The Social Firing Squad

When Joseph Stalin wanted to get rid of a General or political dissident, he put them in front of the firing squad, or sent them to the gulag. In contemporary America, those methods may not be necessary. Since these tactics would prove unpopular with Americans anyway, politicians and government power brokers have been working on a new form of firing squad, public embarrassment. The ammunition is acquired in questionable ways from law enforcement, and the NSA might just prove to be the modern day munition makers for removing troublesome public officials and private nags–troublesome for the power brokers that is. We witnessed this dynamic unfold when General Petraeus was publicly shamed and resigned from his position as head of the CIA, even though his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure were almost certainly violated while collecting the information needed to “off him”. In the end this worked out fine for whoever wanted Petraeus gone, because he resigned, so there was no need to prove the information was garnered legitimately.

A former Secret Service agent who guarded President Obama spoke of this dynamic where the end goal is to gather dirt on everyone who might ever become a problem. Then, with the threat of social and career consequences, enforce a lockstep march towards–well, whatever the goals of those in power may be. The former agent, Dan Bongino, is now running for congress, so his words must be taken with a grain of salt. However he claims that the difference between past presidents and the current one in how far they go to use blackmail as a political tactic, is why he is seeking to become a member of congress. Bongino criticizes the NSA spying, saying that it is only a matter of time until the government takes information it has gathered for supposed security reasons, and uses it for political reasons.

You give the government information and it will be abused. It is not a matter of if it’ll be abused, it’s only a matter of when…

When the line between the personal self and the public self… when that line is determined by the government that keeps your information in a trove for release any time they need it, how are you free?

..the bottom line is, having worked inside the government, it will be abused. It is only a matter of time.

…The catch is not “if” we’re doing something wrong. It is “are your private wrongs impacting on my civil liberties?” If not, the government has no business in your life… it’s a red herring…

If you’re not doing something wrong? The question is only whether your private wrongs that have no effect on anyone else become exposed for the government’s benefit.

…It’s only a matter of time before someone slaps an email on your desk from fifteen years ago… and says ‘look what we got against you.’

What happened with General Petraus appears to support Bongino’s claim that the people in the government routinely use data collected by law enforcement to blackmail colleagues and opponents. Jill Kelley, who was dragged through the mud during the Petraeus affair scandal, maintains she has done nothing wrong or unethical, and the FBI violated her rights first by viewing, then by leaking her private e-mails. The insinuation was that there was an inappropriate relationship between her and General Allen (who also resigned), but Kelley claims this is false. She says in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that after reporting harassment over the internet to the FBI and allowing them access to one email, they took the liberty of scooping up any email they found interesting. Later, these and emails sent and received by the stalking suspect Paula Broadwell, were used to get rid of Petraeus (an attempt to silence his testimony on Benghazi, perhaps?), and Kelley was the collateral damage.

…the FBI ignored our request and violated our trust by unlawfully searching our private emails and turning us into the targets of an intrusive investigation without any just cause—all the while without informing us that they had identified the email stalker as Paula Broadwell, who was having an affair with Mr. Petraeus…

Adding insult to injury, the FBI then leaked our identities to the media and distorted the contents of the emails it had illegally obtained, throwing my family into a destructive media vortex.

As a result of the government’s breach of our privacy and trust, camera crews showed up at our door and camped outside our home to question us about false and misleading information leaked to the media from “unnamed” government sources. Reckless speculation and innuendo about an inappropriate relationship with Gen. Allen spread throughout the news media, sullying my reputation and honor, to the great distress of my family. To this day the government has not apologized for its indefensible conduct.

The take away from this is that even if nothing you are doing is illegal, most of us don’t want everything we do to become public. It is one thing when we publish stuff on social media ourselves that could come back to haunt us, but when communicating in ways that are private and expected to remain private, it is not for a third party, especially when that third party is the government, to allow those communications to become public. Even though the official line would surely be that the government maintains the utmost integrity in making sure information collected by the FBI and NSA do not end up in the wrong hands, this has proven to not be the case. It is not enough for the government to assure us that nothing will go wrong, and then apologize when it does go wrong. We need to stop the illegal practice of government collecting, viewing, and storing our personal communications, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. If we do not, then we will continue to see politicians and bureaucrats do unethical things in an attempt to follow orders from above, and hide whatever dirt has been dredged up on them. It may not sound as scary as a firing squad, but the threat of public shame can be just as effective in ensuring orders are followed, even when those orders are unethical, and harmful to individuals and the United States.

3 thoughts on “The Social Firing Squad

  1. Pingback: Government Actively “Trolls” to Shape Online Discourse | Vigilant Vote

  2. Pingback: Government “Authority” is a Recipe for Abuse of Power | Joe Jarvis

  3. Pingback: Government Actively “Trolls” to Shape Online Discourse | Joe Jarvis

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