Tag Archives: nsa

The National Security State thru the Lens of Star Trek Deep Space Nine

nsa-operations-center

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, in time of war the law stands silent…

James Madison wrote that “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.”

I am amazed when I read the reports about the activities of the National Security Agency and the reactions of citizens to them. I know that I feel a sense of apprehension about those activities. The national security state and the seeming all pervasive security and surveillance apparatus which demolishes any sense of privacy, especially the protections enunciated in the Fourth Amendment and to some extent the First Amendment.

I also feel, or rather understand from history and empirical evidence that many others, many from unfriendly countries do not share those apprehensions. It makes for an ethical, legal and even constitutional conundrum that I am not sure if anyone of us is quite comfortable with and perhaps maybe we shouldn’t be.

It is very easy on one hand in light of history, our Constitution and democratic process to condemn the NSA, the FISA courts and other lawfully constituted agencies and those that drafted the laws over the decades that allow the activities which they now conduct. The same can be said of foreign intelligence agencies which all engage in similar activities including the British GCHQ, the German Bundesnachrichtendienst and so many others including the Chinese and Russians.

Likewise it is equally easy in light of history, current events and national security to jump to the other side of the fence and not only defend the activities of the NSA and agencies like it, and to demonize those that expose such activities.

I find looking at such issues in light of Star Trek sometimes more interesting and provocative than simply doing the whole moralizing pundit thing. The fact that the particular episode of  Star Trek Deep Space Nine was aired well before the events of 9-11-2001, and the subsequent Global War on Terror, make it more interesting. The episode deals with an agency in Starfleet that is secretive, but legal operating in the gray areas between the ideals of the Federation and the threats that it faces. Even when the Federation is a peace, Section 31, as it is called is engaged in activities against historic or potential enemies.

At the beginning of the Deep Space Nine Episode Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges the head of Section 31, a man only known as Sloan comes back to Doctor Bashir to involve him in an operation, spying on the Romulans who are working with the Federation against the Dominion.

BASHIR: You want me to spy on an ally.

SLOAN: To evaluate an ally. And a temporary ally at that. I say that because when the war is over, the following will happen in short order. The Dominion will be forced back to the Gamma Quadrant, the Cardassian Empire will be occupied, the Klingon Empire will spend the next ten years recovering from the war and won’t pose a serious threat to anyone. That leaves two powers to vie for control of the quadrant, the Federation and the Romulans.

BASHIR: This war isn’t over and you’re already planning for the next.

SLOAN: Well put. I hope your report is equally succinct.

BASHIR: How many times do I have to tell you, Sloan? I don’t work for you.

SLOAN: You will. It’s in your nature. You are a man who loves secrets. Medical, personal, fictional. I am a man of secrets. You want to know what I know, and the only way to do that is to accept the assignment.

The fact is that the situation we face today and the arguments of both sides should make us uncomfortable. The fact is that like it or not or not the incredibly rapid technical and communication advances of the past couple of decades have primed us for our present time. Likewise they have also enabled a generation to grow up in a virtual world in many ways detached from the moral and ethical balances of individual rights and liberties as well responsibility to community. All the wonderful gadgets that we employ in everyday life make it easy for enemies and “friends” to do things that were unimaginable to people other than science fiction writers even twenty to thirty years ago. Likewise they were must certainly beyond the wildest imaginations of any of the founders of this country or drafters of the Constitution. The reality is, the things that make are lives so easy are also the things that are potential instruments of our destruction.

That being said throughout history, even our own there have been operatives within the government in charge of secrets, and even spies. In the Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges episode we see an operation that is full of duplicity and moral ambiguity all committed in the name of security. It involves the mysterious Section 31 and Starfleet Admiral Ross who attempt to use Doctor Bashir to double cross a Romulan Senator who had been working with the Federation to keep the secret of the head of the Romulan secret police who is a Federation agent. When Doctor Bashir figures out the plot he confronts the Admiral. Part of their exchange is very enlightening because it practically mirrors how many on both the civil liberties and the national security side of the current controversy feel about the War on Terror.

BASHIR: You don’t see anything wrong with what happened, do you.

ROSS: I don’t like it. But I’ve spent the last year and a half of my life ordering young men and young women to die. I like that even less.

BASHIR: That’s a glib answer and a cheap way to avoid the fact that you’ve trampled on the very thing that those men and women are out there dying to protect! Does that not mean anything to you?

ROSS: Inter arma enim silent leges.

BASHIR: In time of war, the law falls silent. Cicero. So is that what we have become? A twenty fourth century Rome driven by nothing more than the certainty that Caesar can do no wrong!

ROSS: This conversation never happened.

In light of the controversy of today, that of the NSA, FISA and government secrecy and gathering information on its own citizens we face a growing tide of reporters and others seeking to reveal those secrets. Back in 1989 ethicist Sissela Bok wrote something very important in her book Secrets: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life:

“…as government secrecy expands, more public officials become privy to classified information and are faced with the choice of whether or not to leak … growing secrecy likewise causes reporters to press harder from the outside to uncover what is hidden. And then in a vicious circle, the increased revelations give government leaders further reasons to press for still more secrecy.”

