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The Security Era


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The Security Era

  1. 1. Knutson 1Joshua KnutsonEnglish 101Professor BoltonApril 10, 2012 The Security Era: Technological Abuses and the War on Terror In September of 2001, an event took place in this country that forever changed the waythat we thought about national security. The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagoncalled in to sharp focus the failures of the antiquated security apparatus in the United States.There immediately followed, in addition to several wars, a complete overhaul of the nationalsecurity network. This overhaul necessitated a number of new technologies, both military andcivilian; it also kicked off a whole new debate about civil liberties in the United States. Thequestion then became how much security is too much security. Was it proper to use militarytechnology to spy on citizens without court approval, and based on nothing more than suspicion?This question was brought out with the advent of “national security letters.” Was it proper tocompile computerized data sheets on citizens when they had not committed a crime, and to allowaccess of these files through the internet to other government agencies? This is exactly what theFederal Bureau of Investigation began doing when they created an FBI National SecurityDivision, and they were not the only government agency to do so. While it is true that nationalsecurity concerns are paramount for ensuring the continued enjoyment of constitutionalprotections in the United States, how many can be infringed upon in order to ensure thatprotection? The government is already using technology developed for military signalintelligence to intercept phone calls in the United States. Although national security is a matterof the utmost importance in the United States, it should never be used as justification to abuse the
  2. 2. Knutson 2very technology meant to protect the citizens of the United States, and it should never be usedagainst the citizens without proof of criminal activities. For two decades prior to the attacks of September 11th, the surveillance efforts of theUnited States were governed by a single piece of legislation. The Foreign IntelligenceSurveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 was the defining mission statement of the intelligencecommunity. It listed the proper conditions needed to initiate surveillance of anyone, in or out ofthe borders of the United States. The FISA Act gave the government the ability to interceptradio and satellite transmissions, as well as wire transmissions, so long as they emanated fromoutside of the borders of the United States. The government was required to get warrants for anyother type of interception, especially if it was a communication that was going to be interceptedin the United States. The act also forced the intelligence and security communities to submit anyactions they took to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The FISC, as it was known,was responsible for determining the legality of any surveillance operation. However, by the timeof the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was severely outdated in the face of new technologies. Therefollowed a period of unrestricted action by the various security agencies. Once the order camedown from the White House that national security concerns superseded outdated statutes, thedoor was kicked open for warrantless wiretaps. The major issue developed due to the fact thatthese wiretaps were monitoring communications into and out of the United States. Many peoplehave defended this practice as necessary for prevention of terrorist plots. As former federalprosecutor Andrew McCarthy shows, “[this program] has saved lives, helping break up at leastone al-Qaeda conspiracy to attack New York City and Washington, DC” (McCarthy 365). Inbringing up the successes that the security agencies have had, McCarthy raises more questionsthan he answers. Yes, a terror plot was foiled, but this information was based on warrantless
  3. 3. Knutson 3wiretaps; therefore, the information was inadmissible in an American court. The informationcould not be used because it was irreconcilable with Constitutional protections against illegalsearch and seizure. Al Gore summarizes this principal when he says, “[I do not agree withPresident Bush] that we have to break the law or sacrifice our system of government to protectAmericans from terrorism. In fact, doing so makes us weaker and more vulnerable” (Gore 373).Abuse of technology, even with the best of intentions, is nothing more than modern abuse ofpower. A legitimate government cannot break its own laws in the quest to protect its citizens,because that itself hurts the citizens. It sets a precedent for a vicious circle of civil liberty abuse. This issue brings into focus the next major incursion on the citizens by the government.It comes in the form of the Protect America Act. This act authorizes the government to“intercept any communications that begin or end in a foreign country” (Huq 83). Thegovernment is allowed to do this under very little accountability. The National Security Agencyonly has to “reasonably [believe a target] to be located outside of the United States” (Huq 87).These communications, as they are referred to, are not limited to phone calls. They can be phonecalls, emails, text messages, or even satellite transmissions. The problem with this act is that aslong as the NSA “reasonably” believes the person is not in the US, they can pirate thetransmission. This allows warrantless interception of any type of communication that goes to theUS from a foreign country or a communication that goes from the US to a foreign country, andthat is an infringement on civil liberties. With that said, it is true that there is some oversightwith this act. Some of the actions do have to be submitted to the FISC court, which wasestablished by the FISA law. However, this oversight is mostly theoretical. The law onlyrequires reporting on issues of non-compliance, and the decision of what constitutes non-compliance is left up to the NSA and the Department of Justice. While I fully support the aim of
  4. 4. Knutson 4this act, which primarily was to update the FISA and aid in the War on Terror, it seems obviousthat it does not sufficiently protect the civil liberties of US citizens. Furthermore, with the admission that wiretapping was occurring without warrants, anumber of other revelations were revealed by the government. It soon became clear that thegovernment was compiling information on citizens they considered suspicious. This informationwas then shared between government agencies, and, in many cases, foreign allies. With thecreation of the Department of Homeland Security, electronic databases became the norm withnational security profiling. This technology was developed by, and borrowed from, thePentagon. The idea of effortless information sharing was the brainchild of Army leadership, towhom it had always been an article of faith that the winner of the reconnaissance battle was thewinner of the war. Homeland Security took this principal and propelled it to new heights. Withauthorization from the Patriot Act, the government forced telephone companies to “surrenderdatabases of telephone calls of US citizens” (Mullard 5). An interesting article by BartonGellman appeared in the Washington Post, and it clearly shows what this information was usedfor. These databases were then used to profile citizens who had inordinate amounts of overseacalls to areas of interest. Those citizens were then subjected to a deep background check by theDepartment of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. If they were felt to havegotten a “hit”, then they were set up on electronic surveillance by various government agencies.Another legacy of the Patriot Act is the so-called National Security Letters. These aredocuments that the FBI uses as a warrant, even though they have no actual legal standing. Theseletters force the receiver to divulge information to the government, and impose a gag order onthe receiver, under threat of being charged with interference in a national security investigation.This represents the dichotomy a government has to present when faced with a terrorist threat.
