“If you’re not doing anything wrong then you don’t have anything to fear.” That’s the argument most often used by defenders of Bush’s secret domestic spying programs and too often it works because it sounds very reasonable. The problem, of course, is that the government is made up of individuals who sometimes have their own personal agendas or, more often, are just fucking incompetent. Thus it’s usually a good idea to have transparency in as much of the government as possible, especially when doing things such as amassing information on potential suspects in the War!On!Terror!.
Otherwise you end up with situations like this one where students who engaged in peaceful demonstrations opposing military recruiters at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz ended up in a database that’s supposed to be used for tracking foreign terrorism:
The students were angry when they turned up in the database of a Pentagon program called Threat and Local Observation Notice, or TALON, which the government started in 2003 as a way to collect data that could help stop terrorist attacks. Officials have acknowledged that the reports on protests should not have been included.
In the Santa Cruz and Berkeley reports, the source of information was listed as an agent for Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service. The reports were filed by the 902nd Military Intelligence Group, the Army’s largest counterespionage unit.
“This raises questions about whether the Department of Homeland Security tasked somebody to gather information about anti-war activities,” said Mark Schlosberg, police practices policy director for the ACLU’s Northern California office.
The ACLU managed to find out about the additions via a request under the Freedom of Information Act, but that act doesn’t apply to all government programs and it’s always difficult to question programs you don’t know about because they’ve been kept secret. The Bush Administration’s argument that leaks about the secret domestic wiretap program and the SWIFT banking checks have damaged the utility of critical tools in the fight against terrorism is utter bullshit. Does the Administration really think there are terrorists out there who are dumb enough not to assume that the U.S. would be tapping phones like crazy or looking into any electronic monetary transactions they engaged in? Which isn’t to say that wiretaps and checking SWIFT isn’t a good idea as there are likely to be situations where the terrorists have no choice but to use those methods, but it’s idiotic to think that keeping it secret is going to fool the terrorists into a false sense of security.
What keeping it secret does do is protect the administration from the fallout when the inevitable abuses—intentional or accidental—do occur. “Just trust us” isn’t a good argument as past history has shown many times before.