Go ask Alice/I think she’ll know

There’s a great essay by Daniel Soar in a recent London Review of Books about the NSA’s domestic Internet surveillance program and the complicity of major American telecommunications companies in the same. The highlight for me is Soar’s description of a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing on a class action lawsuit brought against AT&T for warrantless surveillance, which contains a sentence of unsurpassed beauty (in bold):

‘Was a warrant obtained in this case?’ Judge Pregerson asked. ‘That gets into matters that are protected by state secrets,’ the deputy solicitor general replied. The court wanted access to a secret paper one of the lawyers had accidentally been allowed to see. The government refused point blank. ‘Every ampersand, every comma is top secret?’ Judge Hawkins inquired. ‘This document is totally non-redactable and non-segregable and cannot even be meaningfully described,’ said the assistant attorney general, demonstrating a more impressive grasp of obfuscatory rhetoric than his colleague. Towards the end of the afternoon, a tired Judge McKeown said: ‘I feel like I’m in Alice in Wonderland.’ She was right to: the government’s case rests, essentially, on claiming that whether or not there was a secret is itself a secret, presumably in the hope that the prosecuting lawyers might vanish in a puff of logic. A date for the court to submit its findings has yet to be set.

Who would have expected that the War on Terror would become its own religio-logical art form? Did the Inquisition achieve as much?


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