What Rand Paul Learned From Secret Security Hearings

The number of Americans who have been spied on is too high to count.

Gazillions. That's the number of times the federal government has spied on Americans since 9/11 through the use of drones, legal search warrants, illegal search warrants, federal agent-written search warrants and just plain government spying. This is according to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who, when he asked the government to tell him what it was doing to violate our privacy, was given a classified briefing. The senator -- one of just a few in the U.S. Senate who believes that the Constitution means what it says -- was required by federal law to agree not to reveal what spies and bureaucrats told him during the briefing.

The rules for classified briefings of members of Congress on areas of government behavior that the government wants to keep from its employers -- the American people -- are a real Catch-22. Those rules allow representatives and senators to interrogate government officials about government behavior that they are afraid to reveal, and they require those officials to answer honestly and completely. But the rules keep the interrogations secret, and they expressly prohibit members of Congress from telling anyone what they have learned.

So Paul and his colleagues who joined in the secret briefing now know the terrible truth about the government watching us, but they cannot reveal what they know. Paul -- who is the son of Rep. Ron Paul, the greatest congressional defender of limited government in our era -- when asked what he learned at these secret briefings and aware that he could be prosecuted for telling the truth, chose a fictitious word to describe the vast number of violations of privacy at the hands of federal agents: gazillions. Paul's personal courage in using a word like gazillions to convey an oblique message of truth in the face of an unjust law that commanded his silence reminded me of St. Thomas More's silence in the face of an unjust law that commanded his assent to the king's headship of the church.

The feds are no happier with the senator's personal courage than the king was with St. Thomas More's, but there is not much they can do about it. If you check out your dog-eared dictionary, you will find that if it is listed at all, it gets a mention as slang. Yet most of us hearing or seeing that word understand it to mean some huge -- perhaps even incalculable -- number.

The point here is terrifying. If the government derives its powers from the consent of the governed, how can it do things to us to which we have not consented? And when it does these things -- like send a drone over your back yard to learn who is coming to your Saturday barbeque or to see what fertilizer you are using in your vegetable garden or to take a peek into your living room or bedroom -- and when the laws the government has written prevent our elected representatives from telling us what it is doing, we are at the doorsteps of tyranny. The government gave Paul the distinct impression that it was afraid of our exercise of our personal freedoms, and thus it needs to watch us as we do so. This is the same government whose stated principal purpose is to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, and thus personal freedom.

What has become of the Jeffersonian value of the primacy of the individual over the government in a free society? How have we lost the American value that the government works for us, and we don't work for the government? What remains of the constitutionally guaranteed right to be left alone?

The answer to these questions goes to the nature of human freedom and personal courage. Freedom lies in our hearts, but to survive, it must do more than just lie there. Its essence is the exercise of unfettered choices, and the unfettered choices we make address our perpetual yearning for truth. This is a natural process that -- just like the muscles in our bodies -- will atrophy if unused.

So, when the government scares us into the disuse of freedom, we have only ourselves to blame when Big Brother comes calling. And when he does come, on his face there will be no smile.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • robc||

    I see a way around the Catch-22.

    Couldnt Sen Paul now introduce a bill that specifically and coincidentally bans the acts that the government has been doing.

    He wouldnt be releasing any info, he would just be writing a privacy bill, based on knowledge he has gained. He cant release the knowledge, but he can use it, hence the reason congressmen can learn it.

    And if in the process of writing the bill, the American people make inferences, that is on us, not him.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Everyone knows what they are doing, "proof" of those acts inferred from Paul's bill would be pretty moot.

    This is what we wanted (and deserve), because we're retarded.

  • Drake||

    He's a Senator, sponsor a bill that strips them of confidentiality and sovereign immunity.

    It won't stop until citiezens see what's going on and the criminals get tossed in jail.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    That would never pass. robc's idea is a good one, but instead of a single bill it might be better to take the more egregious abuses and target them individually.

  • Rob||

    Senator Paul should just reveal everything. Would the government really go after a sitting Senator? Arresting a Senator for exposing the government's widespread domestic spying program have the potential to blow up in the Fed's face in a very nasty way.

