Yesterday’s SouthCoastToday.com story about a student’s investigation by the Department of Homeland Security is breath stopping. Apparently, the “senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung’s tome on Communism called The Little Red Book“. I have to admit that Mao’s communist manifesto wouldn’t be on my reading list, but like this kid I probably would want it for research on a college paper about communism.
Cold War is over, right? The war on terror is against Muslim extremists. Right? Last I checked, Muslim extremism doesn’t have much in common with atheistic communism. So why is a kid filling out a university library book request on communism, “leaving his name, address, phone number, and Social Security number” getting “visited at his parents’ home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security?” And I have to ask: The Feds are monitoring library book requests now?
On Friday, New York Times reported that, following a secret order signed by President Bush in 2002, the National Security Agency spied on U.S. citizens, using means such as wiretaps, without first obtaining warrants. The newspaper sat on the story for a year–an eternity in the news media, where Internet time is the measure for getting scoops–before finally publishing last week.
Yesterday, the President acknowledged that he authorized the spying. I greatly respect the President’s candor, but I question his judgment. Using the Cold War as appropriate metaphor, hasn’t America repeatedly chastised states that spied on its own citizens, that engaged secret police forces working outside the jurisdiction of real courts?
These disclosures come as legislators ponder the fate of the controversial Patriot Act. Last week, nearly permanent extension of the legislation cleared the House but languished in the Senate. With a December 31 deadline renewal looming, lest the Patriot Act expires, I expect the Bush Administration to push hard to get the votes. But given last week’s disclosures, I wouldn’t want my senators voting for the Patriot Act’s renewal.
I support the government’s efforts to protect its citizens. But I also rallied against Communism in my twenties. I didn’t accept Lenin’s “the ends justify the means” as legitimate, nor the way the former Soviet Union spied on its citizens and created such a climate of fear. I didn’t think the ends justified the means then, and I certainly don’t now.
What kind of state do we live in where one college student’s library request triggers a Department of Homeland Security investigation? I am bothered by the similarities to the Communist police state tactics and philosophy that I objected to and rallied against in my youth.
And didn’t America invade Iraq in part because of the oppressive, secret police state? What’s the moral justification if our government spies on its own citizens, unchecked and unmonitored? Absolutely none.