Privacy SOS

Terror Tuesday: Beware RomneySpeak and the new normal

Will the White House still have the equivalent of “Terror Tuesday” sessions to discuss drone “kill lists” if Mitt Romney moves in next January?

We don’t know if he would, like President Obama, personally want to doom particular individuals by signing off on hit lists. But after last night’s debate, we do know that he is a big fan of the drone strike program.

"I believe we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world," Romney announced, while the President was spared any questions on the program and its civilian casualties by moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS. 

Romney continued: "And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that and entirely, and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology, and believe that we should continue to use it, to continue to go after the people that represent a threat to this nation and to our friends."

A “threat to our friends”: it sounds like a Romney presidency would be as reluctant to apply any kind of international law and checks and balances to the “global killing program” as the Obama administration has been.   

Are you a friendly ally with an opponent you want to get rid of? Make the case that he is a “bad guy” and we can take care of it. 

And now that the CIA is, in the words of The Washington Post’s Greg Miller, “urging the White House to approve a significant expansion of the agency’s fleet of armed drones, a move that would extend the spy service’s decade-long transformation into a paramilitary force,” there may soon be an even larger drone fleet ready to do the President’s bidding. 

If there is a change of administration, will the public care that the new President would inherit a drone fleet “operating in numerous countries with zero oversight from the judiciary or Congress, with American citizens in the crosshairs? Obama and his supporters built that. It would be ready for President Romney on day one,”  The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf writes.

Would the public care that Romney – who for the past five years or so has refused to call waterboarding torture — might well again make torture official American policy?

Would the public care that it had elected a man who, as governor of Massachusetts, promoted the virtues of a Stasi-like surveillance state, a subject that was entirely absent from all three presidential debates? 

A speech that Governor Romney delivered to the Heritage Foundation on September 14, 2005 reveals him to be an enthusiastic cheerleader for the concept of marshaling technology and citizen snoops to detect and fight “the enemy within.”

I’m talking about monitoring people who come here from foreign countries that are terrorist-sponsoring countries, individuals that may have been taught at places where terrorist training is going on.

“We have 120 colleges and universities in Massachusetts, roughly.  How many individuals are coming to our state and going to those institutions who have come from terrorist-sponsoring states?  Do we know where they are?  Are we tracking them?  How about people who are in settings – mosques, for instance – that may be teaching doctrines of hate and terror?  Are we monitoring that?  Are we seeing who’s coming in, who’s coming out?  Are we carrying out surveillance on those individuals that are coming from places that are sponsoring domestic terrorism?

He goes on to talk about the role that “eyes and ears” and “fusion centers” such as the one he created in Massachusetts can play. 

It is the state’s role to take advantage of the one intelligence source where we have a substantial advantage relative to the terrorists, and that is the advantage of lots of eyes and ears.  It is the state’s role to find out how to gather the data from its citizens, from the private sector, from the local police departments, from the water and meter readers and so forth.  It’s the state’s responsibility to figure out how to gather that information and interpret it, analyze it, fuse it together, and send it to Washington where it can be connected with eyes and ears from other states and foreign intelligence to determine where real threats exist.

So it was our conclusion that each state should organize a fusion center….

We said that what we need from Washington is a clear pipeline where you take classified data that you’ve gathered from around the world and around the country and analyze it, decide what’s actionable, and send it to us through a single pipeline in an unclassified format so that we can send it out to our local law enforcement and act on it…that pipeline can work in reverse.  What we gather at our fusion centers we can send back, and it can be integrated by you in Washington…

I believe we should be spending much more money, hiring more people to do the intelligence and counter-terrorism work inside our country.

With 4.2 million people in the US having some kind of security clearance some five years after this speech was delivered, and over a million having Top Secret security clearance, it would seem that Governor Romney has got his way. 

A US Senate subcommittee has recently confirmed what we have long expected: the fusion centers central to Governor Romney’s vision of how to keep the nation safe have been both an extremely expensive waste of time and dangerous to civil liberties. 

But we can expect fusion centers to be devouring resources and ensnaring innocent “suspects” in its databases for years to come since, as in so many other “national security” matters, there has been virtually no daylight between the major political parties on the emerging surveillance state.

If this presidential campaign has illuminated little else of substance, it has certainly exposed just how entrenched and beyond debate the “new normal” has become.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.