The revelation by Edward Snowden that the NSA is systematically monitoring the so-called metadata of millions of American citizens with absolutely no connection to terrorists has created a firestorm of controversy across the country. Civil libertarians and Tea Party patriots have found themselves on the same side in arguing such intrusion are unconstitutional and a threat to the very fabric of our nation’s foundations.
Somewhat lost in the debate is the fact that one group specifically targeted by such NSA snooping represents those to whom we owe the greatest indebtedness for our freedom. John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, has warning of the actions of the NSA in relation to military veterans since 2009. Whitehead provides ample evidence and testimony of first-hand witnesses that the NSA routinely monitors the Internet posts and telephone conversations of U.S. military returning from Afghanistan.
Whitehead recently told WND that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies methodically look for “anti-Obama views that can be interpreted to reflect psychological problems of sufficient seriousness to disqualify the veteran from ever owning a firearm.” He adds that the National Security Agency downloads one trillion communications on the Internet per month, including posts to various websites, emails, instant message communications and texting messages.
This monitoring of returning military veterans is neither haphazard nor unintentional. In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security launched Operation Vigilant Eagle, a program in which veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are routinely branded as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.” Even more troubling is the fact that these veterans are being targeted under the guise of caring for their mental health. They are increasingly represented as time bombs that may require intervention.
Case in point is the ordeal 26-year-old Marine, Brandon Raub, has endured due to his Facebook posts stating his views on corruption in the Federal government. Raub was arrested and detained last year without warrant and ultimately with no charges due to posts he had made on the social media network that raised red flags. This decorated Marine, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, was detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys.
“For government officials to not only arrest Brandon Raub for doing nothing more than exercising his First Amendment rights but to actually force him to undergo psychological evaluations and detain him against his will goes against every constitutional principle this country was founded upon,” Whitehead said.
Dee Rybiski, an FBI spokeswoman in Richmond, said there was no Facebook snooping by her agency. “We received quite a few complaints about what were perceived as threatening posts,” she said. “Given the circumstances with the things that have gone on in the country with some of these mass shootings, it would be horrible for law enforcement not to pay attention to complaints.”
Whitehead observed that some of the posts in question were made on a closed Facebook page that Raub had created so he questioned whether anyone from the public could have complained about them.
In a hearing on August 20, 2012 government officials pointed to Raub’s Facebook posts as the sole reason for their concern and for his continued incarceration. Ignoring Raub’s explanations about the fact that the Facebook posts read out of context, Raub was sentenced to up to 30 days’ further confinement in a psychiatric ward. While in the psych ward, Raub reported being interrogated by medical staff about his views about the government and threatened by a doctor with brainwashing. Raub’s legal team, provided by The Rutherford Institute, immediately began petitioning the courts for his release.
Thankfully Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett declared the government’s case lacking factual allegations and ordered Raub immediately released. However, for the tens of thousands of individuals detained—wrongfully or otherwise—under civil commitment laws every year, regaining their freedom is nearly impossible, predicated as it is on a bureaucratic legal and judicial system.
Regardless of which side of the debate concerning Edward Snowden and his outing the actions of the NSA, there is no defensible reason for targeting returning veterans. The truth is that practically no one in power in Washington learned anything new in the Snowden revelations. Senators from both parties in the intelligence loop were well aware of Prism and other NSA efforts to aggregate data on innocent Americans. The Pentagon is not only aware of such targeting of discharged veterans but is complicit in the ill-treatment of these men and women. PTSD has become a convenient label to keep track of highly skilled people who might pose a perceived threat to the powers that be.
We as Americans owe an apology to these valiant warriors and a promise to not be silent until this travesty is corrected.