  • Constitution Advocate||

    As long as he made his speech in the Senate, Rand couldn't be prosecuted due to Congressional immunity, so if he wants to talk about it he can.

    Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution: The Senators and Representatives ... and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

    This was used in the release of the Pentagon Papers back in the 70s (see Gravel v. United States).

  • mad libertarian guy||

    It's pretty funny that you think that Paul wouldn't be prosecuted, even if he explicitly follows the rules set out in the Constitution which would allow him to spill the beans.

    Those in power have no time for the Constitution.

    You ain't been around here long, have you?

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Commas are IMPORTANT. Don't believe me? Just take the one out of the last sentence in that article.

  • ||

    Why did I take the time to check that.. WHY?!

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Why did I take the time to check that.. WHY?!

    Because Pragmatics is fun!

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    I'm asking myself the same question. I can't argue with the sentiment. I wouldn't be smiling either.

  • ||

    Nice. Now get the fuck already.

  • Lord Humungus||

    yes, commas, are, the, last, bastion, of, freedom.

  • sloopyinca||

    ^^Must be read in Shatner's voice for full effect^^

  • Auric Demonocles||

    The Shat only uses periods. Or ellipses, and let's be real, those are just 3 periods all together.

  • Lord Humungus||

    just 3 periods all together

    ewwwww! /teenage girl

  • Auric Demonocles||

    It's a horror known only to the poor men who have lived in a house with 3 women.

  • ||

    I once had three teenage daughters and a wife going through menopause. I used to drink a lot.

  • Bruce Majors for Congress||

    Gay is good!

    Unless you are a lesbian and then you and your wife are at your most unhappy together.

    Poor fears.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    I hereby denounce commas.

  • $park¥||

    What are commas really other than a construct of weak minds who have to slow down conversation and take periodic breaks so that they have the time to get things straight.

  • ||

    And how about those fucking question marks? Fuck that shit.

    This is the last time I'm using them.

    OCCUPY GRAMMAR

    WE ARE THE 99%

  • $park¥||

    OCCUPY GRAMMAR

    Do you think anybody actually thinks grammatically correctly no of course not your brain just emanates thoughts that you have to try to collect and turn into some kind of coherent linguistic act that a person conversing with you will have some chance of understanding well fuck them if they are too slow to follow I haven't got time to hold anybody's hand and slow down just for them

  • ||

    I haven't got time to hold anybody's hand and slow down just for them

    ------------

    yeah being jobless sacks of broken hammers with nothing to do we occutards are LIVIN ON THE EDGE MUHFUCKER aint got no time for grammar or employment yo

    peace in the midle east

  • Whiterun Guard||

    That's your answer to everything. Next thing you know you'll be denouncing genocide and colonialism.

  • Anomalous||

    Punctuation can determine religion.

    Christianity: What a friend we have in Jesus!
    Judaism: What, a friend we have in Jesus?

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    I just haaaaaaaad to look. That was funny.

    And at least it wasn't one of SugarFree's links, which I learned long ago not to link unless I wanted to have nightmares for a week.

  • SugarFree||

    I only tempt. The sin is when you give in.

  • Generic Stranger||

    There's no way that was unintentional...

  • Loki||

    That works too. I wouldn't expect the government to smile while going bukkake (bukkakeing?) on our faces.

  • ||

    http://s8.postimage.org/sa1vi0.....domain.jpg

    Elect High Emperor Ebony Messiah to ensure the evil Rethuglicants don't violate our civil liberties! He's our only hope!

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    My life for YOU!!!

  • Randian||

    "Cibola! Bumpity bump!"

  • Agile Cyborg||

    "we have only ourselves to blame..."

    I refuse to be lumped into the suburbanized collective of simple-minded mortgage-paying authoritarians who've destroyed this country, Andrew. Clearly, there are many doing their part to stem the tide of growing American totalitarianism. Unfortunately, the submissive nature of patriotic militarization that parasitically infects the vast majority of Americans continually overwhelms efforts to promote and protect the Open Society.

