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NSA Surveillance Programs Are a Cancer on the Constitution

May 28, 2015 in Economics

By Patrick G. Eddington

Patrick G. Eddington

The month of June has proven to a notable one for revelations about abuses of government power carried out under the cloak of secrecy. June 1971 brought us the Pentagon Papers case, followed two years later with the Watergate hearings into the break in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. A generation later, another national security whistleblower—Edward Snowden—revealed in June 2013 a fresh series of government abuses of power in secret.

And now, with some of those abusive powers facing a June 1, 2015 expiration date, Congress faces another moment of truth: Will it act decisively to end unconstitutional executive branch overreach, as it did a generation ago?

One of the most haunting and compelling witnesses at those initial Watergate hearings was former White House Counsel John Dean. In his testimony on June 25, 1973, Dean recounted for the committee how he told President Nixon that the Watergate burglary and subsequent cover up were “a cancer on the Presidency” that threatened to destroy Nixon himself unless all involved came clean immediately. The months of public hearings that followed and the damning revelations about Nixon’s role in the break in and cover up culminated in Congress moving to excise the cancer Dean described through the impeachment process, which led to Nixon’s resignation. 

The documents smuggled out of the National Security Agency (NSA) by Snowden sparked the first real public debate about government surveillance powers employed in the post-9/11 era. But in contrast to Congress’s aggressive and forceful reaction to the Watergate era revelations of executive branch criminality and overreach, the Congressional response to Snowden’s revelations of government surveillance abuse has been dangerously anemic. And in the case of these surveillance abuses, we have a cancer not simply on one institution of government, but on the Constitution itself.

Will Congress act decisively to end unconstitutional executive branch overreach?”

Compare the level of effort Congress expended investigating Watergate and the other surveillance-related scandals of the 1970s with that expended to date on Snowden’s revelations. In the Watergate era, Congress set up entire special committees with literally dozens of staff to investigate not only the Nixon White House but the entire U.S. intelligence community, the latter through the select committee chaired by then-Senator Frank Church of Idaho (i.e., the Church Committee). Those investigations lasted years and included dozens of publicly televised hearings. 

When the House Judiciary Committee considered the USA Freedom Act in May 2015—one of the few bills introduced in …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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