How The Government Made Me A Dissident

I sometimes say the government turned me into a dissident — after I spent 14 years at the CIA and two more at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I only say it half-jokingly. While I’m proud of winning this year’s PEN Center’s First Amendment award, I never intended to make a career out of being at odds with the government.

Sometimes, though — like when I spent two years in prison for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program — it’s felt like the government’s gone out of its way to be at odds with me.

And it’s clear that our government demonizes people who disagree with the official line. Things got bad for anyone who disagrees with the official line right after 9/11.

We slid down the rabbit hole with the passage of the so-called PATRIOT Act. Enacted six weeks after the terrorist attacks, the law legalized actions against American citizens — including widespread Internet surveillance and phone taps — that had previously been unthinkable.

When the government hired me in 1988, it was widely understood that if the National Security Agency intercepted the communications of an American citizen — even accidentally — heads would roll. Congress had to be informed, an investigation would be launched, and the intercept had to be purged from the system.

Today, the NSA has an enormous facility in Utah big enough to save copies of every email, text message, and phone conversation made by every American for the next 500 years. You can bet they intend to.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my government trampling my civil liberties like this.

Still, people sometimes ask me why they should care if the authorities read their email or listen to their phone calls. “I have nothing to hide,” they say, “so why should I worry about it?”

This question sends chills up my spine.

As anybody who’s worked in the intelligence community will tell you, the government can learn a lot more about you than you realize.

Metadata — the raw information about who you talk to on the phone, or what websites you visit — is incredibly revealing. Analysts don’t need the actual content of your calls or emails to know what you’re up to.

Are you calling an abortion provider? A divorce lawyer? A secret girlfriend or boyfriend? A substance abuse counselor? The feds can find out, even though it’s none of their business.

What kind of porn do you like? What websites do you visit? What church, club, or political group do you belong to? They can figure that out, too.

Most of us don’t want anyone poking around our lives, even if we’re perfectly innocent. (Though with a little manipulation, anybody can be made to look like a troublemaker.)

Believe it or not, our founders saw this coming.

James Madison, the Constitution’s primary author, wrote the First Amendment to protect everyone — especially people who disagree with the government’s policies. We all have a constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition.

The Bill of Rights is the only thing standing between us and fascism. Monitoring the things we say is the first step toward prosecuting them.

So am I a dissident? I don’t know. I don’t care.

The important thing is that I’ve become passionate in my defense of our constitutional rights. I have an inalienable right to freedom of speech, and I’ll continue to exercise it — even at the risk of getting locked up again.

As more of us tough it out in prison, the government will lose its power to take our rights away. As more of us write and speak about government overreach, our chances of preserving our freedoms will grow.

It’s worth the risk.

John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the winner of the 2015 PEN Center USA First Amendment award. 

This article was originally posted at

Conservatism Laid Bare

“Conservatism is the antidote to tyranny. It’s the only one. It’s based on thousands of years of human experience. There is nothing narrow about the conservative philosophy. It’s a liberating philosophy. It is a magnificent philosophy. It is a philosophy for the ages, for all times.” ~ Mark Levin

“I realized that conservatism was the philosophy that best suited me, with its emphasis on individual liberty, personal responsibility, and merit.” ~ Mark Levin

“The Conservative does not despise government. He despises tyranny. This is precisely why the Conservative reveres the Constitution and insists on adherence to it.” ~ Mark Levin

“I follow the Constitution, that’s what I do.” ~ Mark Levin

Antidote to tyranny? A liberating and magnificent philosophy? Emphasis on individual liberty and personal responsibility? Reverence for the Constitution? Follow the Constitution? Conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin is deluded about both conservatism and the Constitution. And Sean Hannity calls him “the great one”? And he calls himself one of “America’s preeminent conservative commentators and constitutional lawyers”?

Conservatism is none of these things. If you really want to see the true nature of conservatism, don’t listen to anything said by Mark Levin. If you really want to see conservatism laid bare, then just take a look at the attitude of conservatives to the government’s war on drugs.

A few years ago, Levin had “a Ron Paul supporter” on his radio show to talk about the war on drugs, which Levin supports. The “debate” is here if you can stand to listen to it. Once was even too much for me. I would almost rather listen to Sean Hannity, as horrible as that is.

