The last time I wrote about my distaste for the surveillance state, about life under the giant eyeball, I received some feedback via a friend from a brother in the intelligence community, wishing that I would be more precise in my criticisms. Although I do not know if this effort will do the trick, I am going to frame my objections this time around with that expressed concern in mind.
It is not the first time I have heard from believers in “the business,” and so let me begin with this basic disclaimer. When I inveigh against the surveillance state, and the pretty pass that we have all come to—which I will continue to do—there are several things I do not mean by it. I do not mean to say that there are no genuine patriots in the intelligence community, laboring hard to balance the concerns of security and privacy. I do not mean to say that there are no genuine threats to our national security out there, against which good intelligence is a needed bulwark. And I do not mean to say that everyone in the intelligence world is lawless.
But I certainly do mean to say that however many good people there are, however many good laws and regulations there are, however many disciplinary actions have been taken against those who violated security protocols, however good the intentions were when these programs were set up, the bottom line cash value of their efforts has not been nearly good enough. Good enough for what? Good enough for us to support any extension of or expansion of the ability of the federal government to vacuum up data without a warrant. If you want to listen to or collect a conversation, you need probable cause, and a judge.
I know that there are many spies, spooks and analysts who are doing the Lord’s work. God bless them, and I am taking no jabs against any honest individuals. But there are two questions before us. The first is whether there were any honest, diligent, competent, and hardworking members of the crew of the Titanic. That’s one question. The second question is whether or not that has anything to do with whether we should want to buy a ticket. Of course there were, and of course we shouldn’t.
Since I last wrote on this topic, the news broke that a FISA court had severely upbraided the Obama administration for routinely ignoring the boundaries and limits placed upon them. These violations involved thousands of citizens. They involved trashing the Fourth Amendment, and doing so in a high-handed way.
Now as it happens, portions of the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) are going to expire at the end of the year unless Congress extends those sections. And it seems obvious to me that they should not vote to extend them.
This finding is what provokes me to write about things like this. When these programs were set up, civil libertarians warned about the potential for abuse. And here is the kicker. What aspect of the warnings have not come true? But even though this is the case, there is still enormous pressure to let the eyes and ears of the deep state continue on, with no real likelihood of negative sanctions for violations of the Constitution.
So the real question is not whether there are honest people in the intelligence community. Of course there are. The real question is two-fold—are there dishonest people in the intelligence community, and what percentage of these dishonest people are caught and sent to jail? And I am not talking about the low level schlubs like Bradley Manning. I am talking about those who have sufficient political power to see to it that the resources of the intelligence agencies are abused, and sufficient political media cover to prevent anything bad from happening to them if caught. Put another way, if Hillary Clinton had been possessed of a rank like Bradley Manning, she would be in jail right now.
Or, put another way, if this gross breach of the Fourth Amendment, as determined by a FISA court was ordered by President Obama himself, what is the likelihood of him facing any legal consequences? If a president could do something like this, and if we would not be in a position to apply sanctions because of “politics,” then we are not strong or healthy enough as a society to risk collecting data like this.
But what about the bad guys out there who are trying to destroy us? I am not unmindful of their existence. I am aware that there are many enemies of the American Constitution around the world. But I am also aware that many of them live in the D.C. area. The oath captures it well—enemies of the Constitution, “foreign or domestic.”
Speaking personally, I have been hurt far more by congressmen than by Libyans or Syrians. Haven’t you?