As we wade through this controversy we will see people do exactly this and the these exact arguments are being made by the people and officials directly involved as well as former elected and appointed officials as well as the press. The interesting thing to me is that very few of the people or agencies, past and present, Republican and Democrat involved really have clean hands. It is amazing to see former champions of civil liberties defend the NSA actions and those that empowered the NSA in the Patriot Act now condemn it. I find it fascinating.

At the end of the Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges episode the mysterious Sloan pops back in on Doctor Bashir who is in his quarters, asleep and depressed by what he experienced during the operation on Romulus and with Admiral Ross.

SLOAN: Good evening.

BASHIR: Are you expecting applause? Have you come to take a bow?

SLOAN: I just wanted to say thank you.

BASHIR: For what? Allowing you to manipulate me so completely?

SLOAN: For being a decent human being. That’s why we selected you in the first place, Doctor. We needed somebody who wanted to play the game, but who would only go so far. When the time came, you stood your ground. You did the right thing. You reached out to an enemy, you told her the truth, you tried to stop a murder. The Federation needs men like you, Doctor. Men of conscience, men of principle, men who can sleep at night. You’re also the reason Section Thirty one exists. Someone has to protect men like you from a universe that doesn’t share your sense of right and wrong.

BASHIR: Should I feel sorry for you? Should I be weeping over the burden you’re forced to carry in order to protect the rest of us?

SLOAN: It is an honor to know you, Doctor. Goodnight.

We live in this kind of world and maybe it is good sometimes to find other ways to look at it. I really don’t have the answers. I am a civil libertarian who places a high value on the openness of a government to its people. I also know that there are those that have no regard for such openness or, to quote Sloan don’t “share your sense of right and wrong.”

Maybe that is not a good answer. I really don’t know. All I know is that as uncomfortable as this all is that those on both sides of the issue have valid points and concerns and they come back to the balance that a society needs to have between individual rights and responsibility to the community, openness and secrecy, civil liberties and national security. But that being said it is a debate that needs to happen, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I for one think that it is better that we be uncomfortable when looking at such an important debate than to be prisoners of our certitude.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, Foreign Policy, national security, Political Commentary, star trek

Happy New Year: Welcome to 1984, 30 Years Late; But Our Thoughts are Free

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Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They fly by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free! 

Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free) 

Welcome to 1984.

Okay, I know it’s 2014 but bear with me, I figured that the first post of the New Year should be about the reality that has been with us for years but most people didn’t recognize until 2013. The NSA revelations though shocking to many shouldn’t have been because almost every countries intelligence services are attempting to do similar things. Likewise the private sector both aids and abets the government intelligence and security services and do similar things themselves to their customers.

Technology is a great thing and we love it. We depend on it. Smart phones, internet, text messaging, blogs, electronic banking, finance and commerce, e-books, and even gaming technology has revolutionized the way that we live.

Technology itself is neutral, it can be used for good or evil and every point on the morality spectrum in between. Thus it can be used for good, for convenience and holds much promise for most people, even as a minority uses it to commit acts of terrorism as well as all sorts of criminal activity against otherwise honest and law abiding people.

The tension that exists between the good and evil uses of technology, especially after the attacks of September 11th 2001 has prompted different reactions from both civil libertarians and people trusted with security of nations, businesses and infrastructure networks.

The fact is I can understand and argue for a strong civil libertarian response as well as the security response. Honesty I wrestle with the tension between civil liberty, including the right to privacy and the need for security. I want both but the reality is that the world has changed since I grew up.  It is not that people, governments and businesses didn’t seek to impinge on personal freedom or privacy and that others did not seek to kill or disrupt the lives of others in times past. The difference is the vast advances in technology which enable all of them to have ever more influence over our lives.

Technology has made possible what George Orwell only imagined when he wrote 1984. Governments, business, the banking industry, private security firms, internet service providers and search engines, as well as criminals gather information for good and for bad purposes. For our security we use Passwords and Pins which others seek to crack, while those delicious Cookies that are planted on our computers when we visit different websites contribute to our convenience while enabling others to collect incredibly detailed information about us.

It really is amazing and unfortunately I don’t have any answers because I am a realist. I am not a fan of the National Security State, nor am I a fan of the way business and other organizations collect information. That being said I also know that there are those in the world who desire to use the technology that we are so dependent on to kill or harm people or disrupt society.

Back in the day when terrorism was simply a matter of relatively small bombs, assassinations, hijackings, kidnappings and postal or wire fraud it was a nuisance. It was bad if you were in the path of it but for most people it was not a real threat. I lived with it in the 1980s in Germany with the Red Army Faction, the Baader-Meinhoff gang  and Libyan agents blowing up American and West German facilities and kidnapping and killing soldiers. We lived with it, daily searches of our vehicles at the front gate and extra guard duties, my wife and I almost were at the Frankfurt PX when it was bombed in 1985.

