Transparency and Accountability

As part of the fallout of the Boston bombings, we’re probably going to get some new laws that give the FBI additional investigative powers. As with the Patriot Act after 9/11, the debate over whether these new laws are helpful will be minimal, but the effects on civil liberties could be large. Even though most people are skeptical about sacrificing personal freedoms for security, it’s hard for politicians to say no to the FBI right now, and it’s politically expedient to demand that something be done.

If our leaders can’t say no—and there’s no reason to believe they can—there are two concepts that need to be part of any new counterterrorism laws, and investigative laws in general: transparency and accountability.

Long ago, we realized that simply trusting people and government agencies to always do the right thing doesn’t work, so we need to check up on them. In a democracy, transparency and accountability are how we do that. It’s how we ensure that we get both effective and cost-effective government. It’s how we prevent those we trust from abusing that trust, and protect ourselves when they do. And it’s especially important when security is concerned.

First, we need to ensure that the stuff we’re paying money for actually works and has a measureable impact. Law-enforcement organizations regularly invest in technologies that don’t make us any safer. The TSA, for example, could devote an entire museum to expensive but ineffective systems: puffer machines, body scanners, FAST behavioral screening, and so on. Local police departments have been wasting lots of post-9/11 money on unnecessary high-tech weaponry and equipment. The occasional high-profile success aside, police surveillance cameras have been shown to be a largely ineffective police tool.

Sometimes honest mistakes led organizations to invest in these technologies. Sometimes there’s self-deception and mismanagement—and far too often lobbyists are involved. Given the enormous amount of security money post-9/11, you inevitably end up with an enormous amount of waste. Transparency and accountability are how we keep all of this in check.

Second, we need to ensure that law enforcement does what we expect it to do and nothing more. Police powers are invariably abused. Mission creep is inevitable, and it results in laws designed to combat one particular type of crime being used for an ever-widening array of crimes. Transparency is the only way we have of knowing when this is going on.

For example, that’s how we learned that the FBI is abusing National Security Letters. Traditionally, we use the warrant process to protect ourselves from police overreach. It’s not enough for the police to want to conduct a search; they also need to convince a neutral third party—a judge—that the search is in the public interest and will respect the rights of those searched. That’s accountability, and it’s the very mechanism that NSLs were exempted from.

When laws are broken, accountability is how we punish those who abused their power. It’s how, for example, we correct racial profiling by police departments. And it’s a lack of accountability that permits the FBI to get away with massive data collection until exposed by a whistleblower or noticed by a judge.

Third, transparency and accountability keep both law enforcement and politicians from lying to us. The Bush Administration lied about the extent of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. The TSA lied about the ability of full-body scanners to save naked images of people. We’ve been lied to about the lethality of tasers, when and how the FBI eavesdrops on cell-phone calls, and about the existence of surveillance records. Without transparency, we would never know.

A decade ago, the FBI was heavily lobbying Congress for a law to give it new wiretapping powers: a law known as CALEA. One of its key justifications was that existing law didn’t allow it to perform speedy wiretaps during kidnapping investigations. It sounded plausible—and who wouldn’t feel sympathy for kidnapping victims?—but when civil-liberties organizations analyzed the actual data, they found that it was just a story; there were no instances of wiretapping in kidnapping investigations. Without transparency, we would never have known that the FBI was making up stories to scare Congress.

If we’re going to give the government any new powers, we need to ensure that there’s oversight. Sometimes this oversight is before action occurs. Warrants are a great example. Sometimes they’re after action occurs: public reporting, audits by inspector generals, open hearings, notice to those affected, or some other mechanism. Too often, law enforcement tries to exempt itself from this principle by supporting laws that are specifically excused from oversight…or by establishing secret courts that just rubber-stamp government wiretapping requests.

Furthermore, we need to ensure that mechanisms for accountability have teeth and are used.

As we respond to the threat of terrorism, we must remember that there are other threats as well. A society without transparency and accountability is the very definition of a police state. And while a police state might have a low crime rate—especially if you don’t define police corruption and other abuses of power as crime—and an even lower terrorism rate, it’s not a society that most of us would willingly choose to live in.

We already give law enforcement enormous power to intrude into our lives. We do this because we know they need this power to catch criminals, and we’re all safer thereby. But because we recognize that a powerful police force is itself a danger to society, we must temper this power with transparency and accountability.

