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Democrats in Congress Fail To Stop Satellite Spying Against Americans

One of the less known problems with the Obama White House has to do with satellite spying against Americans. You would think that here, in the United States of America, a person could reasonable expect to step outside of his or her home without being watched by the police. In fact, we have a little thing called the Bill of Rights, which guarantees protection from that sort of thing – it’s called the Fourth Amendment, and it reads:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. “

I would hope that everyone could agree that people cannot be reasonably regarded as secure from unreasonable search when there are machines flying overhead, beyond the range of sight, snapping photographs of the people and things below, without any search warrant. Yet, that’s just what’s happening now, and Congress, Democrat and Republican alike, is failing to stop this abuse of our constitutional rights. Military spy satellites that were designed to snoop on the activities of foreign armies are now watching over the private activities of American citizens within the borders of the USA.

The problem was started under George W. Bush, but with the cooperation of Democrats in Congress, who helped pass the Protect America Act and the FISA Amendments Act, the laws that enable the satellite spying program to operate. However, Barack Obama cannot be said to be merely continuing this spy program that targets Americans. President Obama is seeking to expand its funding and operations.

At the hub of this satellite spy program is a Homeland Security organization called the National Applications Office. The NAO takes the information gathered through satellites, and coordinates the sharing of that information with local, state and federal law enforcement officials. So, the military conducts spying against Americans, without a search warrant, which is then made available even to local sheriffs to use as they will.

At the beginning of this year, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano promised to conduct a review of the threats to American civil liberties created by the spying program, and to present the review to members of Congress. Yet, according to members of Congress on relevant committees, no such review has taken place.

Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security requested additional funding for the National Applications Office this year – but without even consulting congressional committees that are supposed to be conducting oversight of the NAO. How much funding did they ask for? That’s classified.

Yes, the Obama White House is seeking to expand unconstitutional, warrantless spying against Americans using military satellites, and they’re asking you to help pay the bill. But, Barack Obama and his aides won’t even let you know how much you’re being charged for the satellites that are spying on you.

These operations are so far into the territory of “unreasonable searches” that I would have expected a firestorm of outrage. However, corporate journalists aren’t reporting on the story. There are only handful of journalistic articles mentioning the National Applications Office, and none of them dig very far into the story. No professional journalists are connecting the dots. It’s up to little folks like us, here at Irregular Times, to look at the public record and try to put the pieces together.

(Pieces like the offhand comment by the New York Times back in April that spy satellites are being used to gather information about Americans’ telephone calls and emails – a reminder that spy satellites these days do a heck of a lot more than just take photographs)

I appreciate the opportunity to do some original investigation into an important issue, but it really shouldn’t be this way. The Associated Press ought to be all over this. The Washington Post ought to devote a team to the story. Sadly, such is the state of American journalism that we get more articles about President Obama’s love of cheeseburgers than about the Obama Administration’s continuation of George W. Bush’s electronic spying programs.

Among the tidbits that almost no one has taken note of is that on Friday, the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Homeland Security held a markup hearing on the 2010 fiscal year appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security. Norman Dicks, a member of that subcommittee, has co-authored H.R. 2703, a bill to completely defund the National Applications Office. It was hoped that Representative Dicks would use the occasion of the markup hearing to remove funding from the National Applications Office. However, Dicks chose not to do so.

The subcommittee suggests that it might be reducing the amount of funding for the National Applications Office to an amount that is somewhat less than what President Obama requested. However, as of this morning, the markup listings (here and here) of the Homeland Security programs with reduced or eliminated funding do not include the National Applications Office.

spy satellite big eye in the skyThe trick is that the budget for the National Applications Office might have been reduced in the Homeland Security 2010 appropriations bill, but without any public sign that such a reduction has taken place. The funding for the National Applications Office is classified, after all. We the people of the United States of America are not allowed to know how much money is being spent to spy on us.

We’re supposed to simply trust that the House Appropriations Committee has made the reductions, and trust that the Obama Administration will get the message, and trust that the National Applications Office is only being used to spy against bad people. That trust has not been earned.

When our own government has established a program capable of using military agencies to spy against us with satellites flying in orbit over our neighborhoods, in violation of the Constitution and posse comitatus law, there is no reason for Americans to trust that everything is as it should be.

The only way that we can know that National Applications Office satellite spy operations targeting American citizens are not taking place is to pass the legislation introduced by Representative Dicks and Representative Jane Harman, H.R. 2703 and H.R. 2704, to completely eliminate the NAO’s funding and shut the office down for good.

So far, it seems that support for these bills among congressional Democrats is next to nonexistent.

11 comments to Democrats in Congress Fail To Stop Satellite Spying Against Americans

  • Kevin

    Message Text: I am very concerned about violations of our constitutional rights. Under the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. ” and yet we have allowed illegal spying and wiretapping policies of the Bush adminstration to continue, and have in some cases provided a legislative excuse for violating the constitution, going so far as to grant corporations retroactive immunity for illegal activties done at the order of the President. Illegal spying from satellite is part of this problem. I urge you to co-sponsor H.R. 2703 and 2704 form Norman Dicks and Jane Harman to eliminate the funding for the National Applications Office, and shut down this unconsitutional domestic military spying operation. thanks

  • Jacob

    I guess I dont understand this. The government watch from pubkic property without a search warrent all they want. They can sit in a squad car in front of your house watchig to see what happens without a warrent. They are not searching. They can go through your garbage that you put at the curb. It is by doing this that they get the warrent to actually go onto and search your property. I dont like that I can be watched but I am not sure how it is in violation of the constitution. Could you please explain this to me?

