The Oversold ‘USA Freedom Act’

Some civil liberties groups praised the USA Freedom Act for its modest nips at the Surveillance State, but whistleblowers from inside the U.S. government were more skeptical about the law’s very slight accomplishments, writes Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

The morning after final passage of the USA Freedom Act, while some foes of mass surveillance were celebrating, Thomas Drake sounded decidedly glum. The new law, he told me, is “a new spy program.” It restarts some of the worst aspects of the Patriot Act and further codifies systematic violations of Fourth Amendment rights.

Later on Wednesday, here in Oslo as part of a “Stand Up For Truth” tour, Drake warned at a public forum that “national security” has become “the new state religion.” Meanwhile, his Twitter messages were calling the USA Freedom Act an “itty-bitty step”, and a “stop/restart kabuki shell game” that “starts w/ restarting bulk collection of phone records.”

Photo of prominent whistleblowers who have been critical of the Surveillance State: (left to right) Kirk Wiebe, Coleen Rowley, Raymond McGovern, Daniel Ellsberg, William Binney, Jesselyn Radack, and Thomas Drake by Kathleen McClellan (@McClellanKM) via Twitter

Photo of prominent whistleblowers who have been critical of the Surveillance State: (left to right) Kirk Wiebe, Coleen Rowley, Raymond McGovern, Daniel Ellsberg, William Binney, Jesselyn Radack, and Thomas Drake by Kathleen McClellan (@McClellanKM) via Twitter

That downbeat appraisal of the USA Freedom Act should give pause to its celebrants. Drake is a former senior executive of the National Security Agency, and a whistleblower who endured prosecution and faced decades in prison for daring to speak truthfully about NSA activities. He ran afoul of vindictive authorities because he refused to go along with the NSA’s massive surveillance program after 9/11.

Drake understands how the NSA operates from the highest strategic levels. He notes a telling fact that has gone virtually unacknowledged by anti-surveillance boosters of the USA Freedom Act: “NSA approved.” So, of course, did the top purveyor of mendacious claims about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs, President Barack Obama, who eagerly signed the “USA Freedom” bill into law just hours after the Senate passed it.

A comparable guardian of our rights, House Speaker John Boehner, crowed: “This legislation is critical to keeping Americans safe from terrorism and protecting their civil liberties.”

While some organizations with civil-liberties credentials have responded to the USA Freedom Act by popping open champagne bottles at various decibels, more sober assessments have also been heard. Just after senators approved the bill and sent it to the president, Demand Progress issued a statement pointing out: “The Senate just voted to reinstitute certain lapsed surveillance authorities, and that means that USA Freedom actually made Americans less free.”

Another astute assessment came from CREDO, saying that Congress had just created “sweeping new authorities for the government to conduct unconstitutional mass surveillance of Americans.”

As it happened, the President signed the USA Freedom Act into law while four U.S. “national security” whistleblowers, Drake as well as Coleen Rowley (FBI), Jesselyn Radack (Justice Department) and Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers), were partway through a “Stand Up For Truth” speaking tour from London to Oslo toStockholm to Berlin. Traveling as part of the tour, I’ve been struck by the intensity of interest from audiences in the countries we’ve already visited, Great Britain and Norway, where governments have moved to worsen repressive policies for mass surveillance.

Right now, many people in Europe and elsewhere who care about civil liberties and want true press freedom are looking at the United States: to understand what an aroused citizenry might be able to accomplish, seeking to roll back a dangerous accumulation of power by an ostensibly democratic government. Let’s not unwittingly deceive them, or ourselves, about how much ground the U.S. surveillance state has lost so far.

Norman Solomon’s books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and coordinates its ExposeFacts project. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org.

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3 comments for “The Oversold ‘USA Freedom Act’

  1. Canosin
    June 7, 2015 at 03:48

    What’s about all other citizens outside USA??
    Do we have less or no rights?
    All so-called western democracies are also affected beeing cutoff from civil rights through the freedom act…..
    We have already dictatorships installed….allover…..can someone explain what’s the difference to China or similar countries?

  2. paul wichmann
    June 6, 2015 at 08:22

    The polar-speak title ‘Freedom Act’ leaves little doubt in the mind of any cynic. Freedom Fried.

    Norman Solomon: “Right now, many people in Europe and elsewhere who care about civil liberties and want true press freedom are looking at the United States: to understand what an aroused citizenry might be able to accomplish…”
    I’m begging Mr. Solomon to set right these people in Europe and elsewhere, as in “Look to yourselves; you’re all damned fools if you’re expecting anything from US.”

  3. Niko hebert
    June 5, 2015 at 14:02

    After the passage of this act what is there left to do that can actually curtail the NSA’s sweeping powers to conduct surveillance? The MSM made this sound like a win for the people and a lot of my friends believe this punished the NSA, which of course is a lie and did nothing but expand their powers. I am truly lost at what there is left to do in this country to hold those responsible for their illegal actions.

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