But with the advent of technology even small and seemingly insignificant groups have unprecedented power to kill and destroy. The attacks on the Twin  Towers, the Tokyo subway system, the Madrid commuter trains, London transit system, the Moscow Subway system and theaters, hotels, restaurants and train stations in Mumbai India and the recent attacks on the Russian city of Volgagrad show our vulnerability to groups that use technology, old and new.  Likewise the ability of criminal organizations or individual criminals to use technology to gain access to massive amounts of financial data as was demonstrated in the breaking of Target’s retail system demonstrates our vulnerability.

We want absolute freedom, privacy and security. However absolutes are no longer possible. Absolute freedom has never been possible, though we like to imagine it, yet absolute security can only be achieved by sacrificing all freedom. Now days security usually trumps freedom especially when the potential losses in lives, property and treasure are so great.

My inclination is toward civil liberties and privacy but such in the modern world may be on way to extinction and not all because of technology. Yes the technological part is big, and as a realist I do not think as long as the capabilities that technology provides us exist and advance that we can go back to a point that they cannot be used against individual liberty, life or property. Again, they technology itself is neutral, but how it is used makes all the difference.

The more worrisome issue for me is the way that the freedom of thought is being extinguished not in the name of security or freedom but for efficiency. Various parties including government, political, religious, scientific and business interests all seek to control thought for their own purposes.

Thus even history is twisted, as Orwell wrote: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” It used to be that conservatives complained about liberals doing revisionist history, but as a historian I find what I see coming out of some conservative circles much more frightening as history is twisted for the most gross political, religious and social ends. We allow half witted poorly educated loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to think for us, promote fake history and conspiracy theories while giving credence to fake historians like David Barton. If there is a danger to any real freedom of thought it is because we as a people have allowed ourselves to taken in by such charlatans. Likewise the corporate state uses academics and intellectuals to prop itself up but once it has them it refuses to let them function independently.

Chris Hedges wrote of the corporate state:

“It is one of the great ironies of corporate control that the corporate state needs the abilities of intellectuals to maintain power, yet outside of this role it refuses to permit intellectuals to think or function independently.”

While Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451:

“Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

I believe that in such an age that freedom of thought is the most important thing, even more than freedom of speech. Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

In college I learned the words of the old German song Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free). It is an ancient song that during the days of Metternich was popular among student fraternities in Austria and the various German states. After the 1848 revolutions it was banned by many governments in their crackdown against democratic movements. It was a song close to many of the anti-Nazi resistance groups including the White Rose movement led in part by Sophie Scholl. In light of the terrifying possibilities of repression that exist with the technology of today and what will certainly come into being in the coming years it is important to realize that our liberty must always come from within. The third verse of the song goes like this:

And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,
all these are futile works,
because my thoughts tear all gates
and walls apart: Thoughts are free!

Bertram Russell wrote of the freedom of thought:

“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid … Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”

It took some time but 1984 is finally really here. That is the new reality, but do not lose hope so long as your thoughts remain free.

Happy New Year!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, News and current events, philosophy

“Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges” Between Civil Liberties and National Security: Exploring the National Security State Through Star Trek Deep Space Nine

enimsilentleges_210

“A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.” James Madison

I am amazed when I read the reports about the activities of the National Security Agency and the reactions of of citizens to them. I know that I feel a sense of apprehension about those activities. The national security state and the seeming all pervasive security and surveillance apparatus which demolishes any sense of privacy, especially the protections enunciated in the Fourth Amendment and to some extent the First Amendment.

I also feel, or rather understand from history and empirical evidence that many others, many from unfriendly countries do not share those apprehensions. It makes for an ethical, legal and even constitutional conundrum that I am not sure if anyone of us is quite comfortable with and perhaps maybe we shouldn’t be.

It is very easy on one hand in light of history, our Constitution and democratic process to condemn the NSA, the FISA courts and other lawfully constituted agencies and those that drafted the laws over the decades that allow the activities which they now conduct.

Likewise it is equally easy in light of history, current events and national security to jump to the other side of the fence and and not only defend the activities of the NSA and demonize those that expose their activities.

I find looking at such issues in light of Star Trek sometimes more interesting and provocative than simply doing the whole moralizing pundit thing. The fact that the particular episode of this Star Trek Deep Space Nine series was aired well before the events of 9-11-2001 and the subsequent Global War on Terror make it more interesting. The episode deals with an agency in Starfleet that is secretive, but legal operating in the gray areas between the ideals of the Federation and the threats that it faces. Even when the Federation is a peace, Section 31, as it is called is engaged in activities against historic or potential enemies.

At the beginning of the Deep Space Nine Episode Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges the head of Section 31, a man only known as Sloan comes back to Doctor Bashir to involve him in an operation, spying on the Romulans who are working with the Federation against the Dominion.

BASHIR: You want me to spy on an ally.
SLOAN: To evaluate an ally. And a temporary ally at that. I say that because when the war is over, the following will happen in short order. The Dominion will be forced back to the Gamma Quadrant, the Cardassian Empire will be occupied, the Klingon Empire will spend the next ten years recovering from the war and won’t pose a serious threat to anyone. That leaves two powers to vie for control of the quadrant, the Federation and the Romulans.
BASHIR: This war isn’t over and you’re already planning for the next.
SLOAN: Well put. I hope your report is equally succinct.
BASHIR: How many times do I have to tell you, Sloan? I don’t work for you.
SLOAN: You will. It’s in your nature. You are a man who loves secrets. Medical, personal, fictional. I am a man of secrets. You want to know what I know, and the only way to do that is to accept the assignment.

