Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor now living in exile in Moscow, has done something that few people have done: he made the American government and much of American society let out a little squeak. Compared to the roar of the national security state, it was a modest sound. Yet it has resulted in an act of Congress and the revision of a few portions of the USA PATRIOT Act, the law passed in a hurry mere weeks after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
I think of Ed Snowden as Baby Brother — in relation to George Orwell’s character Big Brother, the all-knowing government that spies on your every move. It was Baby Brother who blew the whistle. If you have not read 1984, I recommend it. It is both visionary and funny, and will make the short hairs on your neck stand up.
Anyway, here in the midst of Mercury retrograde in Gemini, we had some interesting news this week: a provision of the USA PATRIOT Act expired at 12:01 am Monday, and was replaced two days later by the equally Orwellian-sounding USA FREEDOM Act. As a result, the government will allegedly no longer be allowed to directly collect data from the American people without a warrant.
Instead, corporations such as Verizon and Google will collect the data, and the government will have to get a warrant to look up the specifics. They will allegedly need a good reason. We are still being spied on, but now the Chinese wall has moved a few centimeters, and these massive companies who have sold us out so many times in the past will keep the data for the government.
From what I’ve read, this change only applies to new investigations; the old ones are grandfathered in, though Pres. Obama has promised not to use that provision of the law.
In most ways this is a token development. The operative fact is that we now have a clue what is happening. I will say this another way. We are still being spied on. It’s just that thanks to Snowden, we have some notion as to the extent of that program. The truth is, we don’t really know what’s in the USA FREEDOM Act. Just like with the PATRIOT Act, it’s going to take a while to figure out.
Mass Collection of Telephone Data
Two years ago, Snowden revealed the existence of the mass collection of telephone data by the United States government. Few people understand how powerful that data is, such as what can be determined just from who you call and when you call them. Two federal organizations are involved, and it was the first time most people had ever heard their names: the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court.
The FISA court is a veiled branch of the federal judiciary. It employs 11 existing federal judges, who get this extra assignment. They meet in secret, in secret locations. Only one side of any case is present — the one represented by the government. You can read the judges’ names here. The court had, up till that time, granted any search warrant that the federal government wanted.
I know about the FISA court because I was assigned to write an article about the court for Covert Action Quarterly (CAQ), the only publication devoted to covering the CIA and related organizations.
Too spooked to write the piece myself (yes, at the time, it was that scary), I passed the assignment to my friend and colleague Philip Colangelo. To my knowledge, this article was the only published look at the FISA court up to that time.
Colangelo wrote in the November 2000 edition of CAQ, “Since its founding in 1978, a secret court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has received 7,539 applications to authorize electronic surveillance within the U.S. In the name of national security, the court has approved all but one of these requests from the Justice Department on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency.”
He continued, “Each of these decisions was reached in secret, with no published orders, opinions, or public record. The people, organizations, or embassies spied on were not notified of either the hearing or the surveillance itself.”
Despite the FISA court’s extremely generous rubber-stamp approach to issuing warrants, when the Cheney-Bush administration wanted to do still more spying, even that record was not dependable enough. So the government had the FISA court issue a blanket order that allowed warrantless collection of data.
Until Snowden released a copy of that court order two years ago, along with a cache of classified NSA documents to several media outlets, all details of the FISA court existed behind the scenes.
Only slightly better known was the National Security Agency (NSA). Just one writer has dedicated his career to exposing its existence, a guy named James Bamford. Unless you had read his books The Puzzle Palace or Body of Secrets, the existence of the NSA was probably news to you.
Founded in 1952, the NSA’s original purpose was to intercept and decrypt international communications during the Cold War, such as between Cuba and the USSR. In other words, its role was to spy on our supposed enemies and keep the military informed what they were up to.
After Sept. 11, the NSA was turned against the American people and tapped into basically everything that could be monitored. It was Edward Snowden who informed us of this fact. Snowden also informed us of the reality of the USA PATRIOT Act’s Section 215, also known as the “library records provision.”
This broad section of law supposedly allowed spying on the communications of all Americans, under the guise of stopping terrorism. In particular, Snowden revealed that the NSA was directly collecting the records of all phone calls, and could query any information at any time. This was the “warrantless data collection” issue that we’ve heard about over and over again.
We can infer from these developments that the collection of data goes far beyond what has actually come out. Bamford has documented that the NSA routinely listens to phone calls placed by American citizens.
Revelations by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks had revealed the wholesale interception of the Internet in the infamous AT&T Room 641A, the location of the “splitter” — the device that sent a copy of all Internet traffic directly to the NSA. [For my coverage of WikiLeaks, see Clearing the Smog of War and The Most Wanted Man in the World. For my original coverage of Snowden, please see Father Knows Best.]
