Ellsberg warns of "surveillance state"


BERKELEY, Calif. - Famous "Pentagon Papers" whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg recently told an audience of students and local residents that when it comes to government spying, the Fourth Amendment and privacy rights, the United States is not simply at a crossroads, but is on a freeway with no exits. In an age of high-tech computing everything can be recorded: Internet history, chat logs, phone records, credit card transactions, etc. This technology has helped advance U.S. surveillance beyond anything the world has ever seen.

"We don't have a police state at this point," Ellsberg said, "but we have a surveillance state."

At his Sept. 24 talk, "Manning, Snowden, Syria and the U.S. Constitution," Ellsberg warned that it wouldn't take much to tip the U.S. over to a police state, unless Americans grapple with the assault on civil liberties and privacy.

"Will we or will we not do anything about it?" he asked.

Ellsberg is well known for his antiwar activism and releasing the "Pentagon Papers" in 1971. With the assistance of colleague Anthony Russo, Ellsberg copied 7,000 pages of a top-secret federal report that documented the escalation of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam from 1945-1967.

Ellsberg defended the current crop of whistleblowers, including Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Using federal laws based on the Espionage Act of 1917, the Obama administration is prosecuting leakers of classified information at a significantly increased rate than any preceding administration. 

However, Ellsberg said, these federal laws are supposed to target those that would aid a foreign enemy with classified U.S. military information that might be used to harm the U.S. Ellsberg claimed the information leaked by Manning, Snowden and himself could not be used by an enemy to attack the U.S., but would instead help inform people.

He said Snowden expressed concerns that the U.S. Congress was being lied to about the extent of the National Security Agency wiretapping programs. These programs bring into question U.S. citizens' protection against unlawful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Also, the prosecution of Snowden, Manning, and others who release this type of information to the press brings into question the protection of First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Ellsberg pointed out that massive spying by the executive branch and the accumulation of damaging information on individuals could potentially be used against another branch of government, like Congress, to influence votes. This would fundamentally upset the balance of our separation of powers in federal government, he said.

Ellsberg then pivoted to Syria and President Obama's response to the use of chemical weapons on August 21.

Ellsberg noted that despite the push by the president's advisors for the use of military force without congressional approval, Obama was simply following the U.S. Constitution, which only allows Congress to declare war.

Ellsberg advocated for more restrictions on the executive branch to unilaterally authorize military actions in the future.



Photo: Daniel Ellsberg speaks in support of Pvt. Chelsea Manning. (CC)


Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • Thanks, People's World for another great article.

    Lest we not forget the Bush administration's implementation of the Patriot Act which exploded open the door that was protecting many of our civil rights, protection from unlawful surveillance, and personal privacy at a time of extreme vulnerability in this country.

    Unfortunately the actions of the Busch Cabal has spilled over into the current and, for that matter, future administrations.

    With the right balance of liberal voting power in our senators and congressmen in future administrations, the rights of the working-class can find its way back ito us. This requires the working-class to unite and make known our voice.

    Let the workers of this country build a world that's actually worth living in without fear of elite class oppression and all its related nightmares.

    Keep up the great work, People's World.

    Posted by Ron Andree, 10/11/2013 10:45am (2 years ago)

  • We can agree with Daniel Ellsberg that 1st and 4th amendment rights are seriously threatened under the Obama administration policies and actions.
    Especially does this apply to immigrants and African Americans, Latinos, Native Peoples, and women(and especially again, women of color).
    Civilian and executive branch rule over the military should apply also, to all military and intelligence information, and the proliferating surveillance that feeds this.
    Any administration, including the Obama administration, which does not protect the changing, living, breathing, 1st and 4th amendment rights of its citizenry, in new conditions, does not have a living understanding of how the core of our democracy is protecting it against all tyranny, whether it is old, new, past, present or future.
    The witch hunts and classic anti-communist scourges of the 1st and 2nd Red Scares could re-emerge as hunts to stamp out the whole Constitution and its Bill of Rights, in the wake of the binary "information age" of the microchip and video.
    We need leadership now, which thoroughly appreciates this danger, this danger of new age tyranny, and which will act to counter it, with democratic safeguards.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 10/09/2013 2:52pm (2 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments