How to deal with illegal, classified operations?


The AP reports that the DoJ is going to investigate the Underwatergate "leak" to the New York Times. Many of course wish they would investigate the program instead, but since the AG was involved in it, that's difficult.

But this puts forward the complex problem of how to deal with, and stop, illegal classified programs. Because they are classified, they lack many of the checks and balances that exist for other government operations. Indeed, it is suspected that many programs get classified entirely or in part in order to avoid scrutiny.

In theory, one does not have to obey an illegal order. But in practice it takes a lot of guys to defy one. And it's hard to be certain an order is illegal when your superiors and their lawyers are insisting it is.

Senator Rockefeller is one of the people elected to provide oversight over intelligence activities, and he was told about the NSA spying. He was also told he could not consult with the advisors he needed on technical and legal issues to make proper judgements. This is an unacceptable situation. There must be checks and balances.

I don't like secret courts, but they are better than having no courts at all. There should be a secret court with auditing power over all secret activities of the government. Anybody should be able to file a complaint with this court that the government is engaging in illegal secret activities. The identity of the whistleblower must be fully protected, as well. The court should have full power to investigate any and all classified and secret programs to find out if they are engaging in illegal activity. And it should have full power and duty to punish illegal activity by anybody, including the President. (Judgements against the President and other top officials would be subject to appeal by the Supreme Court.)

Furthermore, when the court finds wrongdoing, details of this wrongdoing should be declassified as soon as possible and as much as possible. Even at risk to national security. That's because illegal covert activities by the government are a greater risk to the security of the people and the nation than most disclosures are.

How much auditing of secret programs does the GAO get to do? Can its role be expanded? This seems more a judicial idea than a congressional one but there's no reason that auditing of illegal secret activity should not go on in all branches, of all branches.

Absent such a process, the leak to the New York Times is the only answer. The whistleblowers who revealed this program did the right thing for the nation, and should be rewarded, not punished.


Different strokes for different folks. In England, there is
the situation where people object to national identity cards,
which have existed in other countries for years. This is an
objection on principle, not for any valid reason. Of course there
are legitimate reasons why the government or its officials might
need to confirm your identity. If you object, then you DO have
something to hide, or object as a matter of principle.

In many countries, video cameras in public places are the norm.
They DO help prevent crime and/or catch criminals. In Iceland,
I believe they even inject the live feeds into television so everyone
can watch. And before you complain, read up on Iceland: it has so
many civil liberties and real freedoms that it makes the U.S. even
before 9/11 look like a police state.

We seem to have two sides here: the libertarian types who object
to the government gathering any information as a matter of principle,
and the George Bush types who just do what they want even if it is
in violation of international law. Both standpoints are idiotic.
In each individual case, the only question should be: do the benefits
outweigh the disadvantages?

Probably the real problem in the U.S. is that it is NOT a government
of the people, by the people and for the people, but of big business
and the religious right, by big business and the religious right and
in spite of many of the people. Where there is not this conflict,
everyone knows the government works for the good of good people and
the only people who suffer are the occasional criminals.

Bill Bryson tells an interesting story in his book about travels
on the Continent (where he also comments on beautiful women in
the subway in Hamburg and their---gasp!---hairy armpits and women
sunbathing nude in public parks: if you think America is the land
of the free, try being nude on a beach or, if you are a woman,
just don't shave; the reaction will show the true opinions who,
to paraphrase Easy Raider, will talk to you all day about individual
freedom but just can't cope with a free individual). In the
pedestrian zone in Copenhagen, he sees the queeen enter a shop. He
asks the person next to him who protects her. At first, he doesn't
understand the question (i.e. the intent of the question; he probably
speaks English better than Bill Bryson). He then smiles and replies
"I suppose we all do".

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