This essay previously appeared on

Posted on May 14, 2013 at 5:48 AM39 Comments


it's too late May 14, 2013 6:07 AM

Asking the people you trust to actually be trustworthy, transparent and accountable is like asking a mountain goat to swim the atlantic…. you’re free to ask – but it’s not gonna happen.

US politicians lied their way into Vietnam and into Iraq… If they could hoodwink the credulous electorate in the internet age then there is little hope for the USA.

Bob Duckles May 14, 2013 7:28 AM

You nailed it. Transparency and accountability are what we need. I’m not sure how we get it. I have long felt that it is critical to an effective democracy and we seem to have less and less.

what to do May 14, 2013 7:30 AM

What are we to do? No real options for fixing this system. There are organization here and there that seem to be fighting for the right cause. Seems hopeless to me.

Anon Techie May 14, 2013 7:40 AM

Well written … We need constant vigil against the erosion of personal freedom but I am not sure the genie can be put back into the bottle. Other countries eagerly follow these policies of the Land of the Free.

Gweihir May 14, 2013 8:59 AM

For those that think this is not a critical thing, I recommend looking into the history of Germany and the USSR first half of last century. As soon as the mechanisms for establishing a police state are in palace (or the police state is already partially established, like it looks more and more in the US, and parts of Europe are not far behind), it just takes one bad political decision by the population and a dictatorship with widespread oppression of any opposition is easily established. And history shows that law-enforcement will fall readily in line with minimal resistance when that happens.

The reason to limit the power of law-enforcement is this scenario. Abuse of their powers is just a side-issue. Although law-enforcement will always want more power, less accountability and is generally amoral, incompetent and money-hungry just like any bureaucracy, it rarely takes over governments. This means the current lack of control for law enforcement (and I do not agree that they need the powers they have at the moment, far less would be sufficient) can establish a police state, but it cannot establish a 3rd Reich or Stalinism-like dictatorship. But it can make it a lot more likely, as it represents a valuable tool for politicians to do so. Or to put it different: law-enforcement with present power levels or higher (or even somewhat lower) represents a huge, huge risk of somebody using them systematically against the population. All threats from “terrorism”, “drugs” and “crime” are irrelevant in comparison, this specific threat is several orders of magnitude more severe.

Hence I do not agree that oversight and accountability is enough. (I do agree that misuse of powers by law-enforcement needs to have real consequences for the people doing it, not just nothing as is currently the case.) What is also critically needed is that the powers of law-enforcement themselves need to be significantly reduced. Of course, like with any bureaucracy, that push can only come form outside, introspection is not something these people can do. (Some can after leaving law-enforcement, but they are a small, small minority and do not have power anymore at that point.)

Winter May 14, 2013 9:17 AM


I think what is more worrisome in the USA is the “culture wars”. There are two sides in US politics that seem to be prepared to fight each other without regard for law or justice.

Such a belligerent atmosphere feeds totalitarianism.

Figureitout May 14, 2013 10:32 AM

–Interesting but you should’ve waited, the mod just reminded people to wait. This thread is about police state.

I had to take my belt off to pay for a speeding ticket people. My ticket wasn’t put into the system where I could remotely pay for it, maybe to force me to walk thru the Rape-i-scan. The police state needs to stop now b/c I don’t want to think what else I’m going to have to take off.

Figureitout May 14, 2013 10:47 AM

It’s probably too late though and we’re heading for even more dark times.

Nick P May 14, 2013 10:49 AM

@ AC2 and Figureitout

Gentlemen, there is an easier way to do this: just post in the most recent squid thread. Your post will show up in that thread and in the “new comments”/last100comments page. Many regular readers look at the new comment page instead of individual threads so they don’t miss a good story or contribution to an older article.

So, you either post off topic stuff in the old friday thread or wait for the new one. Your choice.

20th century mammal May 14, 2013 10:57 AM

A decade ago, the FBI was heavily lobbying Congress for a law to give it new wiretapping powers: a law known as CALEA.

Wasn’t CALEA two decades ago?

If was written now it would be even larger and even fewer people would finish it.

Christian May 14, 2013 11:43 AM

If you want to work against it my recommendation would be:
When ever some fellow American says something containing “It’s a free country…”, correct him/her and say: “No it isn’t! We have sacrificed that for our terrorism inspired laws!”

