Who Wants to Know?

“Secrecy is the beginning of tyranny.” –Robert A. Heinlein

I am not a traitor! My phone calls, peculiar musical tastes, and wide-ranging google searches pose no clear and present danger to my country. Well … I did look at a product page on The Anarchists Cookbook once … it just popped up as an extraneous result while hunting for real recipes. But I didn’t order it!

Now I’m trying to grasp the logic here — never my best thing, as my readers are well aware. Apparently, even though my very ordinary daily life has generated all this data my government wants to collect, I am not allowed to know what they have confiscated. Because that was done in sneaky ways with technology I’m also not supposed to know about. The NSA refusal letters don’t exactly say if they tell us they might have to kill us … but it makes you wonder. If knowledge is truly power, as we’ve heard somewhere, then they seem to want it all, like everything else.

The following piece is from 2013, and laws on data collection have been modified since then. A bit. But not even close to half enough, if at all in actual practice. Once we let that proverbial snoopy government camel poke a nostril under our privacy tents, which happened long ago, (did they forget to mention that? so sorry — an honest oversight! old news … so move along!) we’re only too apt to wear their heavy hoofprints forever. And … don’t camels spit?


NSA Rejecting Every FOIA Request Made by U.S. Citizens

Daily Kos * Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 04:48 PM PDT

byDavid Harris Gershon

Clayton Seymour, a 36-year-old IT specialist from Hilliard, Ohio, recently sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the NSA, curious as to whether any data about him was being collected.


What he received in response made his blood boil.

“I am a generally law abiding citizen with nothing I can think of that would require monitoring,” Seymour told me, “but I wanted to know if I was having data collected about me and if so, what.”

So Seymour sent in an FOIA request. Weeks later, a letter from the NSA arrived explaining that he was not entitled to any information. “When I got the declined letter, I was furious,” he told me. “I feel betrayed.”

Seymour had decided to request his NSA file around the time I published a post instructing Americans on how to properly request such files from the FBI and NSA.


A Navy vet and two-time Obama voter who supported the President’s platform of greater governmental transparency, Seymour was shocked by the letter he received.


The letter, which first acknowledges the media coverage surrounding its surveillance systems, quickly moves to justify why none of that data can be obtained by an American citizen in a standard FOIA request:

Seymour isn’t the only one who has recently had an FOIA request denied by the NSA – dozens of citizens have emailed me to say they’ve received a similar, if not identical, letter. And it’s clear from the exemption the NSA is using that every single American is having their FOIA requests similarly rejected.

Unjustly so.

It should be noted that there are legitimate exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act, the first of which states that documents requested may be denied if they are “properly classified as secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy.”


However, the central problem is this: Seymour’s letter from the NSA points to Executive Order 13526, signed by President Obama in 2009, as justification for the NSA’s FOIA exemption.


This order signed by Obama established a uniform system for classifying national security information, and stipulates that “information shall not be considered for classification unless its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to the national security.”

This qualification appears in section 1.4 of the executive order, after which follow many categories of information which may be marked as classified. The category the NSA points to in justifying the classification of all its data is this:

block quote

(c) intelligence activities (including covert action), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology

block quote end

Meaning: the NSA is classifying every single bit of data it receives from ordinary American citizens based on the premise that it has been gathered covertly.

Meaning: the NSA’s advertised justification for not granting FOIA requests is to protect our country. However, the real justification is the NSA’s covert violation of Americans’ Fourth Amendment right not to be subject to unwarranted searches and seizures (in this case of their personal, digital data).

The NSA, it seems, has classified every single piece of data on American citizens that it has seized and saved, even benign data culled from people like Seymour, who are no threat to U.S. national security.

“I believe in the concept of America,” Seymour told me. “[But] not its current execution.”

I sense the Founding Fathers would agree with him.


Originally published at Tikkun Daily |


About l. l. frederick

I'm pretty ordinary, so I find any number of things in the world interesting, among them: books, music, flowers, food, social justice, politics and (sometimes!) people. As for my writing, I've decided that I can be subtle and tasteful when our only problems are esthetic ones. Or when I'm dead, whichever comes first. In the meantime, read at your own risk.
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9 Responses to Who Wants to Know?

  1. tubularsock says:

    Linda …… don’t you worry! Tubularsock has copied out of his copy of The Anarchists Cookbook the recipe for “Baked Bombs Away” and is sending it to you post-haste! Just as an extra bit of kick Tubularsock is going to include Powder-Keg Biscuit Mix as well. Like, don’t blow it all up in one place. Good like with your mission …. this email will self destruct in 5 seconds.

    • Tubularsock, Thanks a lot, you’re a great help! Guess that keep-under-the-radar option is a non-starter? Ah well, thanks for your good comment, and for those yummy recipes! – Linda

  2. I think it’s safest to assume they collect everything – that nothing is secret any more.

    • Sad but true. If only we could bore the NSA bastards into a coma state sifting through all our digital shit! But no, I assume some innocent software does the grunt work. Thanks for your sage comment. – Linda

  3. sojourner says:

    Excellent post, Linda!

    One has to declare allegiance to some thing (claim he/she belongs) in order to become a traitor. When I was young and brainwashed, I stood up and pledged allegiance just like all the other brainwashed kids around me. But I was a minor, and even under this corrupt system of law, minors cannot legally enter into a contract nor be held accountable for one they, in ignorance, make. A pledge/oath is a verbal, legal contract.

    I have no allegiance to any political entity, nor will I ever again! But I do pledge my allegiance, as an individual, to my fellow human beings.


    “The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.” JFK (1961)


    Our parents/grandparents were warned but did nothing, as usual. And JFK was dealt with, and fascism took control!

    And now, “we the people” are reaping what our ancestors, and we, have sown. And I don’t see very many in the x, y and millennial gens to concerned either, which is not a good sign.

    • Sojourner, I like one of Thomas Paine’s assertions of principle –
      “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”
      Not that I’m much good at doing good, or at the brotherhood bit either. On the other hand, dropping narrow, knee-jerk “patriotism” took no effort at all.
      What a fine if painful Kennedy quote, thanks for sharing it, and for your good comments. – Linda

  4. Jay says:

    Keep pushing! There aren’t enough smart people like you so you have to be louder than 3 dumb ones!

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