Thanks to the USA FREEDOM Act, once again the only thing between the government and the records held by corporations is the sign-anything FISA court. And for its part, the NSA pretty much has carte blanche: it operates outside any oversight, and it has the power to do anything.
Now we know. We also know that these provisions of law have not stopped terrorism. That is merely an excuse, proving James Madison’s words that, “If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”
And more than 200 years ago, Madison also said, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
The Chilling Effect
We live surrounded by surveillance. We sit and type into surveillance machines all day. We are surrounded by cameras, which photograph our faces, our license plates and our naked bodies (such as at airports). Our phone calls are indexed, listened to and recorded.
The index includes “metadata” such as the phone numbers involved, the length of the call and the GPS positions of the parties. Therefore, who you associate with and where you go are fully transparent to government entities. As far as I can tell, the Internet and the cellular telephone system are synonymous with the NSA.
This is creepy, and as a result, people are creeped out. Most don’t know it consciously, as far as I can tell. The environment is invisible to just about everyone. It’s just part of the background of life.
There is something in U.S. law called the Chilling Effect. Think of this as a deterrent effect on the freedom of expression. For example, people would be less likely to go to a protest if they knew the police were going to photograph and make video images of everyone who is there. Therefore, those activities by the police are said to have a chilling effect on the right to protest.
Now we live with this every day, everywhere. Those who are sensitive to changes in temperature have noticed that society is growing colder; that most people are more afraid to express themselves. Those who do not remember warmer times, when it was possible to openly express a bit of heat and passion without cringing, or wondering who is watching, or looking over your shoulder, are unlikely to notice this colder social climate.
The thing about the chilling effect is that it’s not an actual prohibition on expression. Rather, expression is gradually smothered in fear. All of our social interactions are involved. The feeling that all Internet and telephone and communication is documented specifically to be used against usaffects all encounters between people. The effect is control.
Lesson 19: No Private Thoughts
This confronts us with a question that is both practical and spiritual: how to remain human in this environment. Most spiritual philosophy addresses the issue of what to do about fear. We now have a real situation on our hands — the mass broadcast spraying of paranoia.
Since the Sun is in Gemini, it’s a good time to say that we’re often told that consciousness exists in some binary form: we can expand or contract consciousness. We can be more fearful or more loving. We can be more aware or less aware. I think that of these, the one we have the most immediate influence over is awareness. Perhaps people more heart-centered than myself would say that the easiest thing to change is love, but love seems to be a factor of awareness. You can only love, or forgive, what you know about.
I think that one problem with these revelations is how many people process them below the level of full awareness, such as looking with their eyes closed. I think it’s essential to bring these revelations to full consciousness, and to embrace that there is no longer any such thing as privacy.
This is actually an early lesson in the rigorous training of A Course in Miracles, where in Lesson 19(of 365) the teaching is, “I am not alone in experiencing the effects of my thoughts.”
“The idea for today is obviously the reason why your seeing does not affect you alone. You will notice that at times the ideas related to thinking precede those related to perceiving, while at other times the order is reversed. The reason is that the order does not matter. Thinking and its results are really simultaneous, for cause and effect are never separate.”
We could have (and need) a long discussion on the laws of cause and effect (this is a bookmark), but let’s experiment with that theory for the sake of discussion.
As for the transparency of thoughts, by now most people have experienced some version of telepathy or mind reading, or have reached into the inner reality of another person (such as by what is revealed in a dream).
The Course continues, “Today we are again emphasizing the fact that minds are joined. This is rarely a wholly welcome idea at first, since it seems to carry with it an enormous sense of responsibility, and may even be regarded as an ‘invasion of privacy’. Yet it is a fact that there are no private thoughts.”
OK, so this is a spiritual teaching; a work of philosophy. Its stated purpose is to connect us with the soul-level of awareness, or what you might call your true inner reality.
The notion of private thoughts can act like a barrier to connecting with one another. In fact what spirituality describes as ‘the ego’ is made entirely of little barricades that we think of as privacy. Often people live in a private little prison of their secrets, both hoping and terrified that someone might come along and see through them, or expose them.
If you’re afraid of revealing something about yourself, you will be less likely to want to be close to others. But now this is no longer a spiritual theory. It’s a reality. We spend our days turning our lives inside-out via Facebook, Twitter, photo sharing and email. Our phones are subject to inspection not merely by the police and the NSA but by intimate people in our lives who so often take it upon themselves to sift through our communications.
It’s not just the government doing this. We are doing it to ourselves and to one another. And I believe that part of why we don’t seem to mind so much is that it fulfills some deep longing to be known.
