Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, is a courageous man. He’s got to know full well what he is risking by saying no to the federal government’s demand that he sell out the interests of Apple’s customers by effectively becoming an agent of the U.S. national-security establishment. He deserves the thanks of every American who still places a high value on the principles of liberty and privacy.
Take a look at corporate America, including the computer industry, which is said to be “libertarian-oriented.” Show me the CEOs of major corporations who have taken an open public libertarian position with respect to the national-security establishment, the military, the CIA, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the bombings and assassinations in the Middle East, the empire of U.S. military bases, both foreign and domestic, the secret nation-wide surveillance schemes of the NSA, and the ever-growing expenditures and mountain of debt incurred by the Pentagon and the CIA.
You’ll find at most just a handful. The rest are nowhere to be found. Not a peep of protest.
Now, it could well be that that’s because most corporate CEOs favor the militarism, interventionism, and imperialism that have accompanied the embrace of a national-security state. Presumably most CEOs went to public (i.e., government) schools and, therefore, were subjected to the same indoctrination as most of the rest of us. Therefore, it could well be that they all have fallen — hook, line, and sinker — for all the baseless rationales and justifications for the national-security state, war on terrorism, regime-change operations, coups, assassinations, partnerships with dictatorial regimes, secret surveillance, crises, and all the other sordid totalitarian-like things that have accompanied the conversion of the federal government to a national security state.
But there is another possible reason for CEOs remaining silent in the face of massive infringements on the liberty and privacy of the American people and on the foreign policies that have engendered anger and hatred for America all over the world, which has brought our nation an ongoing threat of terrorism.
Fear. American CEOs might just be too afraid to oppose the federal government publicly at a fundamental level. Because they know what federal officials are capable of and more than willing to do to CEOs who take them on in a public way.
There isn’t a CEO in America who doesn’t know what the feds did to former QWEST CEO Joseph Nacchio. And that is precisely one of the major reasons they went after Nacchio — to send a message to all other U.S. CEOs: Do what he did and this is what lies in store for you.
Soon after the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration approached the CEOs of several U.S. telecoms and “requested” them to secretly compromise the privacy interests and contractural rights of their customers. Most of them eagerly agreed, convincing themselves that their illegal action was really just an act of “patriotism.” Of course, none of them would ever have thought that the possibility of losing federal contracts played a role in their decision to illegally sell out the interests of their customers.
Not Joe Nacchio. He said no. He told the feds that he would not violate the law. He would not engage in criminal behavior, not even in the name of the “war on terrorism” or in the name of “patriotism” He refused to go along with the federal wrongdoing.
But Nacchio paid an enormous price for his principles. The feds ended up indicting him on some ludicrous insider-trading violation, convicted him, and sentenced him to a term in jail. Of course, the feds played the innocent and maintained with a straight face that their going after Nacchio had nothing to do with his refusal to play ball with the national-security establishment.
Every American CEO also has to consider the super-secret surveillance scheme that the NSA has been operating for years. Have they been engaged in mass recording of telephone conservations or not? Have they been swooping up emails or not? Have they been keep track of people’s business and personal activities or not?
Who knows? What we do know is that if they were, they’d lie about it anyway on grounds of national security. Nonetheless, any CEO who has ever had a telephone or email conversation relating to inside information, or IRS violations, or even just an extra-marital affair isn’t likely to take a chance. He knows full well that the government wouldn’t hesitate to use that information to come after him or to leak it to the press.
Easier to just remain silent about what the government is doing. Discretion is the better part of valor.
Don’t forget that that’s why former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover spied on Americans and kept secret files on them — to make certain that people stayed in line through an indirect form of blackmail.
Indeed, don’t forget how Russian president Vladimir Putin also uses violations of economic regulations and tax regulations to go after Russian businessmen who oppose him.
So, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see Tim Cook indicted down the line for insider trading, improper income tax deductions, or some other violations of the regulatory state or have some deeply personal embarrassing secret information about him revealed in the mainstream press.
But maybe — just maybe — Cook will inspire other CEOs to take an open and public principled libertarian stance in favor of privacy, liberty, free markets, and the restoration of a limited-government republic, which is the key to putting our nation back on the right track — the track toward freedom, prosperity, peace, and harmony.
In the meantime, those of us who still place a high value on liberty and privacy should thank Tim Cook for his service to America and for defending our rights and freedoms. The Founding Fathers and our American ancestors who ensured the passage of the Bill of Rights would be proud. Cook is a profile in courage who deserves our everlasting gratitude.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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