Getting rid of this believe in everything being well and good is the first step to change, which will make it easier for politicians to do more for freedom!

Dirk Praet May 14, 2013 6:33 PM

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jan. 17th 1961

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons May 14, 2013 6:48 PM

A subtle, but grandiose scheme to realign the government(s) of the United
States into a military junta is past the planning stages. Dissecting the means, methods, and motives of the Military Industrial Complex’s strategic conversion of civilian authority into a new “National Security Corporate Military Services Complex” is a task endeared to the forensic scientist not to political or social scientists. The forensic scientist discerns elements of the past; how did they meet their end, what is the present evidence, and all formalized to build an evidentiary chain of events that include motive, means, and opportunity. It is necessary to retrieve and analyze the remains of the past five decades in order to understand the nature of the crime that is being committed today. This crime is most heinous; it is a crime against the whole body of the sovereign, against the citizens of the United States
of America.

Today the “National Security Corporate Military Services Complex” maintains
a low profile as it installs the necessary controls and instruments that will subvert the civilian government of the Unites States of America. Under the umbrella of state secrets, it is infeasible to accurately describe and enumerate the components, vehicles, conspirators, and functionaries that would have the citizens of the United States of America converted into a subservient population stripped of democratic governance, the bill of rights, and their role as sovereign. The strategic effort to transform government, codified in multiple domains, across commercial, governmental, and academic institutions involves thousands of actors doing their part. From moneyed elites, politicians, state and local officials, and the companies that profit from the direction (or misdirection) the country is heading. This is not a conspiracy; it is a “logical” coup.

The Duality is the Singularity
Arising from several sources, the “Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the
United States (2)”, the Pentagon posits a theory that views a role in governance granting the military preeminent sovereignty. The first neo-conservative theory that enumerated the deliberate transformation of the Pentagon was expressed in a pre neo-conservative thesis on warfare and the projection of U.S. military power, Shock and Awe (3).” Recently the narrative has been modified to suit a new set of conditions and fears from within the Pentagon. These fears are twofold. The first and equally weighted fear is the concept of free peoples-citizens that may vote to change
representatives or legislators indifferent or hostile to the Pentagon and thus are a direct threat to the current Military Industrial Complex. For years, the Pentagon has viewed the civilian population as a threat to not only to their authority, but also to their very existence. For senior, career officers, the citizen appears as an existential threat to military leaders in every faction of the armed forces.

The second, and equally freighting fear, is that military program and authorization budgets are under stress as sequestration forces members of the Department of Defense (DoD) to re-orient internal priorities and balance
them with expectations. The issues surrounding the DoD when it comes to
budgets is a subject worthy of a thesis by itself, but it is understood that the Pentagon has no knack for efficiency or effectiveness when it comes to priorities and procurement. The Pentagon is seen as a post-facto jobs program, where large systems such as a new series of nuclear submarines are under contract to replace the Ohio class nuclear submarines in the fleets today promises to fill the coffers of the contractors for years. The process of procurement makes any system developed for the DoD seem like a lifetime project. This is relevant in that the DoD should get its own house in order. For too many decades, the endless stream of contractors (Harris Corporation,
Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, Rockwell, Northrup
Grumman, and many more) firmly attached to the teat of the U.S. taxpayer are crying foul as budgets are being sliced and diced. The plethora of military
service concerns that “surged” the congressional armed services committees
in late 20102 and early 2013 represented a vast array of branch officers and contracting executives. The cry was deafening, branch and service officers were claiming an adverse impact on readiness, the dangers of not being able to deploy forces-not just a lie but also an outright theft from the United
States taxpayer. The Pentagon seems incapable of grasping the true threat to
the organization-the decimation of the United States economy.

More than One Pretty Penny
With what is most certainly a 10 trillion dollar budget in the last ten years, the fact that any Pentagon official or contractor is crying foul is just plain absurd. Nowhere in the annuals of time has some much been spent to achieve so little (Saddam and Bin Laden are dead). Why not just put a wanted poster up “Wanted: Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden, 5 Trillion Dollar Reward Each”. Recent senate and congressional hearings for the Department of
Defense have produce a small reprieve for the Pentagon. Ironically, there
were no expert witnesses called before the house or senate committees
proffering that the procurement of new aircraft carriers, fighter jets,
submarines, and no less than 24 other systems be suspended or curtailed? Let
alone “the fact” that the entire DoD (moreover the federal government)
procurement system is an inefficient, spend as much as you can before
October, disaster that has yet to be addressed. And, what of the DoD’s
inability to accurately assess risk, requirements, and force structure? When
Donald Rumsfeld declared that the Iraq war (portions to be paid by Iraqi
oil) would be 250 billion dollars, have 500,000 trained Iraqi security personnel in 2 years, and a bouquet of flowers-no one called him on it.