So, I ask you this: What would it be like to live as if everything about you were known to everyone? How would you feel if you had nothing at all to hide? What then would be possible?
Weekly Horoscope for Thursday, June 4, 2015 #1052 | By Eric Francis
Aries (March 20-April 19) — There is such a thing as too much integrity. In order to remain standing, every structure must flex and bend. In order to flow, every system must have some resilience, and be able to tolerate some excess strain, a bit of waste and fluctuations in energy. And for you to be happy, you need to be more open to ideas — which means not being threatened by them. By one reading of your solar chart, it would seem that you’re making sure nary a single dangerous thought gets through. But I would ask: are there any dangerous thoughts? And if there are, is it sex that makes them so? And if that seems true, then what is the actual risk? Well, the risk is revealing your humanity; daring to be seen and felt. Your worst fears may take the form of ‘something actually bad’, some irreversible consequence of your choices. I would propose that what you fear is actual unscripted existence; making contact with someone and allowing them to make contact with you, not knowing what’s going to happen next. Remember when you used to live for that kind of thing?
Taurus (April 19-May 20) — Venus joins Jupiter in the angle of your chart associated with family, home and security. It’s going to be there for a while, so you don’t have to rush to get the benefits of this transit. Indeed I would propose that it represents a longterm exploration of something else, which is an experiment in what you can accomplish when your life is reasonably stable and grounded. It’s true that living on the edge of a galaxy on a little planet run by psychopaths, it’s possible never to feel safe or grounded, but if ever there was a time, this is it. Now, how much creativity can you muster up, whether directed at the way you live, or what you do with the privilege of living? In other words, what are you here to create and can you act on that drive? This is not something restricted to a few special activities. It can extend to any activity, whether it’s doing your laundry, painting your masterpiece or plotting the revolution. Think of yourself as a benefactor, breathing life, beauty and value into everyone and everything you touch.
Gemini (May 20-June 21) — Your professional identity or official title is not who you are. Ideally what you do emerges from your sense of who you are and what is the most meaningful to you, though for most people that would be considered a luxury. At the moment you may be experiencing anything from some mild confusion to outright conflict between something related to your job and your sense of self. First, I suggest you not try to work this out so fast. It’s one of the deeper questions that we face in Western culture — working out the whole issue of ‘I am’ as it relates to what we’re supposed to have accomplished by any particular age. I would say that this issue goes far deeper than job, profession or title; we are really talking about how you relate to your mission in being alive. That is not something you find outside yourself. It’s an inner search, where outer clues count for something. Yet is the search really necessary? Don’t you just know? Or are you still in the process of admitting it to yourself? Pay attention — information is coming.
Cancer (June 21-July 22) — Don’t let your fears run away with you over the next couple of weeks; be cool, be patient and — remember, as Lou Reed said, you can’t count on the worst always happening (and he added, it takes a busload of faith to get by). So load up your busload of faith and start singing and clapping. Use anxiety as an opportunity to push your limits. Work from the premise that much of the world is in a frantic state, and therefore you can afford to explore some edgy territory. Let this start in your mind but certainly not end there. The purpose of your life right now is achievement and learning how to have an impact. When you look at anyone else who has ever succeeded at making a splash, they did so by exceeding some limit that was put on them, or that they thought they had to abide by. Said another way, success is a kind of uprising against mediocrity; a revolt against bullshit; the drive to do something that hasn’t been done, if only because it seems interesting and like the thing to do. Fortune favors the bold.
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — Venus has arrived in your sign, where it will be for all but a few weeks between now and Oct. 10. The theme of embodying one’s sense of mission seems to be in the air, and it certainly is a crucial theme for you. Consider yourself in a phase of experimentation, where you’re getting a sense of your depth of commitment to what you do. You have specific ideas about what you believe and what you value, though you don’t always follow them. Now you will get a chance to bring this to full awareness. You seem to be embarking on something promising; something that could lead to fulfillment. Give this a good, solid run; give it all you’ve got. Then you will reach a natural boundary around July 18, when Venus arrives in Virgo. That will begin a review phase. Though it will seem obvious at the time, there is one very specific question that you need to ask yourself, which is not so clear right now. No theory or concept can substitute for the actual, hands-on experience that will help you answer this question.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — Venus has joined Jupiter in your 12th solar house. Somewhere in one of my favorite old astrology books — Astrology: A Cosmic Science by Isabel Hickey — she describes this as the aspect of “two guardian angels.” I’ve always thought that was interesting. I’ll leave you to consider what you would do with that kind of protection. Your astrology is describing a few other things as well. The theme of purpose is going around the zodiac these days. This may be entirely in my imagination (what isn’t?) but the way the combinations of planets and signs are shaking out, that’s what I see. For you, this is about a discovery process, and not just any random one. Your life seems to be focused on one specific revelation that’s going to be hiding behind the scenes for a while. You can have absolute trust that what you’re doing, and what you soon will feel guided to do, is leading you in the right direction. You may have to go on various hunches on the way there, which fits the astrology. I would add one thing: if you want to be ambitious, be friendly. Do everything by arrangement, agreement and accord.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — You are now in the perfect position to develop your professional income. I never quite know what this means for those who work for salaries, though it seems like these days most people have more than one source of income. This could apply to any of them, but especially the one that’s variable — such as based on your creative output or how much of something you can sell or some factor involving the people you know. This variable is now the thing that you can increase, largely due to your reputation. Therefore, be bold and confident about approaching your friends and people in your social networks. Anyone you know is a potential prospect. I don’t mean to imply that your friends and their friends are something to exploit; what I am saying is that commerce is a community commodity and that communication is a commemoration of how we are all here to support one another. What you are doing is a thing of service and therefore, telling people about it is a wholesome thing. Stay on course even if someone whines.
