‘Surveillance state’

Ex-CIA analyst joins Chico State profs in discussion of Fourth Amendment, government power over Americans

Ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern addresses a room full of students and Chico residents on the nature of surveillance since 9/11.

Ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern addresses a room full of students and Chico residents on the nature of surveillance since 9/11.

PHOTO by Meredith J. Graham

“After 9/11 …” began speaker and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

“… everything changed,” the audience finished.

McGovern was addressing a room full of students, professors and citizens last Thursday (Sept. 18) at Selvester’s Café by the Creek on the Chico State campus. The topic of discussion: government surveillance.

It’s all about the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, said McGovern, who returned his CIA Intelligence Commendation Medal in 2006 in protest of the agency’s use of torture. In 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act put that amendment, which protects American citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” into context by requiring a court order for wiretapping and other forms of surveillance.

“We would get papers in our inboxes with holes—the names of American citizens—razored out of them,” McGovern recalled from his days working for the CIA. “The [National Security Agency] held so sacred its duty to observe that law.”

After Sept. 11, 2001, however, “everything changed.” The threat and fear of terrorism was enough to throw many civil liberties out the window, McGovern said. Now, the U.S. government collects electronic data from all citizens, mostly from cellphones and computers, and nobody is doing anything to stop it, he added. More infuriating to McGovern is the denial by top officials that any civil liberties are being violated. He showed a YouTube video of former NSA chief Gen. Michael Hayden addressing the National Press Club and stating as fact that the Fourth Amendment does not call for “probable cause” in reasonable searches and seizures.

“He lied,” McGovern said in disbelief.

“We were confronted by a strange rationalization by most Americans,” he continued. “They said, ‘I’ve got nothing to hide, so it’s not a problem.’ Well, you don’t get to decide what you should be ashamed of. If they [the government] want to get you, they have a very fertile field.”

McGovern added that, while the rationalization for the increased surveillance was to catch terrorists, NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander testified before Congress that the surveillance has not stopped a single terrorist attack on U.S. or foreign soil. (This came last October, and contradicted his earlier statement that surveillance had thwarted 54 terrorist attacks.)

Joining McGovern at the event, which was sponsored by Chico State’s Peace Institute and the Chico chapter of the ACLU, were political science professors John Crosby and Michael Coyle. They formed a panel of sorts to offer differing viewpoints on the “surveillance state” we live in.

Crosby took the stance that the Constitution should be considered a “living document” because much of the language used when it was written has different meanings now, and society’s level of sophistication has advanced.

“Is paper the same as email?” he asked. “Right now it’s not. Email can be searched.”

Crosby also suggested that surveillance can encourage good behavior, since we know we’re constantly being watched.

“The surveillance state is only going to get worse,” he warned. “Now we’re talking about putting cameras on cops—that sounds like a great idea, but what happens when a cop goes into a house? Is that an unreasonable search and seizure?”

Coyle chimed in with a history of surveillance going back to the 1700s.

“What part of your life is not defined by surveillance?” he asked. “The unchecked time of childhood is almost nonexistent. We’ve developed surveillance in such a way that people are surveilling themselves.”

Ultimately, all three panelists agreed that the surveillance state is a troubling concept. They urged audience members to speak out, to tell their friends, to elect politicians who value the Fourth Amendment and will fight for it.

“The people who say ‘I’ve got nothing to hide’ are clueless as to how very, very close to getting royally fucked they are,” Coyle said. “They just have to take an interest in you.”