Reminds one of Microsoft in the mid 1990’s thinking the Internet was a fade.

Where are the indignant taxpayers, having been fleeced twice in the last
decade-once by the Wall Street barons-and continuously by the military
industrial complex’s endless wars? Is the legacy to their children “Sorry
kids, we weren’t smart enough to discern the facts and we really bungled it up-hope you can come up with 100 trillion dollars. Call me if you need anything else.”

You Shoot a Cop!
After the destruction of the twin towers in New York City on 11 September
2001, the belief that things would change was dashed a month later after the near unanimous passage of the U.S.A Patriot Act by the house and senate. On September 12, 2001, it seemed like the moment to get serious regarding government functions, the Military Industrial Complex would act out of loyalty to the sovereign and not just to profits. However, it would all be
for not, the tragedy that represented an attack on U.S. soil was not transformative, the whores of the federal government showed up in force
(with stock portfolios in hand) to “assist” the government in its “War on
Terror”. Momentum for the wholesale exodus of taxpayer dollars has a
backdrop, the pliability of a frightened congress and executive. One portion
of government had a different reaction; Senior Pentagon officials may not have been able to rub the stains from their trousers, the Pentagon had taken a direct hit, how could the most powerful and awesome force in the world be
taken so easily. This, it seems, prevented Pentagon officials from standing up to do the right thing. The towers in New York having tumbled to the ground as dust and debris was not of importance, the modern U.S. military is based on exceptionalism; attacks on the Pentagon are seen as the most
destructive force in the world, not to be confused with some civilian event. Anecdotally, this is similar to what happens when a police officer is shot;
every officer is on duty looking for the gunman. But, if the average Jane or
Joe is gunned down in the streets, homicide detectives will write a report
and get to it when they can. Individuals shooting civilians is not as important, when someone starts shooting at police officers a whole new set of priorities are put into play. Ideally, Pentagon officials should have been so moved by the event that even the most recalcitrant members of the Pentagon would have stood up to do the right thing. . But no, before the
paint dried on the U.S.A. Patriot act, the wheels came off the vehicle of reason and the country was on a course destine to bankrupt the country-morally, ethically, and financially.

Afternoon Tea
The contracting cabal was waiting in the wings for what was sure to be a bonanza of procurement and programs that would fill the floor and hidden vaults of their companies. The problem of runaway defense spending was only beginning, as the political class ginned up the need to go to war in Iraq, the Fed whores were busy drafting statues, directives, and new authorities to insure the continued feeding at the troth. What was a golden opportunity to promote responsible government spending and seize the moral authority was lost before most of the political class and cowering intelligentsia even woke up. Nevertheless, it was not until years into a conflict that consumed an annual $1,000,000,000,000.00 (one trillion dollars) did questions about the efficacy and rationale of the efforts to exercise the U.S. military in an amorphous series of wars. European intellectuals were confused, after the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004, they believed that the United States citizen, or even the political class, would recognize their folly. To this day, the majority of congress still refuses to address the issues of reckless abandon that was the war in Iraq. It wasn’t until the year 2007
when Republicans (Reaganites) realized that George W. Bush had signed a budget for over 2.5 trillion dollars thus giving birth to the Tea Party.

More problematic than the budget issues, the encroachment of military practices and procedures into civilian law was starting to expand at an alarming rate. With non-functional military courts, secret intelligence courts, and a new “classified” U.S. Justice Department adding to a farcical exercise described as transparent government, nary a cry was made by legal advocates outside of government. Run by secret fiat, courts, and judges, the citizenry could no longer be made privy to evidence-citizens in U.S. courts were denied access to accusations and evidence used to prosecute them. Okay, so we have suspended some rights temporarily, it’s all for the greater good, right???

