Citizen! Were you under the misapprehension that the terrorist-sympathizing Supreme Court had ruled long ago that law enforcement had to get an actual warrant before accessing the content of your phone calls? Has that thought been keeping you up at night, because it allows people to express potentially un-American thoughts without the FBI being able to listen in and protect us? Well, fear no longer: your friendly neighborhood G-Man is on the case!
Glenn Greenwald reports on former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente’s insistence that the FBI is able to “capture” “all” the content of our phone calls “as we speak” and that “all digital communications in the past” are accessible to law enforcement. Clemente, the subject of a panting, positively testosterone-dripping feature article in Esquire magazine in 2011, was a guest on Erin Burnett’s show on CNN. She asked about accessing the content of past conversations between suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his wife Katherine Russell:
BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It’s not a voice mail. It’s just a conversation. There’s no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?
CLEMENTE: “No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It’s not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.
BURNETT: “So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.
CLEMENTE: “No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”
Clemente goes on to observe that “no digital communication is secure.” Greenwald comments:
By [this], he means not that any communication is susceptible to government interception as it happens (although that is true), but far beyond that: all digital communications – meaning telephone calls, emails, online chats and the like – are automatically recorded and stored and accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is.
What use are long-established legal norms like spousal privilege, where a wife cannot be forced to testify against her husband, if their private conversations are recorded and accessible to the FBI anyway, even if they were not at the time under investigation for anything?
What use, of course, is having a Fourth Amendment, or here in Massachusetts an Article XIV of the state constitution, if law enforcement has quietly arrogated to itself the right to collect everyone’s communications ahead of their being suspected of any crime?
We should, I think, be grateful to Clemente. We already know that law enforcement agents are urged not to talk in public about what their surveillance systems can do. Maybe he was so lost in his own Tim Clemente, Terrorist Hunter awesomeness that he forgot that memo. But most seasoned observers of the surveillance state have little doubt that he’s telling the truth.