I have never received a National Security Letter. NSLs require the recipient to "turn over information." I understand this as typical federal jackbootedness, but I do understand it. The part about how "this letter does not exist — tell no one" seems over the top, Mafioso, ten-year-old little boys playing spygames.
Apparently, most people who received these letters obeyed the gag orders, but finally, last December the court finally ruled that these administrative subpoenas violated the First Amendment, given the amazing lack of judicial oversight in their creation.
Then there is the state secrets gag order placed on Sibel Edmonds in 2002, one she partially violated in early 2008. The government’s approach worked — the government criminals she witnessed got time and space, while her life has been put on hold, constrained in every dimension.
Now we have news about Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer for tortured Gitmo prisoner Binyam Mohamed, who faces six months in jail himself. His crime? He faxed an unclassified letter entitled. "Re: Torture and Abuse of British Resident Binyam Mohamed" to the White House. The letter, written in clear English, included a copy of the U.S. government-redacted version, courtesy of the hard work of "privilege review team — officials from the U.S. Department of Defense who monitor and censor communication between Guantánamo prisoners and their lawyers."
Needless to say the letter diligently reviewed by the "Privilege Review Team" contained no clear English. In fact, the entire letter (except for the title) was marked out with that big black marker the government uses to keep us safe.
It brings back memories of when I was in the Pentagon in the early 21st century. A minor drama ensued when a supposedly redacted electronic document was placed on the web — and everyone was copying the text, pasting it in a text file to see the original. I and some of my coworkers did that, and it was fun, except the redacted material was really stupid, and the redaction effort seemed not only incompetent, but aggressively moronic.
The Pentagon figured out how to use Adobe after that. The redaction process has evolved. The most banal, morally and intellectually challenged federal civil servants have spent way too much time together in underlit rooms. The babies — PRT and its lesser-known siblings — are horrifically ugly and perversely ill-adapted for survival in the light of a free country.
But back to Clive. In order to illustrate the idiocy of the Privilege Review Team — and the government in general — and to serve his client, tell the truth, communicate, and try to do his job, attorney Clive Smith faxed both versions to Obama and asked him to think about what it means — about truth, justice and the American way.
Upon receiving the fax, I imagine Obama had to take a quick smoke break. What with the bailouts of all the Mr. Bigs, running the American auto industry, saving the newspapers, and creating the world’s biggest fantasy budget and ballooning our overseas conflicts — dealing with the Bush legacy of lying and then lying about it has got to be a real pain, especially when deep down Obama wishes he had a little Dick Cheney on the side, to ensure maximum unitary executivity.
The rationale for the NSLs, Sibel Edmonds gag order, and for the proposed prosecution of Clive Smith is national security, state secrets, and in Clive’s case, to punish the "breach[ing of] the rules that govern Guantánamo lawyers." It couldn’t have been to consolidate and expand federal and police powers, to eliminate state embarrassment, or to intimidate people into obeisance, could it?
The real rationale for these things was and is exactly that — expansion of the police state, maintenance of state credibility in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and intimidation.
If we know this, what are the weapons against it? The Aesopian tale of the sun and the wind comes to mind. The quiet, non-violent, and generous Sun succeeded — by simply doing what it does best without worry or constantly checking the status of the battle.
The fable applies — the Internet, digital video and audio, fax machines, and cell phone cameras have already proven their unique light-filled usefulness in battling the emerging fascist state. The recent MIAC Report was exposed and sunk by these technologies in the hands of regular people, not specialists in communication or technology. How many cops and government officials have seen at least a bit of justice — justice that would have been impossible except for the video recordings available on the net of their actual abuses of citizens, their pets and property. Even war is exposed in a way the state and the state media cannot tolerate, due to these cheap and common technologies. Government crime is easy to expose — the Pentagon Papers of the 1970s would today reside comfortably on a jump drive worth a few dollars.
We have the technology — what seems to be missing is courage. Tens, maybe hundreds of thousands, of NSLs have been issued. Why haven’t more people talked about the one they received? Government and quasi-government employees and contractors all have access to information that needs to see the light of day — whether regarding petty crime and fraud, or unconstitutional or even just embarrassing activities. Phil Giraldi wrote last month about government-known crime and theft by military officers and career civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. This embarrasses the federal agencies, much as does the existence of political appointees and civil servants on the AIPAC paywagon, or collusion and high crimes of those in the FBI and State department of the type Edmonds witnessed.
In the end, NSL letters crumble, witnesses take the stand, and the wrongly imprisoned are exonerated. The sun wins. Strangely, we are in a good place, these days, for freedom’s recovery and her exuberance. Our higher unemployment rates, and even more common underemployment means losing your job puts you in good company — and family and friends will both understand and support you when you give up or lose yours for whistle-blowing, talking about your NSL, or the fact that you are wrongly on a no-fly list, or a happy member of a group that advocates states rights. My goodness, 28 states already made state’s rights a legislative bumper sticker — that’s a majority! Our currency is being devalued and besmirched by our government’s actions — so money is even less meaningful relative to character, honesty, a clean conscience.
National security is a phrase that reveals much. It means state security, government security, that which our government does to keep both socialism and fascism safe for politicians, bureaucrats and their economic and social circles. These days, national security should be at the very bottom of a patriotic American’s C list. Citizens, take out your own black markers — and your flash drives and camera phones, too. And shine!
LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for MilitaryWeek.com, hosted the call-in radio show American Forum, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com and Liberty and Power. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here.