The fact is that the situation we face today and the arguments of both sides should make us uncomfortable. The fact is that like it or not or not the incredibly rapid technical and communication advances of the past couple of decades have primed us for our present time. Likewise they have also enabled a generation to grow up in a virtual world in many ways detached from the moral and ethical balances of individual rights and liberties as well responsibility to community. All the wonderful gadgets that we employ in everyday life make it easy for enemies and “friends” to do things that were unimaginable to people other than science fiction writers even twenty to thirty years ago. Likewise they were must certainly beyond the most wild imaginations of any of the founders of this country or drafters of the Constitution. The reality is, the things that make are lives so easy are also the things that are potential instruments of our destruction.

enimsilentleges_539

That being said throughout history, even our own there have been operatives within the government in charge of secrets, and even spies. In the Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges episode we see an operation that is full of duplicity and moral ambiguity all committed in the name of security. It involves the mysterious Section 31 and Starfleet Admiral Ross who attempt to use Doctor Bashir to double cross a Romulan Senator who had been working with the Federation to keep the secret of the head of the Romulan secret police who is a Federation agent. When Doctor Bashir figures out the plot he confronts the Admiral. Part of their exchange is very enlightening because it practically mirrors how many on both the civil liberties and the national security side of the current controversy feel about the War on Terror.

BASHIR: You don’t see anything wrong with what happened, do you.
ROSS: I don’t like it. But I’ve spent the last year and a half of my life ordering young men and young women to die. I like that even less.
BASHIR: That’s a glib answer and a cheap way to avoid the fact that you’ve trampled on the very thing that those men and women are out there dying to protect! Does that not mean anything to you?
ROSS: Inter arma enim silent leges.
BASHIR: In time of war, the law falls silent. Cicero. So is that what we have become? A twenty fourth century Rome driven by nothing more than the certainty that Caesar can do no wrong!
ROSS: This conversation never happened.

In light of the controversy of today, that of the NSA, FISA and government secrecy and gathering information on its own citizens we face a growing tide of reporters and others seeking to reveal those secrets. Back in 1989 ethicist Sissela Bok wrote something very important in her book Secrets: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life:

“…as government secrecy expands, more public officials become privy to classified information and are faced with the choice of whether or not to leak … growing secrecy likewise causes reporters to press harder from the outside to uncover what is hidden. And then in a vicious circle, the increased revelations give government leaders further reasons to press for still more secrecy.”

As we wade through this controversy we will see people do exactly this and the these exact arguments are being made by the people and officials directly involved as well as former elected and appointed officials as well as the press. The interesting thing to me is that very few of the people or agencies, past and present, Republican and Democrat involved really have clean hands. It is amazing to see former champions of civil liberties defend the NSA actions and those that empowered the NSA in the Patriot Act now condemn it. I find it fascinating.

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At the end of the Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges episode the mysterious Sloan pops back in on Doctor Bashir who is in his quarters, asleep and depressed by what he experienced during the operation on Romulus and with Admiral Ross.

SLOAN: Good evening.
BASHIR: Are you expecting applause? Have you come to take a bow?
SLOAN: I just wanted to say thank you.
BASHIR: For what? Allowing you to manipulate me so completely?
SLOAN: For being a decent human being. That’s why we selected you in the first place, Doctor. We needed somebody who wanted to play the game, but who would only go so far. When the time came, you stood your ground. You did the right thing. You reached out to an enemy, you told her the truth, you tried to stop a murder. The Federation needs men like you, Doctor. Men of conscience, men of principle, men who can sleep at night. You’re also the reason Section Thirty one exists. Someone has to protect men like you from a universe that doesn’t share your sense of right and wrong.
BASHIR: Should I feel sorry for you? Should I be weeping over the burden you’re forced to carry in order to protect the rest of us?
SLOAN: It is an honor to know you, Doctor. Goodnight.

We live in this kind of world and maybe it is good sometimes to find other ways to look at it. I really don’t have the answers. I am a civil libertarian who places a high value on the openness of a government to its people. I also know that there are those that have no regard for such openness or that to quote Sloan don’t “share your sense of right and wrong.”

Maybe that is not a good answer. I really don’t know. All I know is that as uncomfortable as this all is that those on both sides of the issue have valid points and concerns and they come back to the balance that a society needs to have between individual rights and responsibility to the community, openness and secrecy, civil liberties and national security. But that being said it is a debate that needs to happen, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I for one think that it is better that we be uncomfortable when looking at such an important debate than to be prisoners of our certitude.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under national security, News and current events, star trek

When Disaster is Not an Option: The NSA Leaks, Security and Freedom the Perspective of those in Command

