Find The Big Fib In The NSA's Lack Of Concern For Foreigners

from the read-your-constitution dept

Usually, the NSA's whoppers are so ham-fisted everyone knows them for falsehoods. And if there's any question, you can usually rely on the fact that when the agency's lips move, it's stretching the truth so far that it's as good as a lie.

But from the start of Snowden's revelations, one of the NSA's tall tales has differed vastly from the others. It's so subtle and ubiquitous, such a consummate Big Lie, that even the surveillance-state's fiercest critics haven't spotted it.

Can you? Let's play Find the Fib with this testimony to Congress last June from Deputy Attorney General James Cole (though, to be fair, he doesn't state the Big Lie outright but only implies it in the phrases I've emphasized):
"[T]here's a great deal of minimization procedures that are involved here, particularly concerning any of the acquisition of information that deals or comes from US persons. As I said, only targeting people outside the United States who are not US persons."
Want another hint? Check out the letter Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote Sen. Ron Wyden, though he too merely implies the Big Lie:
"There have been queries … using US person identifiers, of communications lawfully acquired to obtain foreign intelligence targeting non-US persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States … These queries were performed pursuant to minimization procedures approved by the FISA court and consistent with the statute and the Fourth Amendment."
Yep, those are my emphases again -- and I included "Fourth Amendment" because that's the biggest clue of all. Here's the text of that strangled, mangled, moribund member of the Bill of Rights:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Anyone see notation there about "US persons" and "non-US persons?" Yet for basically its entire existence, the NSA has pretended that the Fourth prohibits the government from searching American citizens without a warrant (not that that's stopped the spooks) while authorizing it to search the rest of the world willy-nilly.

But the Fourth's language is so clear that even Clapper should comprehend it: without a warrant, the government may not "violate" anyone's "person, house, papers, and effects." Whether he's Australian or American, from Utah or Uzbekistan, living in or visiting Mexico or Massachusetts is irrelevant.

"Wait a minute!" the NSA's bureaucrats sneer. "'People' is just a synonym for 'citizens.'"

Wrong. The Founding Fathers wrote "citizen" when that's what they meant (remember, most of these Dead White Men were fluent in Greek and Latin, which is to say they understood and used language precisely). And though they employ "citizen" eleven times in the body of the Constitution, they mention only "people" and "persons" in the Bill of Rights. For example, when delineating the requirements for election to the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the presidency, the Constitution specifies the minimum number of years each official must have been a citizen.

But when the Constitution concludes, and its amendments begin, "citizen" goes on hiatus. As you may recall from high-school history, the Anti-Federalists insisted on adding ten amendments to the Constitution, the partial list of liberties known as the Bill of Rights. Anti-Federalists distrusted and loathed government, even the Constitution's severely limited one: they eerily, accurately predicted today's creeping totalitarian state and tried to protect themselves with a written guarantee that the government would never restrict their speech, disarm them, spy on them, etc.

The Anti-Federalists also realized that politicians and bureaucrats powerful enough to silence, disarm, and spy on foreigners will certainly pull the same stunts at home. That's why the Bill of Rights consistently says "people," as in the Ninth Amendment: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." The nationality of the government's victim doesn't matter: politicians and bureaucrats may not silence, disarm, or spy on, etc., anyone. Then, bingo, when the Bill of Rights ends and nationality becomes pertinent again in the Eleventh Amendment, "citizen" pops up like clockwork.

Of course, at this point, discussions of the Constitution are somewhat academic: our rulers have amply demonstrated their disdain for it and us. But, unlike Sen. Dianne Feinstein or German Chancellor Angela Merkel, we should be as livid when the Feds spy on others as when they spy on us. The Constitution clearly, adamantly prohibits both.

Becky Akers is the author of two novels, Halestorm and Abducting Arnold. Both are set during the American Revolution, when Peeping Toms were horsewhipped rather than handsomely paid to spy on citizens.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2014 @ 6:44am

    This also highlights the hypocrisy of America's ruling class. They're all too happy to arbitrarily apply US law to foreign countries if it lets them extort more money from them. But when it comes to those pesky basic human rights, suddenly the law doesn't apply to foreigners.

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