    Rebuilding the mainstream mind (which votes in the idiocracy) to reject the compulsion to bow to hierarchy and power distributions is the first step toward liberating this country from the neck-choking bureaucracy of legalistic imperialism.

  • $park¥||

    Good luck with all that.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    there are many doing their part to stem the tide of growing American totalitarianism

    I personally try to break the law as often as I can, every day, and have since I was 16. Not in any way that violates someone else's rights - that would be wrong.

    Nope - just the stuff that's basically the gummint exercising it's authoritah boner.

    Small thing, but I do it ever day. Plus, I don't vote for dickheads like Obama, McCain, Boooooosh, Jennifer Granholm....although, unfortunately, I and others have been washed away by the tidal wave of simple-minded, mortgage-paying suburbanites who like the Authoritah State.

    I'll keep protesting and Breakin' the Law...

  • $park¥||

  • some guy||

    I personally try to break the law as often as I can, every day, and have since I was 16.

    You just smoke pot every day and call it good, don't you?

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Does that not fit the bill?

  • Bruce Majors for Congress||

    We need mass tax resistance and evasion, like southern Europe. But more so.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I fail to see what the suburbs have to do with anything. One can find authoritarians everywhere, be they city mice or country mice.

  • ||

    I'm just a regular Joe with a regular job. I'm your average white suburbanite slob. I like football and porno and books about war. I've got an average house with a nice hardwood floor, my wife and my job, my kids and my car, my feet on my table, and a Cuban cigar.

    BUT SOMETIMES THAT JUST AIN'T ENOUGH TO KEEP A MAN LIKE ME INTERESTED.
    NO, I GOTTA GO OUT AND HAVE FUN AT SOMEONE ELSE'S EXPENSE.

    Yeah, yeah.

    I drive really slow in the ultra-fast lane while people behind me are going insane.

    I use public toilets and I piss on the seat. I walk around in the summertime saying, "How about this heat?"

    Sometimes, I park in handicapped spaces while handicapped people make handicapped faces.

    I'M AN ASSHOLE.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Cuban cigar.

    You criminal! You must be dealt with.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Actually, Leary is a Masshole.

    Jus' sayin'

  • ||

    An Internet -- you have won it.

    *Hands HM a platinum, ruby-encrusted Internet*.

  • Bruce Majors for Congress||

    Viva la revolucion!

  • Agile Cyborg||

    I'm utilizing the term 'suburbanized' metaphorically to describe imposed group-think which is the bedding rock of your average and typically over-regulated HOA or NA. Sure, there are authoritarians all throughout the strata of society, but they are all largely submissive and legalistic hence my 'suburbanization' label.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I see. "Levittown-ized" might have been an even better term.

  • Randian||

    Cool story bro.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    This is the same government whose stated principal purpose is to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, and thus personal freedom.

    "The mission has changed. Get on board, soldier, or we'll have to shoot you right here where we stand...."

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Yeah, you'd better alter it further. I'll sit out the whole season and then you're stuck with Kevin Kolb at QB, sucker.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Well, I am wearing an NFL jersey this morning, but it's not the Cardinals.

  • Tim||

    The mass arrest list has already been drawn up. When the President calls the FBI director and gives the codeword it will all be over in 24 hours.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Arrest? Too risky for officer safety and too slow. Drone them.

  • Spoonman.||

    It would either be too small to be effective or to large to be done quickly.

  • Ken Shultz||

    When asked what he learned at these secret briefings and aware that he could be prosecuted for telling the truth, [he]chose a fictitious word to describe the vast number of violations of privacy at the hands of federal agents: gazillions.

    The loss of our liberty like this is a direct result of our cowardice and our apathy regarding our rights, and we really shouldn't blame our politicians for it.

  • $park¥||

    Yes we should, they just don't deserve all of the blame.

  • ||

    If the government derives its powers from the consent of the governed...

    That is crazy talk. Please report to your nearest FEMA camp immediately for re-education.

