Workers Vanguard No. 861
6 January 2006
Democrats Gave Bush the Go-Ahead
NSA/FBI Spying and the War on Our Rights
On December 16, the New York Times revealed that for the past four years President Bush has authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept international phone calls and Internet communications of U.S. citizens without a warrant. A week after the Times broke the story, it was revealed that the scope of the wiretapping, which included domestic wiretapping, was far more vast than initially disclosed and was carried out with the ready assistance of American telecommunications companies. In addition to spying on specific conversations, NSA technicians have been combing though large volumes of telephone and Internet traffic in what some officials describe as a large data mining operation.
These operations hark back to the Total Information Awareness project, the Big Brother brainchild of convicted Contragate criminal Admiral John Poindexter. That was projected to be a massive computer system that would allow the Feds to access the financial, medical, communications and travel records of everyone living in or entering the U.S. We noted at the time, in Down With Government War on Civil Liberties! (WV No. 811, 10 October 2003), that the program would allow the Bush administration to know what books and periodicals you read, what music you listen to, what movies you watch, what cities and countries you travel to, who you sleep with and what type of contraception you use. Amid the uproar over Poindexters proposal, Congress voted in 2003 to deny funding. Nevertheless, the Defense Department continued funding its development.
According to the bourgeoisies own laws, Bushs actions are blatantly illegal. The NSA wiretaps are in direct violation of the Fourth Amendments prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure, as well as court decisions and federal laws. A 1972 Supreme Court decision in United States v. United States District Court requires judicial approval for wiretaps even when the government claims its for national security. The political backdrop to that decision was massive social unrest over the Vietnam War and struggles for black rights.
In 1978, after U.S. imperialisms stinging defeat in Vietnam, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), signed into law by Democratic president Jimmy Carter, allowed the government to obtain warrants for such wiretaps from a secret court set up to review government applications in foreign intelligence investigations. While FISA is now invoked by liberals as a check on the nations secret police, in practice it has served as a rubber stamp for the Feds. In 27 years, the FISA court turned down five of nearly 20,000 warrant applications. But for Bush & Co., even the formality of a court sanction is unacceptable. They are intent on establishing that the word of the President is the highest law of the land.
The NSA disclosure had immediate repercussions within Congress and the courts. The Senate did not pass the permanent renewal of the draconian USA Patriot Act sought by the administration, adopting instead a five-week extension to allow further debate after the Congressional recess. FISA court judge James Robertson resigned, reportedly in protest of the governments end run around his court. Republican Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, announced plans to conduct hearings this month on the wiretaps. Just as the White House earlier dismissed reservations from those in the Justice Department—apparently including former Attorney General John Ashcroft—that the NSA program was illegal, Bush today is not budging one inch, even in the face of complaints from some Congressional Republicans. Now, in an attempt to silence anyone who might think of revealing more of the governments dark secrets, Bushs Justice Department has announced a criminal investigation of the NSA leaks.
Last year, Bush lied that there were no warrantless wiretaps. Now, he points to the Congressional resolution passed one week after the September 11 attacks with near-unanimous Democratic support that gave him a blank check for the war on terror. This gives the lie to the feigned outrage expressed by Congressional Democrats over the NSA spying. As Republican Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, pointed out: The record is clear; Congressional leaders at a minimum tacitly supported the program (New York Times, 23 December 2005). At least seven Democrats are known to have been briefed about the NSA operations, only three of whom expressed even the mildest concern. California Democrat Jane Harman, who knew of the spying since 2003, called it essential to U.S. national security. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, former Senator Bob Graham and Richard Gephardt, former Democratic leader in the House, were also briefed.
Arguing in a New York Times (27 December 2005) op-ed piece, titled Unwarranted Complaints, that the NSA wiretaps required no warrants, David Rivkin and Lee Casey, who served in the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, point out that numerous administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have espoused the same view. Bill Clinton faced charges of warrantless wiretapping in 1994. That same year, Clintons deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick declared before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence: The Department of Justice believes—and the case law supports —that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes and that the president may, as he has done, delegate this authority to the attorney general (Washington Times, 22 December 2005). Gorelick explicitly included electronic surveillance such as wiretaps in this claim. Similarly, the Clinton administration initiated the practice of rendition of terror suspects to countries where they would be tortured.
For its part, the New York Times sat on the NSA story for a year at the administrations request. Once again the Times assisted the Bush administration, as they did in peddling the administrations lies about Iraqs weapons of mass destruction (see Judith Miller and Bush Disinformation: Big Lies and Imperialist War, WV No. 856, 14 October 2005). This duplicity is par for the course for the bourgeois press, which, despite its claims of objectivity, acts as an auxiliary to the capitalist state in defense of imperialist rule.