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JARESH-INYO: I never sought this job. I was content to simply represent my people on the Federation Council. When they asked me to submit my name for election, I almost said no. Today I wish I had.
LEYTON: We appreciate your feelings, Mister President, but we don’t have time for regrets. You accepted the job and now it’s yours.
ODO: Mister President, there are people all over this planet right now huddled in the dark, terrified about what might happen next. They’re waiting for a sign, something to reassure them that everything will be all right. But they won’t wait long. Fear is a powerful and dangerous thing. And if you don’t act, if you don’t show them that they’re not alone, then fear will surely take over.
SISKO: Give us the authority we need, Mister President, and we will take care of the rest.
(There’s a long pause, then Jaresh-Inyo taps his PADD – 4567 security codes.)
JARESH-INYO: Earth is in your hands, gentlemen. Do what needs to be done.
LEYTON: Thank you, sir. You’ve made the right decision.
JARESH-INYO: I hope you’re right, for all our sakes. (From Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Season 4 Episode 10 “Homefront”) 

After the attacks of 9-11-2001 things changed in the United States. The question of security became paramount in the minds of many Americans who, quite a few with great misgivings approved of the passage of the Patriot Act and other laws to strengthen law enforcement, intelligence and other defensive measures, especially electronic surveillance and data collection done at the Top Secret level.

The fact is that President George W Bush, regardless of what one thinks of his subsequent actions regarding the invasion of Iraq did what any President of any party affiliation would have done in the wake of those attacks. He initiated legislation that would allow security agencies much wider latitude in collecting data and investigating any possible threats to national security. Now 10 years later, without a comparable attack many people question those decisions. President Obama, like him or loathe him has elected to for the most part continue, extend and even expand the Bush policies. If he wasn’t a Democrat he would be lauded by most of Bush’s supporters.

The real truth of the matter is that the President of the United States holds a unique position and amount of responsibility that no one who has not held that office can truly fathom. If the President, no matter who he or she is, or what party they represent has not done everything the laws allow to prevent major terrorist attacks in the post 9-11-2001 era and just one major attack is successful, he or she will be blamed forever. No one wants that, even men like President Obama who before their election were staunch civil libertarians. I can only imagine the look on his face, or that of George W Bush when they received their first National Security Briefing after taking office and realized that from now on whatever happened, for good or for bad would be blamed on them or credited to them despite the fact that almost everything that they had to decide would be formed and shaped by intelligence and national security experts as well as political advisors with more National Security and Foreign Affairs experience.

Since both of them, and President Clinton before them had minimal exposure or experience in such matters I can only imagine that it was overwhelming. I can only compare what it was like to become an Army Company Commander in Cold War Germany in 1985 and realizing that every one of the 110 men and women assigned to that unit and everything it accomplished or failed to accomplished would fall on my shoulders. I have provided counsel and support as a Chaplain to men and women in positions of greater authority than I held and I honestly cannot comprehend what the responsibility for a nation at war is like.

Jaresh-Inyo

In the Star Trek Next Deep Space Nine episode Homefront, the Federation President President Jaresh-Inyo tells his Starfleet advisors when giving them practically unlimited powers to defend Earth: “It took centuries for Earth to evolve into the peaceful haven it is today. I would hate to be remembered as the Federation president who destroyed Paradise.”

As I mentioned in my other articles about the NSA leaks there are many gray areas in the practical measures and laws instituted after 9-11-2001 and in the manner that both the Bush and Obama administrations have conducted the War on Terror. The NSA leaks and the actions of Edward Snowden point us to policy conversations and debates that we need to have regarding how we as a society balance our security with freedom. But as we do that we have to remember that in our system of government and our current laws drafted after 9-11-2001 that we have given the President powers that previous Presidents seldom had, or desired. Whether the President was Bush or is Obama or someone else in the future the fact is that they have the job and we don’t.

In the episode Admiral Leyton the Starfleet Commander voices his doubts about the Federation President, sentiments that some have pretty much applied to President Obama.

BENTEEN: The bottom line is a changeling infiltrated the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters, imitated the Admiral, and got away scot-free. Our security measures aren’t working.
SISKO: We’re doing everything the President will let us do.
BENTEEN: Maybe that’s not enough.
ODO: We could talk to the President again.
LEYTON: I’m afraid that would be a waste of time. Jaresh-Inyo would be a fine president in peacetime, but we have a war on our hands. He doesn’t seem to understand that. All he cares about is not upsetting people. But humans are tougher than he thinks. We’ve created a paradise here and we’re willing to fight to protect it.
SISKO: And you think the President isn’t willing to fight?
LEYTON: I think the President is a long way from home. This isn’t his world. We can’t expect him to care about it the way we do.

These are perilous times and serious issues. Facebook Memes, snarky tweets and bellicose blog posts that paint everything in easy black and white terms are seldom right and the fact is that the questions we fact now is complex and multifaceted. If we are to face them we have to do so in a serious manner acknowledging that the world that we live is not the same as it was even 20 years ago.

Until tomorrow or Friday,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under laws and legislation, national security, News and current events, star trek

Security and Freedom the Precarious Balance: Looking at the NSA Leaks and Terrorist Threats in Light of Star Trek Deep Space Nine

ds9-homefront

Odo: Am I the only one who’s worried that there are still Changelings here on Earth?

Joseph Sisko: Worried? I’m scared to death. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let them change the way I live my life.

Captain Sisko: If the Changelings want to destroy what we’ve built here, they’re going to have to do it themselves. We will not do it for them.

