The Huffington Post recently published an article stating that the NSA has been using pornography to spy on “radicalizers.” This is being done to discredit certain “examplars” by revealing their personal vulnerabilities.
Whistle-blower Edward Snowden exposed the NSA’s observation of six Muslim targets who have anti-U.S. policy beliefs. Although they were not accused of participating in terrorist plots, they have had their sexual exploits monitored as possible tools to keep these activists from obtaining more power. The NSA is claiming that exposing the inconsistencies between public and private behavior will make new followers hesitant to “join an extremist cause.” Stewart Baker backs this belief.
Baker, who was a top Homeland Security official during the Bush administration, and one-time general counsel for the NSA, believes embarrassing the enemy is a fair tactic. He says that using embarrassment to discredit is “fairer and [more] humane” than bombing a target. In relation to this topic, Baker allowed that any war tactic could be abused, but we need to trust our officials to do the right thing.
Shawn Turner, Director of Public Affairs for National Intelligence said, “Without discussing specific individuals, it should not be surprising that the US Government uses all of the lawful tool at our disposal to impede the efforts of valid terrorist targets who seek to harm the nation and radicalize others to violence.” Yet the six “radicals” that Snowden revealed are not accused of being participants in terrorist plots, but are still having their personal habits monitored. Does this mean that NSA is abusing their power of surveillance?
Jameel Jaffer, who is the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, agrees that this revelation lead to serious concerns about abuse. He said, “it’s important to remember that the NSA’s surveillance activities are anything but narrowly focused – the agency is collecting massive amounts of sensitive information about virtually everyone.”
The information is collected from countless sources and includes your political views, medical history, intimate relationships, and online activities. This is a massive amount of information that is kept and stored in databases. “The NSA says this personal information won’t be abused, but these documents show that the NSA probably defines ‘abuse’ very narrowly,” Jaffer added. In some instances, this narrow definition of abuse has led to the harassment of civil leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.
President J. Edgar Hoover had the FBI harass activists and compiled secret files on political figures. The main information collected was about sex, such as extramarital affairs and homosexuality, which was considered to be an obsession for Hoover. The information on affairs was reportedly used as blackmail to get politicians to comply with requests of the bureau. The extent of this surveillance and blackmail is still unknown, but is becoming clearer as information is released due to the Freedom of Information Act.
Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and the work of journalist James Bamford, we have evidence of past surveillance abuse and scandals caused by the U.S. government. In response to the current NSA surveillance, Bamford says, “The NSA’s operation is eerily similar to the FBI’s operations under J. Edgar Hoover in the 1960’s where the bureau used wiretapping to discover vulnerabilities, such as sexual activity, to ‘neutralize’ their targets.”
Jaffer warned that historical evidence should compel serious concerns that a “president will ask the NSA to use the fruits of surveillance to discredit a political opponent, journalist or human rights activist.” He added, “The NSA has used its power that way in the past and it would be naïve to think in couldn’t use its power that way in the future.”
In opposition to this theory, Baker said that NSA should be trusted to use its discretion until there is evidence that this embarrassment tactic is being abused. He believes that these previous events happened before Snowden was born, so they can be described as historical scandals instead of current events.
Based on historical events and current observations of government surveillance, tactics should be considered a possible precursor to abuse. In particular, any civil rights activist has the possibility of having his personal life used as blackmail to force him to comply with government standards.
Activists should beware of these types of practices because of the potential for abuse. It has been proven in the past that government agencies have been known to abuse their powers. Any body who makes a stand against governmental practices could be the target of such practices.