amended) in order to keep another part.

You don’t get to cherry pick: I will take “insure domestic Tranquility” and make that my banner and ignore the 1st and 4th amendments. Followed by, have the IRS audit all of those whom I don’t politically agree with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You wouldn’t know logic if a solar panel smacked you in the face, darryl.

Here, let me give you something to chew on: in your country, Australia, George Orwell’s 1984 is considered public domain, unlike in the US where it isn’t.

Your country is directly responsible for George Orwell’s corpse not getting paid more money than he is already due as a result of copyright.

Australians are stealing money from George Orwell’s corpse, as we speak.

Think about that.

Infuriates you, doesn’t it?

Anonymous Coward says:

This is why the constitution is amendable. If it is not a sufficient document for the 21st century – which I agree it is not – then AMEND THE DAMN THING.

But that causes the exact thing that the government wants to avoid – realization among the citizenry about how the government is trampling your rights.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The problem is not that the Constitution is “not a sufficient document for the 21st century.” It is perfectly adequate for addressing our needs. The problem is that those in power twist the language (or at times flat out ignore it) to achieve their goals. It does not matter what is written when that happens and there is no accountability to it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Fine to refer to Bush as Chimpy

So it is fine to refer to Bush as chimpy, but it is some kind of hate crime to refer to Obama the same way. It seems you are singling out a group that can be attacked with that kind of logic. It should either be wrong to refer to anyone that way or not. There should not be a group that it is ok to treat worse than another group.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Fine to refer to Bush as Chimpy

Life exists in a constant context. The context our shared cultural history adds to calling a rich white man who has funny looking ears chimpy is simply different from calling a black man, any black man, the same. It’s ‘wrong’ to refer to anyone that way regardless because it’s always an insult it’s just not the same insult in both cases. So the reality is that treating it as the same in both cases would be to treat one group worse than another group because you can’t just hand-wave away hundreds of years of cultural history and, in the resulting vacuum, declare the two uses to be the same.

auntsue (profile) says:

Re: Fine to refer to Bush as Chimpy

it’s a tricky thing. Once upon a time, as a preschool teacher in Watts, I was the only white person in the school. I saw a kindergarten kid scamper up a chain link fence and I said “wow he moves like a little monkey”. All eyes were on me, frowns all around — it took a couple of heartbeats to process what I said wrong. Finally I said “Yikes ! I am SO sorry – I put my foot in that one – I say that about my little brother all the time and I forgot where I am.” Luckily people had gotten to know mw and know how I meant it, but those kinds of comment go back to the time when it was just fine to use the N word and call a “colored” person a monkey.

DrS says:

Who's power has been taken?

If the office of the president has been expanded by the last two, then at whose expense?

Some of these powers that are now so offensive being wielded by the president have been ceded by the Congress.

Of course the President will try to increase his power. That is the nature of the office and the nature of the people who are likely to hold the office. Congress and the courts are supposed to be holding this down.

They have failed us, and still continue to fail us.

CyberKender says:

If the President's first duty is to protect the people...

…then why are we allowed to smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, eat junk food, and drive cars? That’s ~440,000, ~75,000, ~500,000, and ~40,000 Americans, respectively each year. Since 1970, terrorism has only killed 3677 Americans, and 2977 of them were on 9/11. If that’s truly the President’s primary function, he’s doing a poor job.

V.I.K.I. for President?

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