In the wake of COINTELPRO and the Watergate scandal, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas sent a letter to a group of young lawyers at the Washington State Bar Association. "As nightfall does not come all at once," he wrote, "neither does oppression. In both instances there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air - however slight - lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness."
The recent dramatic expansion of intelligence collection at the federal, state and local level raises profound civil liberties concerns regarding freedoms and protections we have long taken for granted. If people generally appear unaware of "change in the air," a large part of the reason is the unparalleled resort to secrecy used by the government to keep its actions from public scrutiny. According to the new American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report, "Drastic Measures Required," under President Obama (who had vowed to create "an unprecedented level of openness in Government" when he first took office), there were no fewer than 76,795,945 decisions made to classify information in 2010 - eight times the number made in 2001.
There are layers of secrecy that cannot even be penetrated by most members of Congress. In the recent debate over the re-authorization of three sections of the USA Patriot Act with sunset provisions, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who is a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee, declared in the Senate in May 2011 that there was a secret interpretation of Patriot Act powers that he could not even tell them about without disclosing classified information.  "When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry," said Wyden. The determination of the Obama administration to imitate its predecessor and maintain a wall of secrecy around anything that could be connected (however tenuously) with "national security" is evident in the zeal with which it has pursued whistleblowers and its use of the state secrets privilege in judicial proceedings, including in the recent court challenge to the FBI use of the informant Craig Monteilh to spy on mosques in Orange County, California.