  5. 5. Knutson 5Those actions clearly threaten the civil liberties of US citizens. However, the Patriot Act has notbeen completely negative. As former President George W. Bush says, “the Patriot Act closeddangerous gaps in America‟s law enforcement and intelligence capabilities” (Bush 12). This acthas helped to protect America from terrorists. I fully agree with President Bush there. However,once again, this presents a law that does positive things, but does not fully address civil libertyconcerns for US citizens. Additionally, propaganda, via mass media, must be considered. Propaganda has its rootsdeep in military history. For centuries, military schools have taught their students that winningthe war is much easier if the heart of the population is not behind the effort. Today, thatprinciple is even more obvious. Propaganda from the government is augmented by the massmedia. The media enters the world through the internet, television, print, and even cell phone. Itis nearly impossible to ignore the influence that mass media wields by way of technology. Butthat technology is being abused. By controlling the information released to the mass mediaoutlets, the government controls and shapes the reaction of the population. There have beennumerous examples in the last ten years. Originally, the intelligence reports said that Osama binLaden was hiding in Afghanistan. While that may have been true in the beginning, thegovernment never released information contrary to that until we illegally violated Pakistanisovereignty in the operation that killed bin Laden. Another example would be the insistence ofthe Bush administration in regards to Iraq‟s weapons of mass destruction. In the end, it wasproven that they did not exist. However, the media spent endless amounts of time trying toprove that they did exist. The author Michael Freeman makes a very interesting point when hepoints out that “emergency powers directed at terrorism are particularly likely to be abused”(38). That is the case today. While ordinarily the media would ruthlessly investigate a reticent
  6. 6. Knutson 6administration, the media over the last ten years has not been nearly as vociferous. They still goon the attack, but it is not until well after the fact, and it has not resulted in any action to preventthe government from continuing its misleading ways. It could be argued that a lack of mediacoverage may not be a completely bad thing. It is true that the extensive media coverage ofcombat operations in Vietnam largely destroyed America‟s motivation to see the war through toconclusion. It could even be said that the government has to keep some things secret in order tofunction. With that said, the citizens of the United States have a right to know about issues thataffect their liberties. The citizens of this country also have a right to know when technology isbeing used against them. While there are many positives to technology, there are also negatives. There is noperson or organization in the world that is immune to the two-edged sword of technology. Whatis overwhelmingly obvious in the United States is the abuse of some forms of technology insupport of the war on terrorism. While most of the intentions have been good, there have beenundeniable incursions on the civil liberties the citizens of this country are guaranteed. Infairness, it must be remembered why these things have taken place. September 11th marks a daywhen the largest terrorist-caused loss of life in America happened. America must never forgetthat. America must never forget the thousands of military personnel who have laid down theirlives to protect the citizens of this country since that day. What America must do is ensure thatthe government is held accountable for formulating laws and practices that protect the citizenswithout violating the principles of the country the laws are intended to protect. America mustensure that technology is used in a proper way. It is imperative that governmental use oftechnology is regulated and aimed at the proper targets, not law abiding citizens. Security is anecessity, but civil liberties are of equal importance.
  7. 7. Knutson 7 Works CitedBush, George. “Americans‟ Civil Liberties Are Protected.” Civil Liberties. Ed. Lauri Friedman. Detroit: Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010. 12-18. Print.Freeman, Michael. Freedom or Security: The Consequences for Democracies Using Emergency Powers to Fight Terror. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2003. Print.Gellman, Barton. “The FBI‟s Secret Scrutiny.” Washington Post 6 November 2005: n. pag. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 29 Mar. 2012.Gore, Al. “Restoring the Rule of Law.” Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Political Issues. 16th ed. Eds. George McKenna and Stanley Feingold. New York: McGraw-Hills Company, 2010. 371-376. Print.Huq, Aziz. “The Protect America Act is a Threat to Civil Liberties.” National Security. Detroit: Gale, Cengage Learning, 2008. 83-89. Print.McCarthy, Andrew. “How to „Connect the Dots.‟” Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Political Issues. 16th ed. Eds. George McKenna and Stanley Feingold. New York: McGraw-Hills Company, 2010. 365-370. Print.Mullard, Maurice. Globalisation, Citizenship and the War on Terror. Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 2007. Print.