If it were just Levin that was such an ardent drug warrior, then we could all just dismiss his show as the ravings of a mad man and ignore him. But it’s not just Levin. His conservative mindset on the drug war is duplicated in the heads of the millions of conservatives who listen to Levin—and Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh. Levin’s conservative mindset is common to most if not all Republican members of Congress—and the more conservative they are, the more they are in favor of the drug war. Levin’s conservative mindset is shared by most if not all of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates—all of whom claim to be conservatives, and some of whom boast of how more conservative they are than the others. Candidates in previous years like Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are no different.

I discussed the views on the drug war of some of the Republican presidential candidates earlier this year. Now, we can also see what candidate Ben Carson thinks about the issue since he recently talked with Glenn Beck about it. Carson opposes the legalization of marijuana. He wants to intensify the drug war. He wants to spend more federal money and dedicate more law enforcement resources to enforcing drug laws and imprisoning offenders. He wants a police state to combat what he considers to be “hedonistic activity.”

This is conservatism laid bare.

It is tyranny. There is nothing liberating or magnificent about it. It has no emphasis on individual liberty or personal responsibility. And rather than revering the Constitution, insisting on adherence to the Constitution, and following the Constitution, conservatism dishonors, ignores, and rejects the Constitution.

Nothing could be more tyrannical and unconstitutional than locking up men in cages to be raped, humiliated, abused, beaten, and suffer the loss of their job, their money, their family, and their dignity because they possess, consume, buy, sell, trade, manufacture, smoke, distribute, transport, cultivate, give away, or “traffic in” a substance the government doesn’t approve of.

Women too, like Dana Bowerman. She was a first-time, nonviolent offender who was caged in a federal prison camp in Bryan, Texas, in 2001, at age 30, for taking part in “a conspiracy surrounding a methamphetamine ring.” She was scheduled to be caged for 19 years and seven months, until 2018, but was one of about 6,000 federal inmates recently released early from prisons and halfway houses after the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to retroactivity apply more lenient sentencing guidelines to drug offenders already behind bars.

It should be noted, however, that none of these prisoners were pardoned. They all still have a criminal record for the non-crime of a drug “offense.” Thousands more were not released. And Bowerman must keep close track of the rules: no alcohol and no traveling for a time beyond the rural area outside Lubbock, Texas, where she will be staying.

Every American in prison for a drug “offense” should, of course, be pardoned and released—immediately. No one should ever be questioned, detained, arrested, tried, fined, or imprisoned for a drug “offense.” There shouldn’t even be any such thing as a drug “offense,” “crime,” “offender,” “trafficker,” or “dealer.” The whole concept should be considered just as absurd as a banana “offense,” “crime,” “offender,” “trafficker,” or “dealer.”

And as I have pointed out so many times, there is nothing in the Constitution that grants to the federal government the authority to identify different types of drugs, regulate the sale and usage of drugs, classify drugs on a schedule, have a drug czar, set up a Drug Enforcement Administration, ban certain drugs, pass any laws related to drugs, wage war on drugs, or have anything whatsoever to do with any drug that is used for any purpose.

Conservatism is antithetical to individual liberty, private property, personal responsibility, and the Constitution. As is any statist, authoritarian philosophy that thinks people should be caged for engaging in peaceful behavior the government doesn’t approve of.

This commentary originally appeared at and is reprinted here under a Creative Commons license

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

To France From A Post-9/11 America: Lessons We Learned Too Late

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” ― Benjamin Franklin

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”—Hermann Goering, German military commander and Hitler’s designated successor

For those who remember when the first towers fell on 9/11, there is an unnerving feeling of déjà vu about the Paris attacks.

Once again, there is that same sense of shock. The same shocking images of carnage and grief dominating the news. The same disbelief that anyone could be so hateful, so monstrous, so evil as to do this to another human being. The same outpourings of support and unity from around the world. The same shared fear that this could easily have happened to us or our loved ones.

Now the drums of war are sounding. French fighter jets have carried out a series of “symbolic” air strikes on Syrian targets. France’s borders have been closed, Paris has been locked down and military personnel are patrolling its streets.