Over time, the new “National Security Corporate Military Services Complex”
was busy making as many transgressions upon citizens as it could get away with-and more. When in 2005, held by the press for two years before being published in the New York Times, it was discovered that AT&T and the NSA
were involved in secret wiretap program did the public become aware of something more than FISA approved activities. When it was exposed, no
one-including the senate select committee on intelligence-knew that a secret program had been ordered by then President George W. Bush and was being carried on in this country. Another blow to the constitution came during the
Supreme Court’s hearing of an Illinois case involving two lawyers and the
eavesdropping on privileged attorney client communications. As the justices
threw the lawyers a bone by calling the act unlawful, it then struck a blow right into the heart of the constitution, eviscerating another constitutional edict. The Justices, fresh from the verdict of Citizens United, ignored the fact that congress had passed a law in direct
contradiction to the 2nd article of the U.S. constitution that congress shall pass no ex post facto law. The immunity law passed to protect participants in the NSA domestic wiretap program from civil actions stands in direct contravention of the stated article.

Where is the United States citizenry?

Dirk Praet May 14, 2013 7:08 PM

“The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.”

“For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence—on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day. It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations.

Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed.”

“That is why the Athenian law-maker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment—the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution—not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”—but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.”

“And so it is to the printing press — to the recorder of man’s deeds, the keeper of his conscience, the courier of his news — that we look for strength and assistance, confident that with your help man will be what he was born to be: free and independent.”

Pres. John F. Kennedy – From the “President and the Press” Speech (April 27th, 1961)

MW May 14, 2013 7:19 PM

This suggestion is applicable to search warrants in general, not just secret wiretaps etc.

I think there should be random audits of search warrants, to ensure that they really are justified, are not overreaching, are not ‘fishing trips’ etc. At a low level (maybe one in a thousand) this lets you monitor the quality of search warrants in your jurisdiction. If quality is a problem, then you step up audits to a higher level (maybe one in 50) with adverse consequences for those responsible for bad warrants, to fix the problem.

Is this done anywhere in the world?

(I had a conversation with a Justice of the Peace once. (The office is intermediate between a Notary Public and a Judge.) She said she signed all search warrants presented to her. For this reason, I have little confidence in this mechanism which is supposed to ensure the quality of warrants. Even if they do study the warrants, judges can be lied to.)

a m May 15, 2013 2:42 AM

Laymen mostly focus on Constraints that should be put on governments, but do not contribute to finding Solutions. They do not even understand that Constraints and Solutions are very different things. Governments have to take action, which implies that they need detailed knowledge of Solutions. Not having a solution can bear grave consequences for the country and others, while violating some constraints would not normally have such drastic effects. It is the common fate of mankind that morally ideal solutions do not usually exist. Compare for example, not neutralizing Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden versus mistreatment of inmates at Guantanamo.

That is the basic reason that in a democracy the role of lay electorate is necessarily a very limited one. Although laymen try to exercise control over their governments, they just do not have the skills needed for it. The electorate do however have the power to interfere. Any effective government has to take most actions secretly and make policy secretly and avoid open debate with laymen.

Only a few developed democratic countries have governments not doing most of their work secretly. These are the small North European states that hardly interact with the rest of the planet, have no representation or participation in the places of controversy like Middle East, North Korea, or China, and whose societies appear to live in a state of deep freeze with nothing out of the ordinary ever happening there. These countries exist in an artificially isolated and static situation of their own making. Countries participating in dynamic situations, e.g. the USA, cannot afford to be like them.

One cannot expect lay electorate to understand.

Wesley Parish May 15, 2013 3:30 AM

@MW, a case in point are the search warrants issued for the raid on Kim DotCom’s mansion. They were vastly overreaching, and the NZ Police have shown a remarkable lack of moral fibre in begging to avoid having the data extracted from Kim DotCom’s computers thrown out as evidence because the search warrants were – to put it bluntly – as relevant as Mother Goose or The Brothers Grimm’s Books of Fairy Tales.

In New Zealand the consensus appears to be that the case against Kim DotCom was lost from the time that the search warrants were shown to be inflated and irrelevant. People were critical of him when the case first came to light; now he’s a bit of a folk hero.

How you’re going to get that happening in the States I have no idea, but think on Sacco and Vanzetti while you’re at it. The system loves you and wants to be your friend! Your response is to extract its teeth without anaesthetic – anaesthetic’s for wimps – and give it a pretty hefty manicure, chain it up, and then and then only can it be your friend.

