American business-man and president-elect of the United States – Donald John Trump is about to control the most powerful surveillance machine in history! Wondering how good or bad it could get? Since the September 11 attacks, the US government gives the president almost unlimited discretion in matters of national security, with few limitations or mechanisms for oversight. A picture is starting to emerge of how the president-elect could use those powers — and it’s not a pretty sight. Think it’s too early?
The US intelligence agencies are among the most powerful forces to ever exist, capable of ingesting and retaining entire nations’ worth of data, or raining down missiles on targets thousands of miles away. The crown jewel of that system is the NSA, and there’s reason to think it will grow even more secretive and voracious in the Trump administration.
The majority of the NSA’s operations are authorized under a little-known presidential mandate called Executive Order 12333, which authorizes collection of data inside and outside US borders for national security purposes. We don’t know how thoroughly the NSA has exploited that authorization in the past, but, EO 12333 will give Trump a clear path to push the authorization even further. More importantly, because of the secrecy shrouding even the most routine NSA policies, we might not have any idea when a change in policy is made.
I want surveillance of certain mosques
At a rally last November, he stated explicitly, “I want surveillance of certain mosques,” a view he maintained in later speeches. Trump also stated he would take similar measures toward the Black Lives Matter movement, calling the group a “threat” and saying “At a minimum, we’re going to have to be watching.
There’s also concern about Trump’s penchant for personal feuds, seen on the campaign trail against the Khan family and Alicia Machado.
Beyond surveillance, the Trump administration will also inherit unprecedented powers to unilaterally kill suspected terrorists. Since the drone programs began, US drone strikes have killed as many as 5,000 people, including at least one US citizen, and none of those powers have been meaningfully weakened under the Obama administration.
In some ways, the problem is larger than even Trump himself. These presidential powers are still new, and Obama is the only president to enter office with them already in place. There’s an involved chain of command when certain strikes are made through the Joint Special Operations Command, but the CIA operates a separate drone strike program that’s far more malleable. The ACLU had urged Obama to curtail those powers before leaving office, but he declined to do so. The result, two ACLU lawyers wrote earlier this year, is that “whoever prevails in November will inherit a sweeping power to use lethal force against suspected terrorists and militants, including Americans.”
Combined with Trump’s outspoken enthusiasm for torture and targeting terrorists’ families, the result could go beyond many of the most barbaric elements of the Bush-era War on Terror.
With Donald Trump about to control the most powerful surveillance machine in history, how good or bad can things get? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and remember to share this post on social media to find out what your friends and colleagues are thinking too.