What the Edward Snowden affair has revealed, more than anything else, is the insanity of electing lawyers to higher office. That’s because too often lawyers take advantage of the inherent ambiguity of natural language to deliberately mislead people.
Or, as Bill Clinton famously put it, it all depends what the meaning of “is” is.
Thinking like a lawyer, Bill Clinton looked the American people in the eye and said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” Monica Lewinsky, because, you see, oral sex isn’t legally “sex,” at least that’s how Clinton understood it.
Clinton also said that “there is not a sexual relationship, an improper sexual relationship or any other kind of improper relationship” with the barely legal intern. This was truthful, Clinton later argued, because he said it in the present tense – “it depends what the meaning of is is” – and the reality was that he had an improper relationship in the past, you see, but not now.
Oh, how clever. Fooled us there, Mr. President!
Now we may be going through the same legal word games once again with another Lawyer-President, Barack Obama. On June 7, Obama went on national TV and told the American people that “nobody is listening to your telephone calls.” A day later, he told Charlie Rose:
“What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a US person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls … by law and by rule, and unless they … go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause, the same way it's always been, the same way when we were growing up and we were watching movies, you want to go set up a wiretap, you got to go to a judge, show probable cause.”
The GOP chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, a former FBI agent, said the same thing. He told CNN that the NSA “is not listening to Americans' phone calls. If it did, it is illegal. It is breaking the law.”
Like Bill Clinton, Obama, Rogers and the whole national security crowd must think they are being so clever... because, you see, no one is listening to your phone calls... but in all likelihood the NSA is simply recording them all.
The “tin foil hat” crowd, otherwise known as people who don’t swallow whole what the government and their lackeys in the mainstream media tell us, have long suspected that the NSA now has the technical capability to record every telephone call, email and instant message on earth... and simply store it all in giant hard drives for later analysis.
“[F]or the first time since Watergate and the other scandals of the Nixon administration, the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens. It has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas.”
The suspicion that the NSA is actually recording all telephone calls was strengthened during the Boston Marathon bombing case when a former FBI counter-terrorism agent, Tim Clemente, let slip that government investigators were able to go back, after the bombing, and somehow listen to telephone conversations between the bombers and some of their friends.
But if the Boston Marathon bombers weren’t under police surveillance, and even the government admits they weren’t... how were investigators able to tap into the telephone calls they had in the past?
Answer: Because it’s likely that all cell phone, and perhaps all land line calls in the United States and overseas are being recorded. All of them.
So when Barack Obama tells the American people that “no one is listening to your phone calls,” it could very well be that he’s being legally accurate... but could still be lying through his teeth. He’s being deliberately deceptive... just as James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, was being deliberately deceptive when he told Congress that it is NOT true that the NSA is collecting data on millions of Americans. (If any ordinary citizen perjured himself in testimony before Congress, he or she would be rotting in jail... no matter how many excuses they might have.)
It all depends what the meaning of “is” is, you see.
As for Obama’s claim that the NSA has to “go to a judge [and] show probable cause” before it can listen to Americans’ phone calls, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a liberal New York Democrat, claimed that’s simply not true.
After attending a top secret briefing on the NSA on June 14, Nadler said he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed “simply based on an analyst deciding that.” Nadler later backtracked on his allegation when it caused embarrassment to the White House but documents released by The Guardian newspaper confirmed his original account.
So, the next bombshell that Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and The Guardian newspaper are going to release is likely to be the revelation that the NSA is recording all of our phone calls.
On June 28, Glenn Greenwald gave a talk via Skype to the Socialism 2013 conference in Chicago, and he revealed that Snowden has documents that prove all Americans’ cell phone calls are being recorded and stored. Here’s a transcription from a blogger of what he said:
“Another document that I probably shouldn't but - since it's not published - but I am going to anyway share with you - and this one is coming soon - but you are getting a little preview. It talks about how a brand new technology enables the National Security Agency to direct, redirect into its own repositories, one billion cellphone calls every single day, one billion cellphone calls every single day.
“What we are really talking about here is a globalized system that prevents any form of electronic communication from taking place without it’s being stored and monitored by the National Security Agency. It doesn't mean they are listening to every call, it means they are storing every call and have the capability to listen to them at any time. And it does mean that they are collecting millions upon millions upon millions of our phone and email records.
“It is a globalized system designed to destroy all privacy. And what is incredibly menacing about it is that it is all talking place in the dark, with no accountability and virtually no safeguards.”
You heard it here first, folks.
As this drama unfolds, the public has to remember that many of the key players are, like Barack Obama, lawyers. They are attempting to defuse growing public outrage by playing word games.
It could well turn out that the NSA isn’t “listening” to all of our cell and telephone phone calls... it’s just recording them all so future investigators can, at any time, listen to them. For those who cherish constitutional government and the rule of law, that’s cold comfort indeed.
Robert Hutchinson is a writer and the author, most recently, of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible. He blogs at RobertHutchinson.com
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