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — Keep financial and contractual plans on hold for as long as possible. You’re not working with all the information you need, and there are still some vital developments yet to come. Until then, work within economic limits and do your best to follow your agreements to the letter and in spirit. Other factors in your chart describe this as a phase of high success and taking a step up in the world, though this is about more than looking good. Go far beyond image, charm or the appearance of trying. What you need are real achievements to your name, and to demonstrate a sense of mission that is driven by goals and results. If you don’t have something tangible to show for your work, looking good will look all the worse, and if you have them, it will look all the better. Saturn is about to return to your sign and emphasize the point that leadership is about what you get done. Saturn is also reminding you that self-leadership is the most important variety. You must be accountable to yourself before you can truly be accountable to others.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — If you’re managing to keep your communications clear with others, and to avoid conflicts, you’re doing beautifully. If not, you must be patient, and give others time to see the errors of their ways. Pushing them is not going to help; you will likely be met by some kind of pushback. And that resistance will likely be misguided and seem to make no sense. Therefore I suggest you tread lightly on any unresolved situation and go into fact-finding mode. The deeper truth that emerges around the time of the Mercury station direct next week will level out power imbalances and bring most of the necessary facts out into the open. Then a real conversation can begin. This astrology may relate to certain circumstances about which you’re not aware, or have a mistaken impression. Therefore, say less and pay attention more. Be alert to conflicting information and above all else, know when you don’t know.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — As a Capricorn you’re supposed to be a master of politics, though lately small gaffes and misunderstandings are giving you and perhaps others the impression that you’re playing out of your league. The question is, what is your league? What’s the right level of society for you to be involved on? Few people ask this question; many people fancy themselves considerably more or less than would be appropriate for their level of dedication and intelligence. I would suggest that you start exactly where you are, and determine what is expected of you, and consider what you can contribute. While you may feel like environmental factors are getting in your way, remember that the world is not as neat and tidy as it once was; information moves much faster and therefore there are more opportunities for misunderstanding. With Mercury still retrograde, you must remain mindful of communication, and seek clarity at every turn of events. This will be especially true as Mercury slows to a station next week. Keep your footing.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — For the next few months you may need to tidy up residual matters from business of the past two years. If you were to make a chronology of that timeframe, you would see how far you’ve come and what you’ve accomplished. Therefore, don’t be discouraged if you are called upon to be extra vigilant and make sure that everything is resolved; that you understand all of the developments and what prompted them; and that you’re fully committed to understanding the details when necessary. On that note, I suggest you lean in the direction of micromanaging whatever resolution of the past you need to involve yourself with — and make sure you have learned everything you need to have learned from what you witnessed and experienced. The bottom line here is that you are responsible for your own life, and for the decisions that are made on your behalf. In truth this is a happy lesson, because it holds the key to much future happiness and success. Therefore, sharpen your pencil and do what needs to be done over the next three months.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — I suggest you breathe life into the forgotten aspects in your life. That might include projects, it might include set-aside desires, goals or plans, and it might involve physical spaces. Let’s start with the latter. Clean out rooms and closets; put your work areas in order; if you’ve been so busy you haven’t used your kitchen in three months, it’s time to move out the old supplies and energy and restock with what you want. If you have a second residence, now is the time to revitalize that, open the windows and allow in the fresh air. As for goals and plans, it would seem that you’ve had to put an emphasis on certain aspects of your life at the expense of others, and now is the time to start balancing that out. I have suggested many times that Pisces needs a second residence or home away from home. This is designed to give the ‘other side’ of your nature a place to come out and play. It can be elaborate (a summer home) or modest (a friend’s place you stay at, or a B&B you visit once a month). Try it out and see what I’m talking about.