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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Time for a special counsel
on federal secrecy abuses
The National Security State hides many more secrets, some almost certainly worse than what has reached the public's ear.

This parallel government is a contraption whose underpinnings are worthy of a Rube Goldberg* cartoon. The uproar over Edward Snowden's disclosures has prompted a lawsuit against the secret system, Congressional hearings in which lawmakers are beginning to show signs of rebellion at security system controls and deceptions and a new awareness of the possibility that "our people" could get far out of line with the first principles of American liberty.

We also have the Justice Department's unscrupulous practice of investigating leaks by seizing telephone data of reporters and of prosecuting whistleblowers as though they are traitorous spies rather than friends of America. Let's keep in mind that leaking embarrassing secret documents is a time-honored practice and one of the checks necessary against abuse of power. For example, before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Chicago Tribune published what looked very like a secret plan of the Roosevelt administration to bring the United States into World War II. What was done to the reporter, the editor and the owner? Nothing. They were within their rights.

And, Franklin Roosevelt and his allies could easily have argued that the secrecy was justified because the national security of the United States was at stake. Nevertheless, there was no frenzied effort to catch the leaker by cracking down on the reporter or other members of the press. Roosevelt accepted the expose as one of those things that happens in our democracy.

As Democratic Rep. John Conyers has said, things have gone "too far" and as Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Patriot Act author, has said, the secret body of "law"--  concocted by secret judges handpicked by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts -- is subversive of the Constitution and contradicts the intent of the law. The Kafkaesque secret foreign intelligence court, as "overseen" by the secret court of review, can, and does, permit things that the judges never would have dared do in the bright light of day. The security chiefs, who argue in favor of absolute power to themselves, talk about the pluses and rarely acknowledge the very, very real dangers not only to our liberty, but also to national security (one spy could compromise all America's defenses because of excessive pooling of data).

Barret Brown, a freelance investigative reporter published in major publications, has been held without bail for some 300 days as he awaits federal trial for exposes based on secret documents obtained by the hacker group Anonymous. What did the documents disclose? A conspiracy among federally funded propagandists to smear -- including via fabricated documents -- journalist Glenn Greenwald for supporting WikiLeaks. So the reporter faces prison for violating federal secrecy statutes. No charges have been filed against those illegally conspiring to damage a man, using your tax money, because of his political beliefs.

Unlike Greenwald, Brown has no institutional affiliation and hence, as Holder's henchmen see it, lacks power. He's a chump, an easy mark in the National Security game.

There is a great deal more like this.

I favor three moves:

1. A citizens' committee to hold evidence-gathering hearings and issue reports concerning the many problems of abuse of power in the National Security State, including an analysis of the poor privacy laws guiding U.S. cyber firms. 

2.  An independent counsel who will be granted broad power to look into the many issues and abuses, to file charges against federal officials where warranted and to issue a report that goes into the many nooks and crannies of this Byzantine business. Democrats may prefer this option, whereby they can distance themselves from President Obama's secrecy policies to the alternative of a broad-based Tea Party-style campaign debacle. An important area of concern is the use of NSA or Pentagon power within domestic media, which is against the law.

3. Increasing pressure to have Eric Holder removed as attorney general. His people have fought long and hard against liberty in favor of the secret national security monstrosity that we find in our midst.

It might seem a vain idea to expect that a Washington judge would agree to an appointment of a special prosecutor in a case that would call the rulings of fellow jurists into question. However, once the political pressure is great enough, anything is possible.

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