What remains to be seen is whether France, standing where the United States did 14 years ago, will follow in America’s footsteps as she grapples with the best way to shore up her defenses, where to draw the delicate line in balancing security with liberty, and what it means to secure justice for those whose lives were taken.

Here are some of the lessons we in the United States learned too late about allowing our freedoms to be eviscerated in exchange for the phantom promise of security.

Beware of mammoth legislation that expands the government’s powers at the citizenry’s expense. Rushed through Congress a mere 45 days after the 9/11 attacks, the USA Patriot Act drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, undermined civil liberties, expanded the government’s powers and opened the door to far-reaching surveillance by the government on American citizens.

Pre-emptive strikes will only lead to further blowback. Not content to wage war against Afghanistan, which served as the base for Osama bin Laden, the U.S. embarked on a pre-emptive war against Iraq in order to “stop any adversary challenging America’s military superiority and adopt a strike-first policy against terrorist threats ‘before they’re fully formed.’” We are still suffering the consequences of this failed policy, which has resulted in lives lost, taxpayer dollars wasted, the fomenting of hatred against the U.S. and the further radicalization of terrorist cells.

War is costly. There are many reasons to go to war, but those who have advocated that the U.S. remain at war, year after year, are the very entities that have profited most from these endless military occupations and exercises. Thus far, the U.S. taxpayer has been made to shell out more than $1.6 trillion on “military operations, the training of security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, weapons maintenance, base support, reconstruction, embassy maintenance, foreign aid, and veterans’ medical care, as well as war-related intelligence operations not tracked by the Pentagon” since 2001. Other estimates that account for war-related spending, veterans’ benefits and various promissory notes place that figure closer to $4.4 trillion. That also does not include the more than 210,000 civilians killed so far, or the 7.6 million refugees displaced from their homes as a result of the endless drone strikes and violence.

Advocating torture makes you no better than terrorists. The horrors that took place at Abu Ghraib, the American-run prison in Iraq, continue to shock those with any decency. Photographs leaked to the media depicted “US military personnel humiliating, hurting and abusing Iraqi prisoners in a myriad of perverse ways.While American servicemen and women smiled and gave thumbs up, naked men were threatened by dogs, or were hooded, forced into sexual positions, placed standing with wires attached to their bodies, or left bleeding on prison floors.” Adding to the descent into moral depravity, the United States government legalized the use of torture, including waterboarding, in violation of international law and continues to sanction human rights violations in the pursuit of national security. The ramifications have been far-reaching, with local police now employing similar torture tactics at secret locations such as Homan Square in Chicago.

Allowing the government to spy on the citizenry will not reduce acts of terrorism, but it will result in a watched, submissive, surveillance society. A byproduct of this post 9/11-age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers such as Google that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere. We are all becoming data collected in government files. The chilling effect of this endless surveillance is a more anxious and submissive citizenry.

Don’t become so distracted by the news cycle that you lose sight of what the government is doing. The average American has a hard time keeping up with and remembering all of the “events,” manufactured or otherwise, which occur like clockwork and keep us distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from the reality of the American police state. Whether these events are critical or unimportant, when we’re being bombarded with wall-to-wall news coverage and news cycles that change every few days, it’s difficult to stay focused on one thing—namely, holding the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law—and the powers-that-be understand this. In this way, regularly scheduled trivia and/or distractions that keep the citizenry tuned into the various breaking news headlines and entertainment spectacles also keep them tuned out to the government’s steady encroachments on their freedoms.

If you stop holding the government accountable to the rule of law, the only laws it abides by will be the ones used to clamp down on the citizenry. Having failed to hold government officials accountable to abiding by the rule of law, the American people have found themselves saddled with a government that skirts, flouts and violates the Constitution with little consequence. Overcriminalization, asset forfeiture schemes, police brutality, profit-driven prisons, warrantless surveillance, SWAT team raids, indefinite detentions, covert agencies, and secret courts are just a few of the egregious practices carried out by a government that operates beyond the reach of the law.

