The hearing this week on the massive surveillance programs targeting the communications of all citizens was the latest in the increasingly bizarre world of American politics. We have a Constitution that prohibits warrantless searches and seizures. We have a government — and a President — who previously misled us about the existence of such programs. We have Senators who knew of the prior deception and even perjury sitting in a hearing on the latest account from our leaders. Now, these same politicians are speaking openly about seizing every single telephone call. Rather than denying the program, they now refer to it as a harmless “lock box,” the way that Al Gore once referred to the social security accounts. What was particularly interesting is the statement of General Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, that disclosures by Edward Snowden “will change how we operate”. Indeed, in light of the Snowden disclosures, Alexander has stopped the prior denials of the Administration and is now speaking of “reforms.” That is precisely why most people view Snowden as a whistleblower despite the demands of the President and members of Congress that he be tracked down and put away for good. Even more interesting is the appearance of James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, who previously acknowledged perjury before the Senate. Rather than raise the perjury or demand his prosecution, Senators engaged in friendly exchanges with Clapper as if nothing had happened. This is clearly under the belief that the public has a remarkably short attention span and the media will follow the lead of the White House. Indeed, reporters for the most part did not even mention that Clapper is thought by many to be an unprosecuted felon due to his prior testimony or that his last major testimony on this very subject was to deny such programs. There was not even laughter when Clapper said that he was working to find ways to “counter the popular narrative” of any dangers in this surveillance. That “popular narrative” of course also includes his prior false testimony.
While Democratic senator Ron Wyden and Democrat Mark Udall continue to fight for civil liberties against such surveillance, their colleagues have continued to work with the White House to recast the scandal in a less threatening light — thus the adoption of such reassuring terms like “lock boxes.” Alexander told the Committee “I believe it is in the nation’s best interest to put all the phone records into a lockbox – yes.”
While acknowledging that Snowden forced reforms, both Clapper and Alexander denounced him to the obvious support of Senators like Dianne Feinstein who were embarrassed by the disclosures.
Clapper admitted (in contradiction to the President’s past comments) that violations have occurred in these programs and that “on occasion, we’ve made mistakes, some quite significant.” This appears to refer to the unlawful surveillance and not his admitted false testimony.
As expected, Feinstein and others are suggesting procedures as “reforms” that would still allow virtually limitless surveillance. It is part of the new spin from the White House of creating a facade of new procedures (largely under the control of the Administration) while continuing the programs and protecting people like Clapper.
Feinstein said her bill would indeed preserve the program of collecting and storing phone records of all Americans while joining in the criticism the media and Snowden. She did not of course vent any criticism for the man in front of her who lied under oath or the officials responsible for limitless seizures of telephone records. After hiding the programs and misleading the public, she now assures the public that they are entirely lawful and nothing to worry about.
It was a hearing completely detached from the public and from the constitutional questions raised by these programs. The problem is Snowden, the media, and even the public — not the governing elite in America’s Animal Farm.