Wednesday, April 06, 2016

3 decembre 1627 the date on the fictional lettre de cachet that Dumas' Richelieu gives his agent, a get-out-of-jail-free card that authorizes any sort of skulduggery for "the good of the State".

It's that sort of secret lawlessness that has always been considered the hallmark of despots and autocrats. In theory, at least, We the People of the United States have always insisted that that sort of extralegal business is off-limits. That's the theory.

In fact, and especially since 2001, we've been playing a dangerous game with these things under the name "National Security Letters" or NSLs.

The misuse of these imperial orders has been somewhat downplayed in the past several years but it seems that the secret snooping continues, most recently at the website Reddit, which must have received one some time during 2015.

That got me thinking about these things.

An interview at the website boingboing contains what I consider a telling statement:
"After I sued the Department of Justice over the constitutionality of NSL's in 2004, the DoJ's inspector general released a report detailing FBI's use of NSLs. In that report they looked at the years 2003-2006 if I recall correctly. And in that time period, the FBI had issued something like 192,000 NSLs. If you do some quick math, that's getting close to one NSL per 1000 Americans. And FBI has continued to issue 10's of thousands of NSLs every year since."
Why telling?

Because there's a military saying; who attempts to be strong everywhere is strong nowhere. Nearly 60,000 of these things a year? 200 a day? That's nuts. There's no possible way that any intelligence analyst could spend enough time to extract any value from that mass of raw data, let alone draw together the connections between the disparate pieces of a threatening covert operation.

This bluing the landscape with these fucking secret letters? It's worse than a crime; it's a mistake. There's no possible way to process that much raw intel, and the intelligence agencies must be wasting a ridiculously huge number of manhours trying.

But it's also a damn crime, because (as I wrote five years ago);
"We cannot know if the lettre de...excuse me, the "national security letter" has been misused...because those against whom it has been used cannot speak of their misuse, and if they attempt to do so they will find themselves in another modernization of Bourbon justice, the Chateau d'If of the "secret prison".

Can you imagine a United States with "secret prisons"? With nameless prisoners, latter-day Monte Cristos but in their orange jumpsuits and hoods? With secret letters demanding secret interrogations, carried on in secret and then buried below further layers of secrecy, lowered into a well a midnight, never to be known?

Is this the United States we pledged allegiance to as children? And if not, why not? Because of some raggedy Islamic fantasists plotting in some dumpy motel in Lahore?"
Given all the other panics we've been pummeled with this sneaky spying may seem trivial, but I'd argue that this - more than Muslims, more than immigration, more than Mexican rapists, more than terrorism - is how a republic dies, when it's supposed-civil-servants can carry out any act and, when questioned, present the questioner with:

"It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this has done what he has done."

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