Do not turn your country into a battlefield, your citizens into enemy combatants, and your law enforcement officers into extensions of the military. A standing army—something that propelled the early colonists into revolution—strips the citizenry of any vestige of freedom. How can there be any semblance of freedom when there are tanks in the streets, military encampments in cities, Blackhawk helicopters and armed drones patrolling overhead? It was for this reason that those who established America vested control of the military in a civilian government, with a civilian commander-in-chief. They did not want a military government, ruled by force. Rather, they opted for a republic bound by the rule of law: the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, we in America now find ourselves struggling to retain some semblance of freedom in the face of police and law enforcement agencies that look and act like the military and have just as little regard for the Fourth Amendment, laws such as the NDAA that allow the military to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens, and military drills that acclimate the American people to the sight of armored tanks in the streets, military encampments in cities, and combat aircraft patrolling overhead.

As long as you remain fearful and distrustful of each other, you will be incapable of standing united against any threats posed by a power-hungry government. Early on, U.S. officials solved the problem of how to implement their authoritarian policies without incurring a citizen uprising: fear. The powers-that-be want us to feel threatened by forces beyond our control (terrorists, shooters, bombers). They want us afraid and dependent on the government and its militarized armies for our safety and well-being. Most of all, they want us distrustful of each other, divided by our prejudices, and at each other’s throats.

If you trade your freedom for security, the terrorists win. We’ve walked a strange and harrowing road since September 11, 2001, littered with the debris of our once-vaunted liberties. We have gone from a nation that took great pride in being a model of a representative democracy to being a model of how to persuade a freedom-loving people to march in lockstep with a police state. And in so doing, we have proven Osama Bin Laden right. He warned that “freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people in — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”

To sum things up, the destruction that began with the 9/11 terror attacks has expanded into an all-out campaign of terror, trauma, acclimation and indoctrination aimed at getting Americans used to life in the American Police State. The bogeyman’s names and faces change over time, but the end result remains the same: our unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security has transitioned us to life in a society where government agents routinely practice violence on the citizens while, in conjunction with the Corporate State, spying on the most intimate details of our personal lives.

The lesson learned, as I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, is simply this: once you start down the road towards a police state, it will be very difficult to turn back.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

Court Drives Stake Into Heart Of Obama Amnesty Plan

Late in the day on November 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit dealt the Obama Administration a serious blow. It upheld the Preliminary Injunction of the U.S. District Court in Texas which blocked Obama’s executive action to grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens under the plan known as DAPA. Read the court’s opinion here.

Interestingly, the Fifth Circuit opinion quotes back to the Obama Justice Department President Obama’s own statement that since Congress would not act, he would change the law by himself:

“Indeed, as the district court recognized, the President explicitly stated that ‘it was the failure of Congress to enact such a program that prompted him . . . to “change the law.”‘… At oral argument, and despite being given several opportunities, the attorney for the United States was unable to reconcile that remark with the position that the government now takes. And the dissent attempts to avoid the impact of the President’s statement by accusing the district court and this panel majority of ‘relying . . . on selected excerpts of the President’s public statements….’” [at 65]

The problem began in November 2014, with the Obama Department of Homeland Security issuing various “policies” designed to grant “lawful presence” to about 4 million illegal aliens meeting certain criteria, who otherwise would be subject to deportation. The Administration claimed it was simply using “prosecutorial discretion” — choosing not to enforce the law against certain persons. The challenge by 26 states asserted that President Obama opposed, and was simply refusing to enforce, the nation’s immigration laws.

The district court issued a preliminary injunction against DAPA. Earlier this year, a panel of the Fifth Circuit had refused the Administration’s request to stay that injunction. Monday’s decision upheld that preliminary injunction.

Six months ago, on May 11, 2015, our firm filed an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit supporting the challenge brought by the State of Texas and the other states against the Obama Administration’s misuse of “executive action” (“DAPA”) to implement provisions of the DREAM Act that Congress refused to enact. (Read our brief here.)

Our brief argued first that the states have standing to sue under a theory of “abdication standing.” Under this theory, if the federal government claims sole authority to act in a given area (such as immigration law), to the exclusion of the states, but then fails or refuses to act in that area, the states may challenge that abdication of authority in court.