The current leaks of FISA documents regarding NSA data phone and internet collection programs including the PRISM program by ex Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden have provoked a long needed debate. That debate is less about Snowden then it is about the broader issues that have been shunted to the side in the wake of the 9-11-2001 attacks and the passage of the Patriot Act.

Of course much of the debate right now is about Snowden himself, his actions, his loyalties, his motives and institutional questions regarding how he was given such broad access to Top Secret documents not directly related to his job. As important as the later is, the more critical issue is how we as a republic governed in a democratic manner balance legitimate security needs and individual liberty.

Patriot-Act-HR-3162

I wrestle with these issues all the time as a Priest, historian, theologian, ethicist and Naval Officer. I am a civil libertarian who also happens to know a thing or two about National Security policy. The fact is that as much some pundits and politicians are ready to jump off the edge entirely on one side of the divide or the other, their previous political differences notwithstanding we see men and women lining up to praise or condemn Edward Snowden with little regard to the deeper issues involved.

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The real question is how we balance the legitimate need for security with freedom and regard for Constitutional liberties. The fact is there are terrorists in our midst. The Tsaraev brothers who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing are a case in point. There are others who I am sure are interested in or capable of much more devastating attacks. Somehow we have to attempt to protect our people and way of life without destroying the Constitution and our liberties in the process.

In the Star Trek Deep Space Nine Episodes Homefront and Paradise Lost four Changelings from the Dominion reach Earth and in a series of relatively minor terrorist attacks create a chaotic situation. In response Starfleet officers take drastic action to convince the Federation President and Council to declare what amounts to Martial Law and the suspension of civil liberties on Earth.

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One of the Changelings takes the form of Chief O’Brien and contacts Captain Sisko, who due to his experience in the Dominion War and with Shape Shifters was recalled to Earth to assist Starfleet Command. The Changeling engages Sisko in a conversation near Starfleet Headquarters.

Changeling: Let me ask you a question. How many Changelings do you think are here on Earth right at this moment?

Captain Sisko: I’m not going to play any guessing games with you.

Changeling: Ah. What if I were to tell you that there are only four on this entire planet? Huh? Not counting Constable Odo, of course. Think of it – just four of us. And look at the havoc we’ve wrought.

The thing it it doesn’t take many terrorists to disrupt a society but at the same time the society’s response can dictate how deep the impact of the terrorists are on it. Terrorists create suspicion and tend to make people distrust others, in fact anyone that might be different than them. The response to terrorist attacks or threats is frequently disproportionately felt by regular citizens, anyone who has flown on a commercial airline in the United States since 9-11, the passage of the Patriot Act and formation of the TSA can testify.

While security at airports may be an inconvenience the fact is that the Patriot Act also gives Law Enforcement, Intelligence and Military agencies tremendous powers to collect human and electronic data on almost any citizen. Likewise the act increased the powers of these agencies under existing counter-intelligence laws. Some say that they have actually gutted the protections 4th Amendment and that may actually be a valid point.

The conversation between Sisko and the Changeling ends when the O’Brien Changeling comments “We do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it’s your fear that will destroy you.”

I think that really is what we have to watch out for in this War on Terrorism. It is far too easy to in our quest for security to destroy the very foundations of our governmental system. The sad thing is that history shows us how this can happen, wars without end and suspicions of enemies within and without have destroyed civilizations and transformed republics like Athens and Rome into tyrannies.

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Fear is an amazing thing. It triggers responses that are almost predictable. In the Homefront episode were civilian family members of Starfleet personnel are forced to give blood samples to prove that they are not Changelings masquerading as them Captain Sisko’s elderly father Joseph objects and eventually is able to avoid being tested, over the objections of his son who in in charge of the program.

Joseph Sisko: Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, what the hell has gotten into your head? You actually thought I was one of them, didn’t you?

Captain Sisko: I don’t know. I wasn’t sure.

Joseph Sisko: This business has got you so twisted around, you… you can’t think straight. You’re seeing shapeshifters everywhere! Maybe you ought to think about something for a minute. If I was a smart shapeshifter, a really good one, the first thing I would do would be to grab some poor soul off the street, absorb every ounce of his blood and let it out on cue whenever someone like you tried to test me. Don’t you see? There isn’t a test that’s been created a smart man can’t find his way around.

The truth of the matter is that regardless of what happens with Edward Snowden that we really need to look at and have a real discussion of what in the name of security we are willing to give up and what we are not. Technology has increased in ways that most people never imagined that it would be able to do, and that we could not imagine non-state terrorist enemies using against us.

Those are hard questions and they require a serious discussion. If we don’t have that discussion we will be the ones that destroy our way of life and republic and not any terrorist.

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As the Paradise Lost episode comes to its climax Captain Sisko confronts the Starfleet Admiral who has implemented the martial law degree on earth.

Admiral Leyton: You’ve always had a strong sense of duty.

Captain Sisko: My duty is to protect the Federation.

Admiral Leyton: That’s what we’re trying to do.

Captain Sisko: What you’re trying to do is to seize control of Earth and place it under military rule.

