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.