The U.S. Senate in a vote of 66-32 last Monday confirmed former Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, as the new CIA director. He is among the small handful of President Donald Trump’s picks to pass the many hurdles thrown their way in the slow-moving confirmation process thus far.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, was among the opposition voicing grave concern for Pompeo’s nomination.
“[Pompeo’s] record reveals extreme positions, including enthusiasm for sweeping new surveillance programs targeting Americans and an openness to sending our country backward with regard to torture,” Wyden said in a statement. “Furthermore, his views on intelligence assessments on Russian interference in our election shifted along with the president’s, raising questions about the nominee’s objectivity.”
Wyden pulled no punches during his hour-long grilling of Trump’s CIA director pick, who wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last year: “Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.”
Wyden directly addressed Pompeo’s statements in the 2016 op-ed, and predictably attempted in vain to shift attention away from his radical views on maintaining and expanding a mass surveillance state.
“Yes, I still continue to stand behind the commitment to keep Americans safe by conducting lawful intelligence collection,” Pompeo said at his confirmation hearing.
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Metadata is data that takes many other pieces of data (which includes but is not limited to phone call logs, credit card statements, usage patterns for bus or subway cards, etc.) and connects them to create a story detailing any given person’s communication networks and social patterns.
For example, say a student has a Facebook account and uses AT&T as their carrier. Through various spying programs like PRISM and Tempora, any NSA analyst with sufficient security clearance has the ability (if they want to or are instructed to do so) to easily scour through the student’s private Facebook messages, read iMessages sent and received on their iPhone through AT&T’s network and listen to recorded phone calls, all without a warrant. They can use and rearrange this data to create a vivid mosaic of the student’s personal life that they can then ultimately use against them if the intelligence community decides they pose a threat.
Pompeo is stating here he will make sure the U.S. government’s ubiquitous surveillance apparatus, whose reach is unlimited and perpetually growing, will be collecting metadata on every citizen across the country.
This notion explicitly suggests enacting and expanding absurdly invasive tactics that have already been ruled illegal by a federal appeals court, but nevertheless unfailingly adheres to the NSA’s grotesque mission statement: “collect it all.”
Citing “keeping Americans safe,” specifically from terrorism, as a justification for mass data collection is a lowly tactic many top officials in the intelligence community use.
The term “terrorism” is ill-defined to the U.S. government and constantly abused to justify both militarism and mass surveillance. As Glenn Greenwald tellingly mentions in his book “No Place to Hide,” “The risk of any American dying in a terrorist attack is infinitesimal, considerably less than the chance of being struck by lightning.”
Mass data collection is a neither effective nor justifiable tactic for combating terrorism and “keeping Americans safe.” It is nothing more than a fear-mongering tactic the U.S. government has used for years to justify its oftentimes brutish and immoral methods.
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This, of course, is not to say the U.S. government should be stripped of its surveillance powers entirely.
No one is saying we want a country in which the government has no way of gathering crucial information in order to carry out a variety of fair, reasonable objectives.
But to create and perpetuate a state in which everyone’s personal data is being collected indiscriminately is not only wildly ineffective and perversely unconstitutional, it goes against what the majority of Americans want.
Transparency is necessary in ensuring the U.S. government does not abuse its unlimited surveillance powers.
The newly sworn-in CIA director has demonstrated time and again he is eager to fight against the right to free speech, privacy and a host of other civil liberties the Constitution grants in exchange for fulfilling the seemingly insatiable surveillance quota of the intelligence community.
So why should he be trusted to be one of the most powerful unelected officials in the country and not abuse his power in ways that expressly go against the core American values upon which this country was constructed?
Adam Firestone ([email protected]) is a junior studying economics.