Bob T May 15, 2013 10:52 AM

@ am

Despite your intellectual superiority, us ignorant laymen understand perfectly. We just have a different view of what is important to a society and for our own desires. We don’t feel that there is any need to be the most militaristic or economically powerful country on the planet. We have a desire to be the freest and most at liberty to achieve for ourselves what we can by our own capabilities. That worked for a long time until central planners like you started taking away the natural risk and reward system of the free markets so your elitist buddies could benefit at the expense of the ignorant electorate.

Why would you say that we can’t afford to stay out of other people’s business? It took direct attacks on the US before we entered WWI or WWII. The rest of the world was at war for over two years in WWII before we entered, yet we led the industrial revolution with a very dynamic and inventive society before that time. Maybe war can be justified at times, but we go places now at the drop of a hat. WWII was over in less than 4 years for the US and we only stayed in west Germany (and peacefully at that) because of the Soviets in east Germany. We’ve been mucking around in Afghanistan for 12 years now. There’s your Solution Mr. Intellectual. Stop screwing around with and killing the civilians of other nations.

You just have an elitist, statist mindset that thinks the ignorant electorate needs “Super Geniuses” like you for our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Your opinions as to the needs of your proletariat are based on your predetermined vision that a government should be centralized and powerful rather than what the people whom it governs desire as a society. I couldn’t give a rats fat butt about what you think is best for me or the society that I live in. In fact this ignorant elector would fight to the death the kind of elitist totalitarian government you think so highly of because, it’s those types of governments that don’t mind liquidating the ignorant “electorate” that disagree with their governors.

Or maybe we’re all just to stupid to be expected to understand.

Figureitout May 15, 2013 12:33 PM

@a m
–Lol, what bs. So you have to keep secrets b/c laymen won’t understand. Once I leave this country you can make all the secret policy you want (not really hard to understand, politicos are predictable and generally are paper pushers) b/c other countries are equating stupid policies w/ choices I make if I visit their countries. No one participates in our “democracy” b/c it isn’t, so don’t call it one. Did you ever consider doing nothing as a solution? Or would that be a constraint on gov’t?

Alan Kaminsky May 15, 2013 12:54 PM

According to some, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is there to preserve the populace’s ability to rise up in armed insurrection against a tyrannical government, as the founding fathers rose up against King George III of England.

Therefore, National Rifle Association members ought now to be rising up in armed insurrection against the encroaching tyrannical U.S. police state.

However, the folks who display “Proud NRA Member” bumper stickers also tend to display “Support Your Local Sheriff” bumper stickers.

Don’t look for an NRA insurrection any time soon.

Dirk Praet May 15, 2013 7:55 PM

@ am

Although unfortunately I don’t agree with a single statement you made, I am actually quite happy that you made it because it reflects exactly what the powers that be want you to think.

I’m not gonna be as harsh on you as BoB T. Visiting this blog, reading Bruce’s essay, the comments, and voicing your opinion to me gives you as much credit as the average culture-shocked tourist on his first extended trip to another continent, trying to make sense of it all. Do come more often, read other independent media and opinions. Learn.

The transition from a constitutional democracy (Wikipedia the concept) to a totalitarian surveillance state under the pretext of protecting the people against gazillions of bloodthirsty terrorists willing and able to kill us all, in my opinion is one of the biggest deceptions in the history of the US. I refer to the quotes from Jack Kennedy’s speech in my previous comment as to the forces behind it.

I also fail to see what is so dynamic about solutions in foreign places of controversy costing the taxpayer trillions of dollars and whereby

  • A nation is invaded for its oil under false pretext. Ten years after, it is reduced to a failed state with ubiquitous sectarian violence and an even more corrupt regime.
  • Sending another nation back from the middle ages to the stone age, in the process failing to win any heart other than those that are on your payroll. In twelve years time.
  • Complete and utter inaction on a nation torn apart by a bloody civil war because it has no oil and China and Russia don’t wan to hear from it.
  • Preserving the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because Israel doesn’t want to hear from a dual-state solution.

I could go on. But why am I happy you made this comment, you may ask ? Because I would so much like to hear it coming out of the mouth (or pen) of some big shot US politician for all the world to hear. And then hopefully when everybody comes back to his senses watch the “A Few Good Men” scenario unfold when the masks finally come off.