  • ||

    Can I at least choose the method of my summary execution?

  • $park¥||

    Sure, either a red hot poker up the ass or a white hot wire through the eye into your brain. Your choice.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Psst, psst, boss, we're actually all out of white hot wire right now...

  • $park¥||

    Then bring in ... the comfy chair.

  • ||

  • Pro Libertate||

    I didn't expect some sort of Spanish Inquisition.

  • $park¥||

    NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Death by snusnu?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Apparently the squirrels hate Sununu or Shaheen.

  • Mr. Soul||

    Have you any idea how it feels to be a Fembot living in a Manbot's Manputer's world?

  • Auric Demonocles||

    All I know is this gold says that was the best mission ever!

  • Lord Humungus||

    Death or Mau Mau?

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Report to the U.S. Army you mean?

    http://info.publicintelligence.....lement.pdf

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If the government derives its powers from the consent of the governed, how can it do things to us to which we have not consented?

    You'd be surprised to what the governed in this country tacitly consent. People are idiots.

  • sarcasmic||

    If the government derives its powers from the consent of the governed, how can it do things to us to which we have not consented?

    Government derives its power from the fact that it has agents who can kill anyone who gets in the way, and no one can do a damn thing about it.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Well I at least plan to make a big scene when I die. And nothing artsy fartsy either. Just loud, annoying, really long, and absolutely pathetic.

    Like a Roland Emmerich film. OH YEAH I WENT THERE.

  • ||

    oh no u DID-UN

    2012 was the best movie ever FO SHOW

  • sarcasmic||

  • Whiterun Guard||

    I can't watch it, but if it's Paul Ruebens' death scene from Buffy, then yes, like that only louder, longer, and much more pathetic.

  • sarcasmic||

    How'd you guess?

  • A. Freeman||

    And just why do you think the Founders wrote a Bill of Rights?

    The longer it remains minimally molested, the better our chances to return to the foundation precepts are.

  • Fluffy||

    Here's the problem:

    The Constitution explicitly empowers the Congress to make its proceedings secret.

    Frankly, I see no authorization to allow the Executive Branch to declare secrets, but the Congress can declare its own proceedings secret.

    That means that if Paul is sitting in a committee chair getting a briefing and the Congress declares the proceedings secret, it's totally constitutionally kosher. And if he reveals the secret, it's actually an act undertaken in defiance of the Constitution.

    I don't see a good way around it.

  • Being Waterboarded||

    If only there were a way to make alterations to the Constitution...

    Oh, you mean no REALISTIC - more than a snowball's chance-in-hell of happening - way around it.

    Nobody has banned hyphens, dashes, or other variants of straight lines yet.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    "Straight" lines?

    gay-basher.

  • Scaliwag||

    "A federal judge ruled against two Hawaii women who want to get married, saying that changes to the state's marriage laws should come from legislators."

    As a form of protest, progressives should ban any product produced in Hawaii. BHO comes to mind.

  • Scaliwag||

    Wrong thread.

  • Ron||

    Actually I believe he can reveal what was said. The same way the pentagon papers were revealed, by a congressman speaking on the house floor. That makes it legal since you can't arrest a congressperson while conducting government business.
    A certain politician who had bribe money in his refrigerator was also able to skirt the law by claiming that rule but in that case it should not apply but he got away with it because Bush didn't want to look like a racist.

  • Ted S.||

    Each House is the judge of its own rules and returns.

    Or something like that; I've probably slightly misquoted the Constitution.

  • The Derider||

    The headline begs the question: How high can Rand Paul count?

    1,2,3,4... Gazillion?

  • An0nB0t||

    Your comment raises the question of whether you know what beg the question means.

  • The Derider||

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B.....dern_usage

    Many English speakers use "begs the question" to mean "raises the question," or "impels the question," and follow that phrase with the question raised,[12] for example, "this year's deficit is half a trillion dollars, which begs the question: how are we ever going to balance the budget?"

  • An0nB0t||

    "Millions of people are wrong just like me. That makes me right. Being right is my for-tay."