The Fraud of Bourgeois Democracy
The NSA spy revelations starkly illuminate what the Spartacist League stated from the outset of the war on terror: that the repressive measures directed initially at Muslims and immigrants would lead to attacks on political dissent and civil liberties across the board, not least against black people and the labor movement. The instruments of repression that form the core of the capitalist state—the cops, courts, prison system and military—serve and protect a social system based on the exploitation of labor for the profit of the capitalist rulers. A case in point was last months transit strike in New York City, where the union is facing massive fines and possible jail sentences for its leaders under the Taylor Law, which outlaws strikes by public workers, as well as other penalties from anti-strike court injunctions.
As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin explained in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (1918): It is natural for a liberal to speak of democracy in general; but a Marxist will never forget to ask: for what class? Lenin added:
Take the fundamental laws of modern states, take their administration, take freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, or equality of all citizens before the law, and you will see at every turn evidence of the hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy with which every honest and class-conscious worker is familiar. There is not a single state, however democratic, which has no loopholes or reservations in its constitution guaranteeing the bourgeoisie the possibility of dispatching troops against the workers, of proclaiming martial law, and so forth, in case of a violation of public order, and actually in case the exploited class violates its position of slavery and tries to behave in a non-slavish manner.
Every liberty, every conquest for working people and the oppressed, has been wrested through social struggle and outright civil war. And as attacks on civil liberties, black voting rights and abortion rights attest, almost any such gain is faced with bourgeois reaction. It is necessary to wage a class-struggle fight to defend our rights. Pointing to the need to mobilize the labor movement against government repression, in February 2002 the Labor Black League for Social Defense and the Partisan Defense Committee initiated a united-front, trade union-centered mobilization in Oakland against the attacks on labor and immigrant rights carried out in the name of the war on terror.
Liberals Seek Cleaner War on Terror
The protests of bourgeois mouthpieces like the New York Times and of Democratic politicians reflect fear within the bourgeoisie that even their rights are being jeopardized by the Bush administration. This recalls the post-Watergate sentiment of a wing of the ruling class that resented the Nixon administration using against its bourgeois opponents the kind of illegal surveillance and sabotage normally reserved for communists, black activists and unionists.
Some are now calling for Congressional hearings modeled on the mid-1970s Senate Church Committee hearings on the FBIs COINTELPRO program, a campaign of surveillance and disruption of the left and black militants in which 38 Black Panther Party members were killed. While those hearings formally dismantled COINTELPRO and curbed the FBIs most blatant excesses, the governments secret political police continued their dirty work. Black Panther leaders like Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt) and Dhoruba bin Wahad, framed up under COINTELPRO, remained in prison for years. American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier and former Black Panther Party spokesman Mumia Abu-Jamal remain in prison after being convicted of killings they never committed, with Mumia on death row in Pennsylvania.
Bushs liberal critics share the administrations aim of defending the interests of American imperialism. Their difference is over the means. Thus Democrats and liberals express outrage over the militarys torture of terror suspects because it undermines the ability of U.S. imperialism to sell its military adventures in the name of humanitarianism and the promotion of democracy. Among those embarrassments is the case of Khaled el-Masri, who has filed a lawsuit against former CIA head George Tenet. A German citizen of Lebanese descent, el-Masri was kidnapped while on holiday in Macedonia, detained incommunicado, beaten, drugged and shipped off to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan. After a few months, el-Masri was let loose on a hill in Albania, having never been charged with a crime.
Similarly, the liberals complain that the governments violation of due process of law is ruining the war on terror. In Bushs NSA Spying Jeopardizes National Security, Dave Lindorff writes in CounterPunch (30 December 2005), This illegal spying may have put the U.S. at risk by undermining the prosecution of possible terror suspects. Lindorff adds, The administration has opened the door for defense attorneys to seek new trials for their clients based upon a claim of improperly obtained evidence. Other cases that have yet to be brought to trial may end up being thrown out on the same grounds. Indeed, defense attorneys are rightfully beginning to pursue just such a defense. One victim who may seek reopening of his case is Ali al-Timimi, a Muslim professor sentenced to life in prison last year on conspiracy charges based purely on the exercise of his First Amendment right to free speech (see Muslim Professor Sentenced to Life for Thought Crime—Free Ali al-Timimi! WV No. 852, 5 August 2005).