Next, we argued that DAPA’s grant of immunity from prosecution to millions of illegal aliens constituted an exercise of a type of monarchical prerogative power to dispense or “waive” the law with respect to certain persons. The U.S. Constitution recognizes no such authority of the President to choose to exempt certain favored persons from the nation’s immigration laws.

As to the constitutional issues, our brief argued that, in implementing DAPA, the President acted contrary to both the express and implied will of Congress. First, Congress had explicitly legislated that illegal aliens who are unlawfully present should be removed. Second, Congress had refused several times to enact the DREAM Act, the same provisions which the President seeks to implement here by executive action. Third, while Congress has at times explicitly granted deferred action to various small groups of aliens, that is entirely different than the general amnesty to millions the President seeks to give here. When opposing Congress’ will, the Supreme Court has said that the President’s powers are “at their lowest ebb.”

Our brief also argued that, by refusing to enforce the law, the President is exercising what could be considered a post-enactment veto power. However, the Constitution grants him only the right to veto a law before it is enacted. Once a bill becomes law, however, the Take Care Clause of the Constitution requires the President to enforce it unless it is unconstitutional.

Finally, our brief discussed the enormous financial strain that millions of legalized illegal aliens will place on the Social Security and Medicare systems, and yet pay little in taxes while receiving much in benefits.

This is a case that almost certainly will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court. In it, the Fifth Circuit panel split 2-1. In the majority were Reagan appointee Judge Jerry E. Smith, and G.W. Bush appointee Judge Jennifer W. Elrod. Dissenting was Carter appointee Judge Carolyn D. King. The two opinions totaled 124 pages.

Our brief was filed on behalf of Citizens United, Citizens United Foundation, English First Foundation, English First, TREA Senior Citizens League, U.S. Justice Foundation, The Lincoln Institute for Research and Education, Abraham Lincoln Foundation for Public Policy Research, Inc., U.S. Border Control Foundation, Policy Analysis Center, Institute on the Constitution, and Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Copyright © 2015 William J. Olson, P.C. All rights reserved.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

Obama’s Healthy Communities, The Antithesis Of America

Barack Obama made the following statement regarding the White House’s “Healthy Communities Challenge,” where 20 cities with low numbers of insured Americans compete against one another to see which community can sign the most people up for health insurance.

“I’ll come visit the city that enrolls the highest percentage of folks who aren’t covered right now. That’s a promise…After all, this country’s at its best when we look out for each other.”

“This is reality,” said Obama, “This is healthcare in America, and the bottom line is, Americans like it. They’re happy with their plans, and they’re happy with their premiums.”

According to an aggregate of polling data from Real Clear Politics, 49.5 percent of Americans are against the healthcare law, as opposed to the 42.3 percent who are in favor of the law.

Many claim that the Obama scheme is a disaster and a very bad idea for America’s future. They say it will bring much debt, suffering, sickness and death for you and for your family.

I agree that it is a bad plan and an unconstitutional plan. But these are not the same thing.

To say that something is a bad idea and to say it is unconstitutional is to say two different things. Let me explain…

Suppose you invite me to your house for dinner, and while I’m there I notice that your window treatments are shabby and that your furniture does not match your wall colors. So, the next day, while you’re not at home, I break into your house and change the windows and the walls. For the sake of argument, let’s say I actually make it look better than it did before I broke in. I’m still guilty of the crime of breaking and entering and trespass.

Do you see that even if it was a good idea to change the décor, it was a crime because it was outside of my authority to do it?

The talking heads and millions of others are screaming that the government takeover of the health care system is a very bad idea, and they are right. But even if it was a good idea, it would be a criminal scheme all the same because the Constitution provides no authority for the federal government to involve itself in “health care” or in “health care financing” or in “insurance” of any kind. 

The operative clauses to look up here are Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution, as well as the Tenth Amendment. It will only take you about six minutes to read and understand that Obamacare is more than just a bad idea for American health care. It is a dangerous and tyrannical trespass into American homes and lives.  

All the smoke and mirrors about what “Obamacare” costs and what it will, or will not, provide are irrelevant. “Obamacare” will not work because it cannot work.

Simply put, there is no right way to do a wrong thing.


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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by