Admiral Leyton: If that’s what it takes to stop the Dominion.

Captain Sisko: So you’re willing to destroy Paradise in order to save it?

I think that Sisko’s final question is something that we need to ask those that would use the law, even bad laws to gain security but which ultimately could destroy us.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Questions in Light of the NSA Leaks and More Answers from Star Trek Deep Space Nine

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Doctor Bashir: What does Section 31 do, apart from kidnapping Starfleet officers?

Sloan: We search out and identify potential dangers to the Federation.

Doctor Bashir: And once identified?

Sloan: We deal with them.

Doctor Bashir: How?

Sloan: Quietly.

As I mentioned briefly last night I am finding interesting corollaries in the current NSA leak story and what we are facing in our Global War on Terror in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. I went back and watched again the season four episodes entitled Homefront and Paradise Lost. Tonight I also watched an episode called Inquisition in which Dr Bashir, the Chief Medical Officer of Deep Space Nine is abducted by the representative of a secretive entity of Starfleet Intelligence authorized in the original Federation Charter and accused of being a spy for the Dominion. It is a chilling episode because it shows the power of lawfully constituted organizations that are granted nearly unlimited powers and operate under the utmost secrecy.

What do we know? We know far less than what we think that we know, that much is clear.

So what do we know?

We know that a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, a 29 year high school dropout named Edward Snowden leaked Top Secret FISA Court orders and other information to writer Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian newspaper. Something that he did evidently after offering them to others including the Washington Post.

We know that Snowden had worked for the CIA and NSA contractors in various capacities for a number of years. We know that he worked for the Booz Allen Hamilton contract with the NSA less than 4 months with a Top Secret Clearance and had lied to both his employer and girlfriend about his whereabouts when he left his home in Hawaii.

We know that he was unable to complete Army Special Forces entry training in 2003 after some kind of training accident.

We know that he supported the Ron Paul campaign with a financial contribution of $500 and that Paul has praised Snowden’s actions.

We know that some of the documents that Snowden leaked have been released by the Guardian and the Post. Likewise we know that Greenwald promises the release of more leaked information this week.

We know that this Snowden fled to Hong Kong in early May and then authorized the release of his identity and actions after the release of them by Greenwald.

We know that the documents leaked show that the FISA court authorize the sweeping collection of phone and internet data from American citizens as well as others overseas.

We know that Snowden is claiming that he is acting in the best interests of the country and the Constitution.

We know that the revelation of the FISA documents shows that National Intelligence Director James Clapper may have lied to Congress about those activities.

What don’t we know? Simply put we don’t know the truth. Likewise there is a good chance that no matter what happens in this case, no matter what is revealed and no matter what happens to Snowden or anyone implicated in the documents already released or to be released that we may never know the whole truth. Yes we may learn aspects of these operations and some activities, but believe me the real truth will remain classified and covered. And frankly that may not be a bad thing.

There have been some who are lionizing or demonizing the young Snowden. People are rapidly forming their opinions as to him being a “hero” or a “traitor.” I don’t think that we know enough yet to render judgement. He may be one or the other. He could be both and he could be neither. I do think the question goes beyond him. The fact that he fled to Hong Kong, a territory controlled by Communist China which has been engaged in much espionage against the United States is troubling. It makes it look like he may not quite be the hero after all.

The fact is that Snowden’s release of Top Secret classified documents is illegal. That is a fact whatever his motives. No matter if his motives were pure and patriotic as he claims, or were done for other reasons that we do not know including the possibility that he is working with Chinese agents. The unauthorized release of classified data has been a crime for decades, even before we devised our classification system. Even before the Patriot Act and the Global War on Terror.

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During the Inquisition episode, at the point that the Section 31 personnel determine that Bashir is innocent of possible cooperation with the Dominion and try to recruit him that the following exchange takes place.

Sloan: We’re on the same team. We believe in the same principles that every other Federation citizen holds dear.

Doctor Bashir: And yet you violate those principles as a matter of course.

Sloan: In order to protect them.

Doctor Bashir: Well, I’m sorry, but the ends don’t always justify the means.

Sloan: Really? – How many lives do you suppose you’ve saved in your medical career?

Doctor Bashir: What has that got to do with anything?

Sloan: Hundreds, thousands? Do you suppose those people give a damn that you lied to get into Starfleet Medical? I doubt it. We deal with threats to the Federation that jeopardize its very survival. If you knew how many lives we’ve saved, I think you’d agree that the ends do justify the means. I’m not afraid of bending the rules every once in a while if the situation warrants it. And I don’t think you are either.

The action of Snowden in releasing these classified documents appears to be criminal in that it broke long established law. However, criminality does not necessarily mean that he is a traitor. Could he be? The answer could be yes depending on his motive and what else may be released but quite possibly the answer could be no. For those that want to live in a world where everything is black and white that may be uncomfortable. But this messy world is the world that we live in, a world of infinite shades of gray, especially when it comes to intelligence and state secrets.

