NSA surveillance 'has no legal basis whatsoever'
Alexander’s speech, while purporting to disclose new information about the vast NSA surveillance programme, was met with jeers and interrupted by hecklers. The remarks have been met with equal scorn in editorial cartoons, with one of Rall’s most recent works depicting NSA leaders formulating a new plan to identify who is a terrorist.
RT: What exactly about Keith Alexander’s statements inspired you to draw this cartoon?
Ted Rall: Well, It’s the sophistry of it all and the fact that he had the gall to go and present it to a group of tech-savvy young people – hackers and people who are great programmers and know what they are talking about. If I rob a bank and steal a hundred million dollars and I don’t spend all that much of the money it doesn’t mean that I didn’t rob the bank and it doesn’t mean that the money is still in the bank. That’s kind of the argument that the NSA is making.
They’re claiming that because they collect everything but they only look at a little bit of it that somehow is supposed to make us feel better.
RT:You use the bank reference to talk about the ethics of this. The American Constitution prohibits spying on Americans. How is Alexander basically using this to justify what they’ve done?
TR: What they have done has no legal basis whatsoever. Ever since 9/11 the US government has been dreaming up a series of pseudo-legalistic, extra-Constitutional systems that purport to validate what they want to do anyway. But if you scratch the surface all they say is the FISA court has approved this and that.
Well, who is the FISA court? We don’t even know, they’re secret and until very recently were secret. It’s only because of Mr. Snowden that we have even seen one of them. It turns out, in an article in the New York Times, that all the judges were appointed by one right-wing Supreme Court justice, John Roberts.
There’s no accountability here whatsoever, but it’s the veneer of legality that we have. If we follow the letter of the law, if we follow the spirit of the law, if we follow what the NSA’s charter says, the NSA simply isn’t allowed to engage in spying on Americans. Period. It’s very simple. It’s very straightforward. And the administration is trying to obfuscate that and that’s why General Alexander got laughed at.
RT:You talked about the GCHQ and the kind of veneer of legality. Could the NSA be using the GCHQ as a kind of to get around this and say it’s the British who are spying?
TR: That might be part of it. I don’t think that’s really the main takeaway from the GCHQ story. What that really is, it goes back to the days of Tony Blair as George W. Bush’s poodle. It’s really interesting that America, the former British colony, now has turned the tables on England and - pretty much since World War Two – put the UK in a subservient position in terms of politics.
It’s really pathetic that what used to be a superpower is behaving in this way and accepting money from US taxpayers that US taxpayers, incidentally, can’t afford to pay. This NSA program is a $100 billion program and the United States, at the same time, is closing clinics, telling people on welfare that they can’t get any more help, being told we have to accept austerity, public parks are closing. But somehow there’s always money to spy on the public.
RT:Obama has said that these programs are justified because they ensure the safety of American citizens. How do you balance this safety vs. privacy when it really comes down to it?
TR: To me there is no comparison whatsoever. Tens of thousands of Americans lose their lives on public roadways every year in car accidents but you don’t see us turning our airports or our vehicular systems upside down in order to stop those deaths.
Between 12 and 15 Americans die worldwide every year from a terrorist threat ever year. Quite frankly there’s about as much threat from shark attacks and lightning strikes. Terrorism is not a serious threat to the United States of America and to devote a huge amount of our resources to preventing it is foolhardy.
But I don’t think that’s what’s really going on. I think it’s a business, I think it’s the defense contractors who are well-connected in Washington and other corporations are raking in so much cash that that is what this is all about. It’s fear-mongering.