The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


June 17, 2013

Herb Van Fleet, guest columnist: Big Brother is always watching and listening

“The (National Security Agency’s) capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left. Such is the capability to monitor everything — telephone conversations, telegrams — it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.” — Sen. Frank Church

— “The (National Security Agency’s) capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left. Such is the capability to monitor everything — telephone conversations, telegrams — it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.”

— Sen. Frank Church

Sen. Church made that statement 38 years ago. He chaired a committee that was formed to develop legislation to rein in the CIA, FBI, NSA and other intelligence agencies, which had been operating outside the bounds of the law, including the Constitution.

Congress passed the Church Committee’s recommendation, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The operative word here is “foreign.” Also established was the FISA Court, which can authorize warrentless wiretaps. From 1979 to 2012, FISA received 33,949 wiretap requests and denied seven of them. That’s a 99.98 percent approval rate.

Beginning in 2004, FISA started approving “national security letters.” These give the FBI the power to compel disclosure of customer records held by banks, telephone companies, Internet Service Providers and others. There have been hundreds of thousands of NSLs issued that directly involve U.S. citizens.

In 2006, Qwest Communications refused to cooperate with the FBI. When the matter went to court, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that the government’s domestic eavesdropping program is unconstitutional and ordered it ended immediately. The decision was reversed on appeal.

Recently, we learned of a program called PRISM. It seems that the NSA has been doing exactly what Sen. Church warned against all those years ago; collecting telecom and Internet information, including audio and video chats, photographs, emails and documents on virtually all Americans — it’s being called “telephony metadata.”

With these secret spying programs outed, President Obama tried to calm fears: “We actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards. But my assessment and my team’s assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks.” Obama went on to say that despite “the modest encroachments on the privacy that are involved, it was worth us doing.”

Modest encroachments? You mean by playing fast and loose with the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and 14th amendments to the Constitution? You want to protect our liberty by suppressing our liberty? What?

Some important questions to ask are: How well these programs are working? How much they are helping us prevent terrorist attacks? And what happened to the limitation of keeping these programs focused on “foreign Intelligence,” as they were intended?

Since 9/11, there have been 53 planned terrorist attacks on U.S. soil or on planes headed to the U.S. Of these, 29 were “foiled Islamic terrorist plots.” Five successful attacks have yielded a total of 19 fatalities: two in a shooting at the Los Angeles airport in 2002; one at a Little Rock military recruitment center in 2009; 13 in Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009; and three in the recent Boston Marathon bombings.

Let’s put this in perspective: There have been 19 deaths in the U.S. from terrorism after 9/11. During that same period, there have been 418,340 people killed in motor vehicles; 119,000 homicides with firearms; and 27,960 deaths from home fires. In 2012 alone, there were 28 deaths from lightning strikes and none from terrorist attacks.

Therefore, it would be accurate to say there is no existential threat of a terrorist attack in the United States. And even if there were, the programs we have in place are grossly inefficient at detecting and stopping such threats. Exhibit 1: the Boston Marathon bombers — we had to rely on Russia for intelligence on the two brothers, and even that was after the fact.

It’s clear that the threat of Islamic terrorism in this country is way overblown. The fearmongers have won the day. They have facilitated hysteria and fabricated paranoia. It seems to me that the sizable commitment of resources to these counterterrorism programs is like trying to put out a candle with a firehose — and still missing the candle!

Terrorism will never end, just as crime will never end. But with the strategy we have in place to deal with it, my concern is that our country will devolve into an Orwellian dystopia where Big Brother is always watching and listening.

Herb Van Fleet, a former Joplin resident, lives in Tulsa, Okla.

Text Only
  • Our View.jpg Our view: Street smarts

    If your daily commute has been shortened because you no longer have to wait at 26th Street and Connecticut Avenue for a train to pass, thank your own tax dollars.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Other Views Other Views: No time to turn away

    With the shooting down of a commercial airliner over Ukraine and fighting that has now escalated to a ground war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, it would be easy for most U.S. citizens to throw up their hands and turn their backs.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Your View: Amendment 5 is deception of the highest order

    Amendment 5, sponsored by Missouri Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, “relating to the right of Missouri citizens to keep and bear arms” provides that “any restriction on these rights shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

    July 21, 2014

  • Our View: Vote no on Amendment 1

    Proponents of Amendment 1 — the Right to Farm Act — have not made their case. We’ve met with advocates of this amendment to the Missouri constitution and listened to their arguments, but we don’t believe they have adequately answered the central question: Who is it protecting, and from what?

    July 13, 2014

  • Your View: Power to defend

    The Globe’s editorial ‘More guns not the answer’ (July 15) was saturated with classic progressive blather.

    July 21, 2014

  • Your View: Thanks for the generosity

    Generally, all we hear about is the bad news, and obviously, there is plenty available. Our church felt this event worthy of public knowledge.

    July 21, 2014

  • Your View: How to upgrade your business

    Let’s see now. When some folks wish to improve the exterior of their properties and have other taxpayers pay for the improvements, they create a community improvement district.

    July 21, 2014

  • Other Views Other Views: Decision fails test

    With the announcement that the State Board of Education has decided not to release individual school test results because of cyberattacks and other problems this spring, educators are scratching their heads, as are taxpayers who footed the bill.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Our View: Welcome additions

    After Joplin voters failed to pass a curbside recycling proposal in the spring, the City Council said it would study alternate ways to make recycling easier for residents.

    July 18, 2014

  • Your Letters: Be careful what you wish for on Amendment 1

    The proposed Amendment 1 should have been called “Freedom to Farm Without Any Restrictions Whatsoever” because that is what it is. Do you really want a feedlot opening next door to you in Joplin? Or a hog-raising operation on your block in Carthage?

    July 17, 2014

Local News
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter

Do you think Missouri should pass legislation that would allow a prescription drug database to be kept?

A. Yes.
B. No.
     View Results
NDN Video
Raw: Israel Bombs Multiple Targets in Gaza Veteran Creates Job During High Unemployment Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks From Space Station Widow: Jury Sent Big Tobacco a $23B Message New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts UN Security Council Calls for MH 17 Crash Probe Obama Bestows Medal of Honor on NH Veteran Texas Sending National Guard Troops to Border Hopkins to Pay $190M After Pelvic Exams Taped Foxx Cites Washington 'Circus Mirror' NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong Obama Voices Concern About Casualties in Mideast Diplomacy Intensifies Amid Mounting Gaza Toll AP Exclusive: American Beaten in Israel Speaks Obama Protects Gay, Transgender Workers Raw: Gaza Rescuers Search Rubble for Survivors Raw: International Team Inspects MH17 Bodies Raw: 25 Family Members Killed in Gaza Airstrike US Teen Beaten in Mideast Talks About Ordeal 'Weird Al' Is Wowed by Album's Success