Now I can say that while I agree that Snowden broke the law I do not yet know if I can call him a traitor, nor do I know enough to call him a hero. One thing his actions have done is to spark a debate on the nature of the laws that our Congress enacted in the aftermath of the 9-11-2001 terrorist attacks. The Patriot Act vastly expanded previous laws regarding surveillance, intelligence, economic, military and law enforcement measures including the work of the FISA courts. I do think that the authors meant well, but the law that they passed has great potential as a platform for totalitarianism.

Those laws were rushed to completion and passed with strong bi-partisan majorities in both the House and Senate. Those powers were renewed by both the Bush and Obama administration and Congress. One can make good arguments for security as well as the dangers inherent in these laws and the expanded powers of the intelligence community which not only can be used for good, but can be used for evil.

I think it is time that we had a real debate over these laws as a society. We may not like what we see, but we may decide to keep some laws and restrict other powers granted. That is something that we must do as a society if we are to retain any form of our republic. We cannot afford the bumper sticker and Facebook meme type of debate in this that appeals to raw emotion and political certitude and bypasses the real issues involved.

At the end of the episode when Bashir is back on DS9 talking with Captain Sisko and the other senior staff of the station the questions asked are so pertinent to what we are doing today.

Doctor Bashir: I can’t believe the Federation condones this kind of activity.

Odo: Personally I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t. Every other great power has a unit like Section 31 – the Romulans have the Tal Shiar, the Cardassians had the Obsidian Order…

Doctor Bashir: But what does that say about us? When push comes to shove, are we willing to sacrifice our principles in order to survive?

Captain Sisko: I wish I had an answer for you, Doctor.

Likewise, I wish I had an answer…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Some Sunday Thoughts on Freedom, Security and Star Trek Deep Space Nine

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“We do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it’s your fear that will destroy you.” Changeling (As O’Brien) from the Dominion to Captain Sisko (Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Paradise Lost)

I have had a pretty uneventful weekend. I had to cancel my trip north to see Judy due to Tropical Storm Andrea and a fairly eventful day at work on Friday. I was also very tired having not slept well a number of nights during the week due to so pretty strange dreams and nightmares that appear in HD now thanks to PTSD. I am wondering why I am experiencing these dreams. Perhaps it is because of how unsettled I am regarding the various controversies going on regarding our freedom and national security as well as things going in the world and the real possibility that no matter how hard we try that we could become embroiled in yet another Middle Eastern War.

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As a result I mostly caught up on laundry and other routine stuff around the house, slept a lot, listened to a 1972 edition of American Top 40, watched some DVD movies including Nuremberg about the Nuremberg trails starring Alec Baldwin and Christopher Plummer and Conspiracy about the Wansee Conference where the Nazis engineered the details of the final solution and engaged almost every section of government and industry into the Final Solution. I also watched Quentin Tarantino’s  Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. In addition it was a weekend to appreciate my dog Molly who has been incredibly sweet and affectionate this week. She must know that I have been unsettled in my sleep.

While I was doing these things I was thinking about some of the things going on in the country and especially about the revelations and leaks of top secret materials regarding the activities of the National Security Agency. It has been interesting to me to watch people who gave President Bush and Congress a pass on the Patriot Act bash President Obama and others who bashed Bush give Obama a pass. Of course there have been some civil libertarians, mostly liberals and some libertarians who objected to the Patriot Act and its potential threats to First and Fourth Amendment freedoms who have criticized both the Bush and Obama administrations as well as Congress. It is interesting that the journalist who published the leaked information, Glen Greenwald  has been an opponent of the Patriot Act since its inception in 2001 and critical of both the Bush and Obama administrations in their use of it. At least he is consistent.

I have found this fascinating to watch because there are arguments on both sides that have merit. Unfortunately most pundits, politicians and politically minded preachers, the Unholy Trinity don’t see the complexity of the issues involved nor do they adequately understand the potential dangers represented on both sides of the issue. Benjamin Franklin’s saying that “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” is something to keep in mind.

There are a huge amount of issues to be concerned with, I think in large part because our leaders and let us admit it we ourselves have not thought through the implications of things that we legislate. Since the vast majority of our legislators never read all or even the most critical parts of any legislation that they vote for this should be expected. Likewise the vast bulk of the population is too busy either working or entertaining themselves in virtual worlds made possible by vast technological advances in phones, computers and social networks to bother with such issues until they hit the news cycle. Unfortunately the fact of the matter is that once this has blown over, unless we stop and as a society really examine the issues, hold our legislators feet to the fire and stop being content with answers that are simply designed to help our political parties and causes that some cosmetic changes will be made and nothing significant accomplished.

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I also thought of a couple of episodes of Star Trek Deep Space Nine that I watched a couple of weeks ago from Season 4 when shape shifters from the Dominion begin to launch terrorist attacks on Earth and some in Starfleet, and the Federation begin to implement security measures that rapidly erode freedom. The episodes Homefront and Paradise Lost are actually quite timely and since they were aired years before the September 11th 2001 attacks, the passage of the Patriot Act and the beginning of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) could almost be considered prophetic.

I think I am going to write about the current situation at least a couple of times but I will probably use those Deep Space Nine episodes as my starting point. Sometimes the stories of fiction or science fiction can shed light on issues that our politicians, pundits and preachers are too blind, inept or conceited to honestly examine.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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