The Surveillance State Unveiled: President Bush and Adherents to His Viewpoint Have Defended the Idea That the Government Has a Right to Wiretap, but Their Assertions Do Not Stand Up to Scrutiny

By Eddlem, Thomas R. | The New American, June 26, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Surveillance State Unveiled: President Bush and Adherents to His Viewpoint Have Defended the Idea That the Government Has a Right to Wiretap, but Their Assertions Do Not Stand Up to Scrutiny


Eddlem, Thomas R., The New American


President Bush has inaugurated the largest surveillance state in human history, ordering the NSA to wiretap millions of Americans' telephone calls and e-mails abroad (according to the New York Times) and collecting the telephone records of as many as 200 million Americans (according to USA Today). Moreover, the FBI acknowledged searching the personal effects of more than 3,500 Americans without a court search warrant (according to the Associated Press) using a procedure called a "National Security Letter" under the Patriot Act. And many news sources have hinted that these revelations are merely the "tip of the iceberg" of the size of the actual surveillance conducted against Americans by the same Bush administration that had until December 2005 claimed at least seven times publicly that it sought a court warrant before conducting any search.

Following is an analysis of the Bush administration's public rationale for conducting warrantless surveillance.

"Trust Your Leaders"

"We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates."

--President George W. Bush May 11, 2006

President Bush made the statement above even though he and his administration spokesmen have not denied the accuracy of USA Today's report on May 10, which revealed that the NSA is storing the telephone call logs of as many as 200 million Americans. Although administration officials repeatedly use the term "Terrorist Surveillance Program" to imply that they are only spying on known terrorists, the reverse is true. Clearly, the administration is mining and trolling through the personal lives of hundreds of millions of innocent Americans--otherwise President Bush is accusing 200 million Americans of being "links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates."

President Bush's claim above that he is not "trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans" is no more credible than his earlier claim that the government does not tap the telephone calls of American citizens without a court warrant: "Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires--a wiretap re quires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so." (April 20, 2004, at Kleinshans Music Hall in Buffalo, New York.)

Generally, governments spy upon their enemies. It's not worth expending resources to spy on friends. The revelation that the Bush administration is spying upon all Americans does not bode well for continued freedom in the United States.

Constitutional Authority

"The President's authority to authorize the terrorist surveillance program is firmly based ... in his constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief."

--Justice Department policy paper "The NSA Program to Detect and Prevent Terrorist Attacks, Myth v. Reality" January 27, 2006

The president's "commander-in-chief" powers under Article II of the U.S. Constitution simply make the president commander of the armed forces, not commander of civilians or a chief legislator empowered to spy upon whomever he chooses. The relevant clause of the U.S. Constitution states simply: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States." It gives the president no power over civilians, and no power to wage war, which is vested solely with the Congress.

Even if we assume the president was given the power to authorize warrantless surveillance of American citizens under his "commander-in-chief" authority in the U.S. Constitution, the Fourth Amendment took that power away. The Fourth Amendment--which overrode any constitutional provisions contrary to it--banned all searches of people's private effects that did not include both probable cause and a court warrant supported by an oath. …

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