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Double Speak and the War on Terrorism

Homeland Security and National Security Letters.

Remember reading George Orwell’s novel 1984 in high school? It was hard to imagine what it was like to live in world where the government operated that way. How could they fool the people just by changing the meaning of words? Orwell introduced the concept of doublespeak to explain the manipulative use of language to deceive the people. Timothy Lynch, director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice, has written an article examining the use of double speak, and new vocabulary that has been created during the War on Terror.

Timothy looks at such words as Homeland Security, National Security, Asymmetrical Warfare, Terrorist and Freedom. The term “Homeland Security” has been applied to all sorts of things that have nothing to do with security in order to get funding. Timothy notes that the author of Homeland Security Scams, James Bennett said, that “whatever the color of the security alerts issued by the government, --code orange, code yellow, etc.—the spending light always seems to be green…” But securing spending by deceptive means is hardly new to the War on Terrorism.

What is new, is the way double speak is being used to erode our constitutional protections and freedoms. The Constitution of the United States, Fourth Amendment, provides the citizens “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, house, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by an oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the thing to be seized.” The Constitution, while providing a means for the government to search and seize private property, places limits that does not allow them to search or seize whenever and wherever they would like. Their power is checked by the need for a warrant. In order to receive a warrant they must persuade an impartial judge that the search is reasonable, that they have probable cause. The Bush Administration has found a way around the guarantees that the Constitution provides us. They created a document that empowers federal agents to seize certain records and they threaten the citizens with jail if they disclose to anyone the governments demand for information. The National Security Letters do not require federal agents to go before a judge to issue the letters. As Congressman Bob Barr has noted, “There are no checks and balances whatever on them. It is simply some bureaucrat’s decision that they want information, and they basically just go and get it.” Federal Judge Victor Marrero found that the National Security Letters violated the first and fourth amendment. His ruling is limited to the jurisdiction of his court in New York and the Bush Administration has appealed the decision to higher court. In the meantime the FBI continues to issue National Security Letters in all other parts of the country. The Washington Post reported that they are doing so at the rate of 30,000 a year and that the records, “describe where a person makes and spends his money, with whom he lives and has lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and reads on the web, and who telephones and emails him at home and at work.”

What do you think the framers of the Constitution were trying to protect us from when they wrote the Fourth Amendment? Do you think it was the kind of abuses that could occur with National Security Letters? Does calling a document by something other than a warrant exempt the government from complying with the Constitution of the United States? Look for the second article in this series examining Timothy Lynch’s article, Double Speak and the War on Terrorism, to see other ways in which the Bush Administration is finding ways around the limits placed on government by our Constitution.

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