A Misleading Moment of Celebration for a New Surveillance Program

This is cross-posted with permission from

The morning after final passage of the USA Freedom Act, while some foes of mass surveillance were celebrating, Thomas Drake sounded decidedly glum. The new law, he told me, is “a new spy program.” It restarts some of the worst aspects of the Patriot Act and further codifies systematic violations of Fourth Amendment rights.

Later on Wednesday, here in Oslo as part of a “Stand Up For Truth” tour, Drake warned at a public forum that “national security” has become “the new state religion.” Meanwhile, his Twitter messages were calling the USA Freedom Act an “itty-bitty step” — and a “stop/restart kabuki shell game” that “starts w/ restarting bulk collection of phone records.”

That downbeat appraisal of the USA Freedom Act should give pause to its celebrants. Drake is a former senior executive of the National Security Agency — and a whistleblower who endured prosecution and faced decades in prison for daring to speak truthfully about NSA activities. He ran afoul of vindictive authorities because he refused to go along with the NSA’s massive surveillance program after 9/11.

Drake understands how the NSA operates from the highest strategic levels. He notes a telling fact that has gone virtually unacknowledged by anti-surveillance boosters of the USA Freedom Act: “NSA approved.” So, of course, did the top purveyor of mendacious claims about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs — President Obama — who eagerly signed the “USA Freedom” bill into law just hours after the Senate passed it.

A comparable guardian of our rights, House Speaker John Boehner, crowed: “This legislation is critical to keeping Americans safe from terrorism and protecting their civil liberties.”

While some organizations with civil-liberties credentials have responded to the USA Freedom Act by popping open champagne bottles at various decibels, more sober assessments have also been heard. Just after senators approved the bill and sent it to the president, Demand Progress issued a statement pointing out: “The Senate just voted to reinstitute certain lapsed surveillance authorities — and that means that USA Freedom actually made Americans less free.”

Another astute assessment came from CREDO, saying that Congress had just created “sweeping new authorities for the government to conduct unconstitutional mass surveillance of Americans.”

As it happened, the president signed the USA Freedom Act into law while four U.S. “national security” whistleblowers — Drake as well as Coleen Rowley (FBI), Jesselyn Radack (Justice Department) and Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers) — were partway through a “Stand Up For Truth” speaking tour from London to Oslo to Stockholm to Berlin. Traveling as part of the tour, I’ve been struck by the intensity of interest from audiences in the countries we’ve already visited — Great Britain and Norway — where governments have moved to worsen repressive policies for mass surveillance.

Right now, many people in Europe and elsewhere who care about civil liberties and want true press freedom are looking at the United States: to understand what an aroused citizenry might be able to accomplish, seeking to roll back a dangerous accumulation of power by an ostensibly democratic government. Let’s not unwittingly deceive them — or ourselves — about how much ground the U.S. surveillance state has lost so far.

Image used with permission from (left to right): Whistleblowers Kirk Wiebe (NSA), Coleen Rowley (FBI), Raymond McGovern (CIA), Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon), William Binney (NSA), Jesselyn Radack (Justice Department), and Thomas Drake (NSA)

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Derrick Broze

Derrick Broze


  1. bsbafflesbrains
    June 4, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Has anyone connected the TPP and other Trade deals with the need for unfettered/unconstitutional spying not just to protect the paranoid 1% from their enemies (99%) but also as a “trust but verify” tool of these Fortune 500 trading partners?

  2. PCM
    June 4, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    One day, if we’re very, very lucky, the federal bench will overcome MIC/NSIC FUD — that’s military-industrial-complex slash national-security-industrial-complex fear, uncertainy, and doubt — get off its cowed, timorous ass, and start striking down laws, executive orders, regulations, and interpretations that violate the Fourth Amendment on constitutional grounds. It only took them 100 years to strike down “separate but equal,” so there’s hope.

    Right now, many people in Europe and elsewhere who care about civil liberties and want true press freedom are looking at the United States to understand what an aroused citizenry might be able to accomplish, seeking to roll back a dangerous accumulation of power by an ostensibly democratic government.

    Someone should really tell them that they’re looking in the wrong place.

  3. Hugh
    June 4, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    I agree with Drake. The horribly named, Orwellian USA Freedom Act was political theater. It just reshuffled the shells under which various police state activities (forget euphemisms like intelligence or surveillance state) will be carried out.

  4. mulp
    June 4, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    The US Freedom Act is no more intrusive in its spying than the spying on the rich by the IRS which requires draconian massive bulk data collection on every person in the US and in many parts of the world by the IRS, all so the IRS can take the property of individuals without court order or trial.

    Now if you want to stop what you consider illegal unconstitutional action by the US government, you need to join the fringe to the right of the public face of the Koch and Rand Paul to get rid of the IRS.

    Get rid of the IRS and all the rest of the spying will end.

    Set the rich free and you shall be free.

  5. mulp
    June 4, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Well, the massive IRS spying has allowed the US corporate sports industry to attack FIFA in an attempt to bring football under US corporate control for the benefit of the 0.001%

  6. Hugh
    June 4, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    “Set the rich free and you shall be free” Seems like there should be something after this, like “We have always been at war with Eastasia” or “Freedom is slavery.” The IRS has really stuck it to the poor Koch brothers and their $40 billion. We should all become serfs so they can be free. Yeah, that’s the ticket in mulpland.