    • Yes, I can explain it to you. The police cannot target a person to be followed for no reason. That’s unconstitutional. They can’t sit outside your house, watching you, day after day, tracking where you go, without a search warrant justifying this behavior. A one-time look outside your house? Sure. A day, after day search, no way. And following you around town, day after day? No.

      And what if the police set up a camera on the public sidewalk outside your house, taking a picture on the hour, over and over, and establishing a database to keep that information in? Think they wouldn’t need a court order for that? It’s a lot different than having a policeman taking a look with his own eyes.

      Now consider if the police said that they were going to do this, with a program to set up cameras to take these photographs of every property in every neighborhood in a city, keeping the photographs in their database, and looking through them to get information about where people go and what they do. No crime specified. No particular place specified. The Fourth Amendment explicitly requires that – a specific reason to search in a specific place and time.

      Furthermore, these spy satellites don’t just go outside people’s property. They go inside, as the New York Times reference indicates, through communications lines, to spy on telephone calls, emails, and other electronic communication.

      Also, the garbage example you cite is by no means uncontroversial. A very large number of constitutional law experts believe it violates the Fourth Amendment.

      Start to get the picture? There’s no way this is equivalent to a cop sitting in front of your house for an afternoon, on stakeout, when you’re suspected of being related to a crime.

      • Jacob

        I am not trying to be difficult. I agree this is wrong but am trying to get a better picture. You painted a great picture of the cameras outside a house, but isnt this the same as the intersection camares that they already have at many intersections which scan plates. Most of these only take pictures of speeders but some are working on setting these up so that they scan every car and look for possible violations. they also have cameras on busy streets, I want to say Chicago and New York, that scan faces and compare to a data base of wanted people. Arnt these the same type of things? Once again I agree its wrong, but compaired to what is concidered consitutional already and in practice it feels like the same thing. How is this different?

        As far as the satalittes go for cell phones, doesnt the government own them? We are using thier property. If I let you set in my living room everyday and talk to your friends would you be suprised or offended to know that I was listening while on my own property. It would suck but I wouldnt be breaking the rules, you are on my property. Seems like the satalite is the same way. I may be way wrong here, just trying to think this out…

        • I understand you’re not trying to be difficult. These are important considerations.

          Once again, the public cameras are much in dispute, and many experts regard them as unconstitutional. Just because something’s in practice doesn’t mean that it’s constitutional. That’s always a matter of debate. I think it’s highly unreasonable, and unconstitutionally untargeted, for any government agency to have face-scanning cameras on public streets.

          Also, these are in a public space, and a regulated, limited-use public space when it comes to the road cameras. No one’s arguing that the police cannot patrol the roads, but your back yard is not the same as a road. The government owns cell phone bandwidth, but cell phone accounts are NOT public space in the same way that a street is. Free speech is not regulated there in the way that driving is regulated on a road. There’s no constitutional right for anybody to speed in a car. There is a constitutional right to free speech, and cell phone and email conversations easily fall within the 4th amendment’s concept of a person’s “papers”.

          Public property isn’t government property separate from everyone else’s property. You’re not on someone else’s property on public property. The government is supposed to be of, by and for the people. It’s shared property that you have a stake in as a citizen.

          The question is simple – is the searching unreasonable? You have clearly stated that you think it is – and so that gives you all the basis you need to argue that the National Applications Office spying is unconstitutional.

        • Jacob

          am I way off on this?

  • James B. DiGriz

    Semi, OT, but could this story ( http://www.space.com/news/090610-military-fireballs.html ) possibly be collateral damage from the domestic intelligence controversy, or otherwise related to this shadowy NAO maybe marking its territory? I’m waiting for an answer from the author, but it struck me as odd that the military would suddenly withdraw support for an existing long-standing policy of sharing data from nuke spy sats with NASA affiliated scientists.

    I suppose if it helps the local sheriff keep the competition from hiding pot patches in a cane brake, the loss to science is worth it. (Tongue firmly in cheek here, thank you :-)

    Thanks for any insight,
    jbdigriz

  • Tom

    Not to be squawking the same tune over and over, but why aren’t they spying on polluters who damage our rivers and streams by dumping toxic chemicals in them or our landfills (where just this morning on Yahoo news there’s an article about Target dumping toxic waste)? Another serious crime – that of plundering the retirement accounts of their workers and possibly others, like the AIG CEO did, goes “un-noticed” until it’s too late. They’re wasting their time and our money on spying on us while they let corporate America get away with ecological genocide.

  • This is a tune worth hearing over and over, until it reaches a satisfactory resolution.

    Big polluters, of course, pay big campaign donations.

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