Spitzer Bust Provides Warning Regarding NSA Spying: Dave Lindorff
I have no sympathy for New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the hot-shot prosecutor of call-girl operations who was hoist on his own petard, as it were. I mean, what a jerk! And aside from the hypocrisy, what a fine message he was sending to his three teenage daughters about the role of women.
Having said that, Spitzer's bust should give pause to those in Congress who are ready to hand President Bush a free pass to continue his 6-year campaign of warrantless spying on Americans.
We now know from yesterday's Wall Street Journal article that the spying Bush has been doing through the National Security Agency since early 2001 has included vast computer sweeps of not just Internet and phone activity, but also bank and credit card transactions. These are sweeps of ordinary everyday people, with computers looking for odd transactions, or for codewords, or for transactions involving specific targeted organizations or addresses.
What nailed Spitzer, we now learn, was a series of bank transactions he had with the bank account of the Emperor's Club VIP callgirl operation.
Now reportedly, the IRS was conducting this particular investigation, which allegedly was investigating the Emperor's Club. Once the IRS discovered it had caught the New York governor in its web, it forwarded the case to the U.S. Attorney General's Office, where the FBI pursued it, apparently on the instructions of AG Michael Mukasey. The investigation moved from monitoring the bank to monitoring phones, and Spitzer was captured talking to the Emperor's Club dispatcher. Bingo. Promising Democratic political career ruined.
Now the monitoring of the Emperor's Club was reportedly done with a court-ordered warrant. That's fine. But this case shows us how people can get caught up by this kind of investigation really quickly.
Now imagine that instead of a call-girl operation, this had been a mosque or an international charity organization, and suppose you were someone who had made a call to ask about making donations to help the victims of the last earthquake in Indonesia? If that mosque or charity happened to be on the list of outfits being monitored by the NSA's computers, your call might well have been picked up. Then the focus would shift to your phone and your Internet server, and conceivably every communication you made would be watched.
This is the America we now live in. According to The Wall Street Journal, after a wave of national outrage forced the Bush administration to shut down its Total Information Awareness project at the Pentagon, Bush and Cheney simply moved their scheme to subject all telecommunications and bank transactions to computer monitoring over to the NSA.
Since none of this spying activity is subject to court supervision and warrant requirements, we are left having to trust the personnel at the NSA, the so-called Justice Department, and the president and his administration, not to abuse it.
Right. And think of the temptations!
Want to know what the House leadership strategy is regarding renewal of the NSA wiretap authorization? Want to know whether the Congress is serious about imposing a time limit on troops in Iraq? Just start monitoring their e-mails and phones.
Want to make sure Democratic members of Congress go along with a war on Iran? Just monitor their phones and e-mails and catch them in conversations that are suitable for a little blackmail.
Is this kind of thing happening? Well, I keep marveling at the cowardly behavior of leading members of Congress such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Chair John Conyers. Maybe something is being held over their heads.
We know that the prosecution and conviction of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman was an administration hit on a popular Democratic official. Siegelman is now in jail. Ditto Wisconsin state employee Georgia Thompson. These blatant political prosecutions certainly weigh on the minds of all Democratic elected officials.
Who, after all, is safe in this kind of environment, where the Bill of Rights has been set aside?
Spitzer, who no doubt made use of phone taps himself in his day, and who was ruthless as New York's attorney general in bringing down many of his own targets, may well deserve what he is getting. But the way he was ensnared, via the secret monitoring of a bank's activity, and via phone taps, should put us all on guard.
With that kind of power, unchecked in the hands of an intensely political administration, it's almost a certainty that it is being used and used inappropriately for political ends.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
The surveillance society denies us the fundamental right of confidential communications with our physicians, attorneys and religious advisors. The privilege of medical privacy, attorney-client and priest-penitent communication is now eliminated through technology.
What large corporation doesn't have access to these communications today? The very reason that Bush wants a Telecom immunity law is because he has used the private sector to spy on us at every turn. Our bank records, credit card transactions and financial status are the purview of the big three credit bureaus. The telecoms have our faxes, email and voice data. The insurance companies own the banks and brokerages (thanks to the Clinton Administration deregulation of banks, brokerage and insurance) and they want to insure the worried-well and to hell with the rest.
Now the single most effective state Attorney General who busted consumer fraud nation-wide and gutted investor-fraud across Wall Street - has been caught with his pants down through the collection of information about banking and funds transfers with an illegal business. So much for his first, and last, term as Governor of my home state. He will, no doubt, lose his license to practice law - due to his "moral turpitude" and what good he had accomplished will be quickly set aside by the criminals who profited prior to Spitzer's aggressive legal attack upon their predation.
Why we make sex a crime is beyond this comment. What is obvious is that the totalitarian state is here and well entrenched in the private sector. Few, if any, will be able to withstand the 24/7 scrutiny of the surveillance society. The only people who will "serve" in government are those who are ready, able and willing to serve their masters - and, who have too much to lose if those masters decide to out their dalliances.
I lived through the Nixon years and thought them hell. Today, they are the good old days.
"In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying."
- Bertrand Russell -
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The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.