    Best advice is to keep trying. That GED won't earn itself.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    Yes. Many people are ignorant and/or stupid. Just like you. I don't need a Wikipedia link for that.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Bah. Why would it be damaging to "national security" if the public knows how many Americans are spied upon?

  • An0nB0t||

    Anything that could cost an elected official his job is a matter of national security.

    In winter, the Obamas burn FOIA request forms to heat the White House.

  • NeonCat||

    I hope they have secret carbon offsets for that.

  • A. Freeman||

    A bill to defund/unfund the pernicious spying activity would be just as effective. No money, no activity (in theory).

  • Bruce Majors for Congress||

    In 2009 I was interviewed by the Secret Service, in a long process that reminded me of the Keystone Cops.

    It began with an SS agent calling my home phone and leaving me a message that he needed to speak to me. I assumed this was related to my Facebook and other activity critical of Oabama-Pelosi-Reid where I often made allusions to the French Reolution or to the house falling on the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz etc. I thought it was so lame that they called and asked me to return their call I ignored them.

    A few days later my neighbor told me the Secret Service had been outside my door at 10:30 am ringing the bell, so she had talked to them. We were both curious about why the SS would be looking for someone at 10:30 am on a weekday. And why they could not see from my cell phone and lap top which were on that I was 2 blocks away.

    My neighbor said they asked her extremely stupid sounding question, including what I looked like. Presumably they have access to a drivers license database. Annoyed, my neighbor, a former deputy to a Clinton Administration Department Secretary, told one agent ilooked a little like him.

  • Bruce Majors for Congress||

    I did not return the call.

    Weeks later I was at an Annapolis, Maryland apartment I was renting. There was a knock on the door. A tall, built and extremely beautiful man identified himself as an SS agent and wanted to interview me, I took him to the Starbucks across the street where he brought out a sheaf of xeroxed forms with questions like my Social Security number, weight, height, and eye color. He admitted they had access to my Social Security number and did not need me to give it. He then proceeded to mis-guess my weight and height in ways that were flattering, and to look me in the eye and ask my eye color. I told him he could obviously see for himself. He then asked many questions about my possession or proficiency with weapons.

    In the course of the interview he did list for me various email addresses or accounts I had, particularly the one I used to reply to gay dating websites. He also told me they knew I had given money to Ron Paul and to the Libertarian Party (which anyone can find out by going to OpenSecrets.org). I asked him how these things were relevant, and informed him that I had been blogging about my interactions with his agency to date.

  • Zap Powerz||

    I infer the worst and expect the worst from the US govt. I plan and live accordingly.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    "...but they cannot reveal what they know."

    Bullshit. Just fucking do it anyway. It is the only way shit will get taken care of.

  • SikFuk||

    Thanks for writing this Judge! Always good to hear from ya, and it's a great article as-well.

  • BobDidit||

    Between the GOP and the defense contractors and the Koch Bros they probably think elections are a waste of time the president should really be a CEO appointed by the leading percentage of share holders of all major corporations they just have a meeting once every couple of years and pick one they would say enie meanie mynea moe..YOU its your turn...of course a CEO could do a better job and they wouldn't have to spend so much money to keep their politicians in power just put em on the payroll as yes men..Yeah that's the ticket why not anoint a corporate King yeah that's the new teabag policy ..why the very nerve of having debates and letting people(common Knobs) decide what is good for this country when a newly appointed king could just make all these decisions for us and we could all sleep better not having to worry about all these stinking cumbersome issues...yawwwwn I am getting sleepy thinking about this new prospect ...ahhh no more worries..just peaceful sleep......but hey what about breakfast..hmm ooops oh crap we dont have nothing to eat...

  • shipley130||

    How can we exercise our freedoms when we can't sue the government in many cases and then must sue the government in other cases? Our elected officials have been traitors for at least a century.

  • Niko||

  • Emily West||

    And the EO signed on October 26th will only make things worse. Read the whole thing through and it keeps mentioning "security threats". It would be nice to know what these jeepers creepers are.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement