UPDATE, 5/20: Part 2 of this landmark documentary airs tonight at 10 on MPT, and it is not to be missed.
From Verizon being ordered to hand over phone records of its customers, to James Clapper, director of national intelligence, lying to Congress about it, this hour of TV will make you think long and hard about what this nation has become under President Obama, thanks to his unwillingness to rein in the out-of-control NSA President Bush gave birth to.
It will also make you think long and hard about Internet giants like Google and leakers like Edward Snowden. If you bought the White House spin from folks like Clapper and former NSA director Michael Hayden (an even bigger liar), I think "United States of Secrets" might just make you re-think that simple-minded, politically-calculated opinion.
Here's the review I posted last week prior to Part 1:
The thing I love about PBS "Frontline" is its willingness to call out people in power in American life.
Tonight, in "United States of Secrets," the first of a two-part look at how this country became such an out-of-control surveillance state, it calls out former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden as a liar's liar. It really, truly, deeply calls him out.
Hayden's not alone, he's just the most obvious liar in tonight's Part One. And producer/director Michael Kirk is so skilled at building the kind of case he does against those who would shred democracy in the name of what they say is our necessary defense that Hayden is continually shown in an interview acting like he thinks he is getting over with his lies.
Memo to Hayden "You're not."
Not that Hayden is the only villain in this carefully reported saga. Our old friend George W. Bush is back, along with his snarling sidekick, Dick Cheney, inviting Hayden in after 9/11 and asking what he would like to do in terms of spying that he can't because of this pesky thing called the Constitution.
That's where the Big-Brother-like monster called "The Program" was born. Frontline describes "The Program" as "a massive domestic surveillance dragnet designed to disrupt terrorist attacks before they occurred by collecting the communications of American citizens." Chronicling its birth and exponential growth is the focus of tonight's Part One.
And, by the way, if you're feeling good about seeing Cheney and Bush as the bad guys, don't get too partisan happy. President Barack Obama, that great Constitutional scholar who never published article one on his so-called expertise while at the University of Chicago, has plenty of dirt on his hands, too.
One of the most powerful narratives in this outstanding production is the story of what has happened to those in government who would dare raise their voices against what was happening at the NSA with "The Program."
Diane Roark, a congressional staffer, is seen in the documentary explaining what she said to Hayden.
"I said it was unethical, immoral, politically stupid, illegal and unconstitutional, and should stop," she says. "And when this comes out, all hell is going to break loose."
Frontline says it interviewed 60 such whistleblowers. I didn't count. But there are a lot, and the way some of them were beaten down by everything from early morning raids of their homes by the F.B.I. to run-offs at their long-time government jobs is both chilling and maddening.
"United States of Secrets" is simply the best and most important work of non-fiction television I have seen this year. It's the kind of TV journalism "60 Minutes" acts like it does, but has not come close to doing since it sold its soul to operations like the Obama White House.
If you think the ideological junk food you are being served on MSNBC or Fox News is actually news or journalism, tune out the Sean Hannitys and Rachel Maddows of the world for one night, and give yourself 10 minutes with PBS to watch the opening of "United States of Secrets."
Tonight, be a citizen using TV to find out about your government -- instead of a consumer being pandered to and sold to cable news advertisers.