Clive Robinson May 15, 2013 9:16 PM

@ Bruce,

As part of the fallout of the Boston bombings, we’re probably going to get some new laws that give the FBI additional investigative powers. As with the Patriot Act after 9/11, the debate over whether these new laws are helpful will be minimal, but the effects on civil liberties could be large.

As I’ve indicated in the past our elected representatives spend way way way to little time actualy reading understanding and drafting legislation befor they vote on it.

This is very bad for society and good for those who can pay their own lawyers to draft legislation for our legislators and politicos to propose…

One solution I have suggested in the past is that all legislation (and I realy do mean “all”) should have a “sunset clause” inserted into it whereby unless a significant majority (say 66%) of our elected representatives re-vote for it then it lapses and is removed from the statute books.

Now I’m aware that this has some problems (and will cause others) but society moves and it’s rules both formal and informal should move with it and be kept managable.

Further there should be less and less “broad” legislation, much of the perversion of justice we see is by overly broad legislation.

It has often been said,

if you cannot describe it clearly in a single sentance then you don’t understand it,

The reasoning behind the statment should also apply to legislation. That is legislation should be clear precise and understandable and usable to every body of –what is considered by the law itself– normal inteligance. To have it otherwise is to deny people their basic rights to being an equitable member of society.

Interestingly the EU has “review periods” and usually clearly understandable directives (legislation to be enacted by member states). One of the main reasons for the latter is that it has to be “harmonised” across getting on for thirty soverign nations all with their own languages.

Now whilst the EU system is not –by any means– perfect it is an improvment over many if not all member states legastive processes.

So perhaps rather than new legislation in an considerably out of date legislative process, we more than anything need a new legislative system. One designed not towards the current labarynthine confusion, decit and gulling and persecution of an individual, but one aimed not just at “transparancy and accountability” but usability and fairness as well that more nearly represents the views of society.

Autolykos May 16, 2013 8:09 AM

@am: I think Aesop already nailed it:
A man rushes out to his donkey, which is currently chewing its hay, and screams: “The enemies are here! We must flee!”. The donkey answers: “They’re your enemies.” and continues to chew.

AtomBoy May 16, 2013 3:53 PM

As far as documented records go, since wiretapping came about, the authorities engaged in it. In the US, every President to Nixon engaged in it. And when the Supreme Court made it outlawed, other authorities continued to use it anyway.

I do not know if that counter-terrorism ex-official knows what he is talking about when he says “they do it, they just can not use it in a court of law” or not — but that is exactly how it usually implemented.

They know it is illegal, and they do it anyway.

From Roosevelt to Nixon, they all used wiretapping against their political enemies. The reason why Nixon “rolled his own” with the plumber crew was that Hoover actually finally started to balk after fifty years of abusing it.

Fact is they had real threats, and they could justify those illegal wiretaps. Even when many cops were arraigned for this, only two really took the fall (ironically, one was “Deep Throat”).

What people are concerned about is that we do not have a Gestapo, a Secret Police. But, with a broken warrant issuing system — we just do not know.

vas pup May 17, 2013 9:27 AM

‘A society without transparency and accountability is the very definition of a police state’
Plus selective application of accordeon Laws & plea bargain.

AdamM May 17, 2013 10:02 AM

As pointed out in your last post dealing with the Boston Bombings, counter-terrorism agents already have to much data to filter. All laws enhancing their ability to collect data will just give them more data to attempt to sift through. There will be no change in their ability to prevent another terrorist event.

Robert Steele May 17, 2013 9:48 PM

A tad naive. We have a two-party tyranny that shakes down Wall Street and others with the administrative regulatory state, the budget is totally out of control, both the Cabinet and Congress respond to the special interests that RECEIVE out money, not to us, and you want to ask for lipstick on the pig? Not happening.

Also noteworthy that you pay no heed to the broad documentaion that this was a false flag Hollywood-enabled theater, with no more than 2 dead and 6 injured, all the others including the double amputee were hired actors. A number of our contributing editors have covered this in detail, with blow by blow photo evidence of fake blood, the double amputee getting his fake bleeding leg that leaves no blood trail (and he survives 30 minutes of trauma), etc etc.

Lipstick on the pig — still a pig.

Otter May 18, 2013 2:05 AM

“transparency” and “accountability” are just meaningless noises when the electors do not control the elected.

It is doubtful that either, especially “accountability”, can exist unless the government fears the people.

