Nixon’s Wet Dream

One of the most important aspects of this whole FISA mess has been largely overlooked. That is that it is not just about privacy. Or principle.

It is about political power.

The power of the Executive to spy on Americans is an incredible political weapon. Our Founders understood this even back in the 18th Century – information is power.

And if one has any doubt about the dangers of such power, one has to look no further than the presidency of Richard Nixon. There’s a great scene in the movie All the President’s Men where Woodward finally gets Deepthroat to talk. It is not, as far as I know, taken from an exact quote. But it is an accurate depiction of what Woodward learned:

Woodward: I’m tired of your chickenshit games. I need to know what you know.

Deepthroat: … Mitchell [Nixon’s attorney general] started doing covert stuff before anyone else. The list is longer than anyone can imagine. It involves the entire US intelligence community. FBI, CIA, Justice. It’s incredible.

The cover up had little to do with Watergate. It was mainly to protect the covert operations. It leads everywhere. Get out your notebook. There’s more.

What Woodward and Bernstein discovered not that long ago was that the entire intelligence establishment was being used as a political weapon against Democrats, the Democratic party, whistleblowers like Danial Ellsberg, and anti-war activists. Just the way we now know the Bush administration used the Justice Department. (A study found that Bush’s Justice Dept. investigated seven (7) times as many Democratic officials as Republican officials.)

For those who may not recall, the Watergate investigation began when some CIA men, working for the Nixon reelection campaign, were caught trying to bug the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Do Democrats in Congress really have such short memories?

The system, for example, put in place in AT&T’s secret Room 641A, where all of AT&T’s internet traffic is vacuumed in for mass surveillance, or comparable system for phone surveillance, are delightful playgrounds for malicious, politically motivated spies.

And by giving the authority to the president’s men, without serious oversight or accountability, we have literally invited a repeat of the Nixon years or, more likely, much much worse.

What can you do with your political enemies phone calls, private information, or emails? What did Nixon’s men do? They used them for opposition research. And there are already strong indications that Bush’s henchmen did the same.

As reported at by Jeff Stein at CQ:

U.S. intelligence tapped the telephone calls of Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower, starting in 2002.

This may well be news to many people, even though Wright revealed the taps himself in a sprawling, 15,000-word article on electronic surveillance in the Jan. 21 edition of The New Yorker magazine.

Perhaps because the article was not available online it lacked the link-juice to propel it into a frenzy over the “domestic spying” on the Web, the cable news shows and leading American newspapers.

As far as I can tell, only Pam Hess of the Associated Press picked up on Wright’s confrontation with spy chief Michael McConnell over the phone taps, and no major paper ran it.

You may not care much at the thought of your phone being tapped. Innocent people usually don’t. But I can’t imagine anyone passionate about politics who is okay with a president having the freedom to tap the phones of journalists, progressive activists, or fellow politicians, without detection or oversight.

This is what we lost first under the criminal presidency of Bush and now, under the coverup presidency of Barrack Obama.

18 comments

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  1. W Bush basically did what Cheney wanted, whereas Obama’s desire for increased power does not come from the VP or an adviser, its his own vision.

  2. In addition to that what exactly is digital.  Digital is the conversion of analog speech (and any other) signals to binary code.  Now once you have done that digital stuff is instantly archivable, transmittable over multiple channels instantly anywhere right?  A thumb drive, and Ipod, just about anything holds lots of data.  Ok, now in the past with analog signals the cops/Feds/whomever may have had to actually do something and go to the phone company and attach, like wires to a certain connection.  Oh, but that is so much easier now with IP address phones.

    Yes, I know I charged this dam phone all night.  The battery is brand new but now it’s dead.  Yes “they” can turn it on remotely but even barring that I ponder a generation of 40 year olds with Alzheimers symptoms or flat out brain cancer.  What was that movie, Logans Run.

  3. power struggle going on in Washington not dissimilar to

    the old struggles in the U.S.S.R.  They had one Communist Party with internal power struggles. We have one Corporate/Military Party with internal struggles. I sense that there are certain understood rules that must be followed.

    I don’t think it’s conspiratorial, but rather organic and natural to concentrated power and wealth.

    The “class system” has been built with labor extraction as a fundamental requirement. It is built into our religion.

    I see it all the time in studying American History, and American History just a newer chapter in the same old book.

    • jim p on April 12, 2010 at 6:27 am

    You may not care much at the thought of your phone being tapped. Innocent people usually don’t.

    That’s the door we’ve opened which goes way beyond just playing political games. You’ve actually got the means to tag anyone for pretty much anything. All you need are the wish, good editors, and no real oversight.

    And on the practical side, how could there not be corrupt secret listeners who get insider business tips right from the lips of insiders, who don’t find blackmail info on someone, who hasn’t thought to sell info about when someone’s home is empty for awhile…

    That’s what innocents should worry about. Think of the temptations which must come with knowing where and when people are, what they are saying, what they are writing, who’s at home or not.

    • sharon on April 13, 2010 at 5:30 am

    what happened to your dk essay?  i was about to comment in agreement with shaharazade.  have you changed your mind again?  your first essay resonated more with me.

    • Eddie C on April 13, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Compared to the complete sell out politicians of today, Nixon was a really good guy. Shit compared to Obama, Nixon was a left wing radical.  

    So what will they do with it today?  

  4. I quit working on the Obama campaign when he voted for it. The only argument I remember for this vote was okay was that Obama would not abuse this power and use it wisely followed by the ever handy national security/terrorists are going to get you, baloney. He said arrogantly ‘If it’s a deal breaker so be it’. It was for me and a surprising amount of the other volunteers at Obama’s Portland headquarters. The shades of things to come from the new ‘boss’.  

    Nixon’s if the president does it it’s legal, rationale seems to be just another political theatrical devise for public consumption. It keeps the eye off the fact that our politics are just a distraction that allows the real government to continue with one party rule and our elections are just  ‘factions’ of the the real powers that own the place. This administration has managed to neuter the public’s resistance to the extreme right flank’s power grabs. This is now the political reality, and all is fair in the perpetual faux war of political fictions we call elections and representational government. As long as they put on a good show and don’t show us too much of the real, the deal is not broken.                  

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