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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

 
WWMD? (What would McCarthy do?)

by digby

This piece by Amy Davidson in the New Yorker about the latest NSA revelations about the cell phone tracking is a must read. I particularly appreciate this:

What would Joseph McCarthy have done if he could have looked up who had been in a particular college dorm room on a day, twenty years before, when students were talking about socialism? What if people got used to the idea that the government could and would do this, and so picked up the pace and turned away when they saw people gathering to listen to a speaker, or reading a sign on a wall, and never heard or saw what was being said? (The freedom to assemble is linked, in the First Amendment, to the right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”) You would know that the government was taking attendance at your church. (This is one reason that the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles has brought suit against the N.S.A., with the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.) You would think again before showing up at a talk by a lawyer representing someone the government has called a terrorist. If you were a reporter, or a source, you would wonder how you could safely meet. You might never at all.

I think it's already happening.

Certainly, Joe McCarthy already happened and could easily happen again. He had to rely on innuendo and intimidation. But someone else could easily think it's important to go back in time and look for information to make his case against someone he thinks is an enemy. We don't have to go back to McCarthy, do we?

A former senior C.I.A. official says that officials in the Bush White House sought damaging personal information on a prominent American critic of the Iraq war in order to discredit him.

Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was a top counterterrorism official during the administration of President George W. Bush, said the White House at least twice asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who writes an influential blog that criticized the war.

In an interview, Mr. Carle said his supervisor at the National Intelligence Council told him in 2005 that White House officials wanted “to get” Professor Cole, and made clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to collect information about him, an effort Mr. Carle rebuffed. Months later, Mr. Carle said, he confronted a C.I.A. official after learning of another attempt to collect information about Professor Cole. Mr. Carle said he contended at the time that such actions would have been unlawful.

It is not clear whether the White House received any damaging material about Professor Cole or whether the C.I.A. or other intelligence agencies ever provided any information or spied on him. Mr. Carle said that a memorandum written by his supervisor included derogatory details about Professor Cole, but that it may have been deleted before reaching the White House. Mr. Carle also said he did not know the origins of that information or who at the White House had requested it.

The CIA officially denied this, of course. Does this sound like something that Dick Cheney and his henchmen might have done? You betcha.

Cole filed a lawsuit against the government right after this was revealed and I don't know how it was resolved. But there was this:

The lawsuit was filed just one week after Yale rejected a request from the Middle East Studies Association for an investigation into whether the Bush administration influenced Yale’s decision to reject Cole’s appointment in 2006.

MESA had already contacted then-Provost Andrew Hamilton in June 2006 to voice concerns that political pressure had prevented Cole’s appointment, but Hamilton replied ten days later that “an individual’s political views are never taken into account in making appointment decisions.” The organization renewed its efforts on Cole’s behalf after the New York Times reported June 15 that a former senior C.I.A. official claimed members of the Bush administration had attempted to discredit Cole.

Provost Peter Salovey said in a July 7 letter to MESA President Suad Joseph that there was “no evidence of inappropriate external interference or other impropriety” in Cole’s appointment decision, and that no one from the government or the Bush administration had contacted Salovey, Levin or the deans overseeing the appointment process.

Despite his assurances, the deliberations surrounding Cole’s appointment decision have long been questioned by Yale faculty members.

Cole was initially selected for a tenured professorship in modern Middle East studies by a University search committee and approved by both the Sociology and History Departments. But the Senior Appointments Committee, an interdepartmental body that reviews appointments to tenured positions, ultimately voted against offering Cole the job.

“The decision to not appoint Juan Cole was a political decision, whether you’re for Juan Cole or against Juan Cole,” said a professor in the History Department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he previously received a threat for speaking in Cole’s favor. “[Professors] tried to portray this guy Juan Cole as an anti-Semite and an anti-American.”

I have little doubt that's exactly what happened. And I'm quite sure he's not the only one. He's just one we know about.

How about this?

In the year since Swartz’s death, a number of other computer hacktivists and whistleblowers have become the targets of the wrath of prosecutors and judges, and they have either gone to jail or are facing decades in prison—in one case 105 years. In each instance, the general theme seems to be the same: these are people who were interested in freeing up knowledge for the social good. In Swartz’s case, the goal was to liberate publicly funded knowledge that had been captured and placed behind a paywall. In other cases, it was to gain and disseminate knowledge about the nefarious dealings between our government and unaccountable private intelligence contractors. And in still other cases, it was to expose the ways corporations and private intelligence firms run psychological operations against Americans.

Taken together, the lesson appears to be that computer hacking for social causes and computer hacking aimed at exposing the secrets of governing elites will not be tolerated. The state will come down on such people as hard as it can. “The same beast bit us both,” jailed hacktivist Jeremy Hammond told The Guardian, referring to himself and Swartz. In both cases, as in many others, the question is why?

I think we know the answer to that too. These are dissenters and whistleblowers. Right now we can probably assume that the government is using its traditional tools to shut these people down. They are not being completely run out of academia or denied trials. But you don't have to be paranoid to wonder whether the government might feel the need to tap into all that juicy information it's storing to shut down critics through other means. (Or even in the best case, accessing that information to build cases against them for a legitimate judicial purpose.)

The point is that governments, to a greater or lesser extent, always try to shut down dissent, whether it's through social pressure, legal means or something else. Even the good ones do it. Allowing them to have even more tools and even more power to do this is a recipe for abuse. You can already see it happening with the ridiculously long sentences for hacking. It is highly likely that at some point a US government is going to believe its justified in using the massive spying capacity it's building to quell what it quite logically believes is a threat. It's so fully baked into the cake of human nature and government power that our founders wrote a whole list of individual rights out on paper telling them they weren't allowed to do it.


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