Lindorff and his liberal cohorts want a cleaner war on terrorism. The ACLU calls to Keep America Safe and Free and to reform the Patriot Act, refusing to call for its repeal. The war on terror is nothing but a pretext to increase the states police powers and repressive apparatus. Its results can be seen in the coldblooded killing by air marshals of an emotionally disturbed passenger on the tarmac at Miami International airport last month.
The administrations contempt for any restraint by Congress or the courts has even its closest allies fuming. Last month, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals turned down the governments request to transfer Jose Padilla from military to civil custody, a decision that stands in the way of his criminal prosecution. Padilla is a U.S. citizen whom the government for three years claimed was an unlawful enemy combatant who could be held indefinitely without being charged with a crime or going to trial. Previously this court—the most conservative in the country, whose specialty has been upholding the Presidents claim to free rein as Commander in Chief—had upheld the Feds declaration of Padilla as an enemy combatant. Appealing to the Supreme Court, the administration lashed out at the temerity of federal court judges who assert their authority to disregard a presidential directive.
In amici curiae briefs filed by the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Jose Padilla, we wrote: Based on the false proposition of an ongoing global war against terrorism, the Executive asserts that it has the unchallengeable authority to decide who is a terrorist and apply martial law, demanding absolute and complete deference by the judiciary. This demand of unfettered power by the Executive is a move toward bonapartism, a police state, and relies on a compliant judiciary.
In the U.S. political system, much of the constitutional power originally vested in Congress has increasingly been transferred to the imperial presidency. This corresponds to the needs of the U.S. imperialist rulers to assert themselves as the worlds top cop, without having their wars and military adventures held up by the bother of seeking the approval of Congress. The last time Congress availed itself of its constitutional power to declare war was 64 years ago, when the U.S. entered World War II.
Fight Government Repression!
The governments anti-terrorism measures are increasingly being directed against leftist political activity. At the same time that the NSA wiretapping hit the news, government documents obtained by the ACLU revealed that the FBI has been conducting numerous investigations of antiwar activists, environmentalists, animal rights activists and leftists. So far-ranging—and deranged—are the governments surveillance and harassment that one of their targets is the liberal-pacifist Catholic Workers group for its semi-communistic ideology. Ominously, the New York Post (26 December 2005) reports that the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) is under investigation by the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities for supporting the European-based Anti-Imperialist Camp, which allegedly raised funds for Iraqis opposed to the U.S. occupation. This is a threat to the entire workers movement. Hands off the FSP!
Last month, videotapes confirmed that New York City police have not only conducted surveillance of antiwar gatherings and other protests but employed provocateurs to set up protesters for vicious beatings and arrest—a revival of the old red squads. On 30 August 2004, during the Republican National Convention, the police staged the arrest of a cop plant at a protest for poor and homeless people. Unaware that he was a plant, protesters chanted, Let him go. Riot cops then attacked, arresting two. The terrorist scare campaign around the RNC had nothing to do with Al Qaeda and everything to do with suppressing political dissent. Over 1,800 people were arrested; most of the charges were later dropped—particularly after private videos caught out the cops tales as blatant lies.
Around the world, the capitalist democracies have adopted laws modeled on the U.S. Patriot Act and other repressive measures. In Australia, the right-wing John Howard government—with the support of Kim Beazley, head of the opposition Labor Party—passed sweeping anti-terrorism legislation last month making it a crime to urge disaffection against the federal government or Parliament. The law also threatens antiwar protesters by targeting anyone who urges another person to engage in conduct to assist, by any means whatever, an organization or country being fought by the Australian military.
In Britain, anti-terrorism legislation adopted by Tony Blairs Labour Party government states that British citizens and foreign nationals considered threats to national security can be confined to house arrest, electronically tagged, and barred from using mobile phones and the Internet and visits by anyone not authorized by the government. The decision of who is subject to such control orders is entirely at the whim of the government—no trial, or even filing of charges need take place.
These police-state measures have been implemented within the framework of bourgeois democracy. It is especially in the advanced capitalist countries that democratic forms of government serve to veil the nature of the state as a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the exploited and oppressed masses in a garb of equality of all citizens.
The U.S. capitalist rulers have long sought the current repressive measures, which the Bush administration intends to make a permanent fixture of the American system of justice. There is an inherent tendency of the ruling class—a tiny class of exploiters who produce nothing but reap trillions in profit out of the sweat and blood of working people and who wreak death and destruction around the world—to tighten the screws on the workers and oppressed. The capitalist rulers need such repressive measures because they hate and fear the people.
Short of the overthrow of capitalist rule, none of the rights and gains that working people hold dear are secure. Whats needed is a thoroughgoing socialist revolution led by a multiracial workers party to establish the rule of the working class and usher in a society based on production for human needs not profit.