Jon May 18, 2013 2:42 AM

@ Robert Steele:

“Shakes down Wall Street”? I do not think that phrase means what you think it means.


ignatius May 18, 2013 3:55 AM

“And while a police state might have a low crime rate — especially if you don’t define police corruption and other abuses of power as crime — and an even lower terrorism rate […]”

… if you don’t count cases of state-terrorism, that is. And no, I’m not talking “extralegal killings” here. I’m talking about murdering random civilians in order terrorize the population into accepting new “security measures” and/or to infamize the political (typically left) opposition.

It’s fair to assume that the a majority of the Cold War terror victims in Western Europe before 1990 have in fact been murdered by or with the help of their own goverment agencies. Google “Gladio” or “Strategy of tension” for details.


Raphael a May 18, 2013 8:13 PM

Transparency and accountability are not enough. Atul Gawande wrote a book called The Checklist Manifesto. The cops just had a hostage situation with a burglar holding a gun to a Hofstra student. No checklist. No protocol. The poor Hofstra student was killed by the police. Predictable to all of us familiar with the discretion given to them.
Maybe one day we’ll find out if there was a possibility of holding your fire in a hostage situation. Of a procedure to check the entire house when neighbors complain of screaming.

Raphael A May 18, 2013 8:18 PM

Last sentence above should read; Or a procedure to check the entire house when neighbors complain of screaming. As didn’t happen with Jaycee Dugard or with the girls in Cleveland.
Think the cops that didn’t check inside will be held accountable?
We don’t even know their names.

Frodo May 18, 2013 9:43 PM


That was a great article. Not to nitpick, but this country was not designed as a democracy, but a constitutional republic. To avoid mob rule, as you know, the framers set to limit the scope and ability of the government to impose tyranny or it’s minions. Those security defenses have obviously failed over a long period of time… And here we are.

Thanks Bruce for all you do.

raphael a May 19, 2013 10:46 AM

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, as Philip K Dick so eloquently asked. And if so, do public intellectuals dwell too much on the theoretical?
The death of Hofstra student Andrea Rebello via “friendly” police fire while being held at gunpoint by Dalton Smith raises certain familiar (and unanswered) questions.
Are the police prepared for hostage situations? Too much time elapsed with the home invasion of the Petits in Connecticut, perhaps too little with the Rebello case in Long Island, or perhaps it was a no-win situation for any cop.
Did the courts release someone who was criminally insane? Dalton Smith claimed to be working for the Russian mafia.
Does parole – of a man with a 15 year criminal record – work on an honor system?
Stories like this, combined with stories of a Baltimore prison guards who are impregnated by prisoners, or prison guards requesting extra security and then murdered by inmates, or an IRS operating on a patronage system and then denying it, or a Libyan embassy whose requests for basic security go ignored, lead me to the belief that we are dealing less with theoretical arguments over security trade-offs and more with a corrupt Banana Republic. It strikes me that legal bribery and threats to withhold votes stymie any attempts to hold those in charge of our security more accountable. It’s CYA over CIA.

Pancho May 23, 2013 3:31 PM

“”As soon as the mechanisms for establishing a police state are in palace (or the police state is already partially established, like it looks more and more in the US, and parts of Europe are not far behind), it just takes one bad political decision by the population and a dictatorship with widespread oppression of any opposition is easily established. And history shows that law-enforcement will fall readily in line with minimal resistance when that happens.””

Wow. Really? I refer you to Schneier on the topic of risk assessment.

Sure, there’s a risk of police statism. The risk of police statism (or tyranny if you will) needs to be balanced at all times against the risk of powerful outlaw groups harming citizens. Your argument is very one sided: you refer to Hitler and Stalin. I refer you to recent situations in Somalia, Rwanda, the Caucasus.

How about this. “As soon as the mechanisms for discouraging criminal behavior are sufficiently weakened, it takes very little time and criminal organizations capable of openly destroying their opposition will be established. And history shows that law-enforcement would just rather not deal with powerful, established criminal organizations.”

While I will agree that a police state is a very high-consequence risk, criminal lawlessness has the higher likelihood. Risk assessment needs to be a bit more balanced than what I see here.

ED February 15, 2014 11:23 AM

Two words: hierarchical accountability.
Compromised hardware, man-time for incident response, cancelled projects, all translate in huge costs. Washington and their playmates should be buried in invoices.

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