Apparent to any tourist or commuter in downtown D.C. is the plethora of surveillance cameras that line the streets.
On North Capitol Street alone, a road that leads directly up to the steps of the U.S. Capitol, there are cameras on the top of nearly every building.
This profusion of electronic vigilance is the product of legislation for nearly 20 years that has increased the powers of the federal government to conduct surveillance to warn, deter, and fight possible terrorist attacks against our country.
Many of the programs in this effort came into effect after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. The subsequent Patriot Act turned the political impetus for national safety after those attacks into law.
But with the recent revelations of the use of surveillance by the FBI, and possibly the CIA, against the Donald Trump campaign for president in 2016, have the powers we’ve given the federal government gone too far?
Put another way: Have these powers now been corrupted for purely political purposes?
Many Americans know the answer to the latter question, to be sure.
In the hearings on the Horowitz Report before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Republicans — who have previously been enthusiastic supporters of these methods — revealed their thinking.
Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that the FBI “defrauded” the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court with its application for surveillance on Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Why? Because it did not reveal that the source material for its application came from data paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign for president.
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“It’s as if J. Edgar Hoover came back to life,” said Graham.
Describing himself as a “pretty hawkish guy” when it comes to national security, Graham nevertheless said to Horowitz, “But after your report, I have serious concerns about whether the FISA court can continue unless there’s fundamental reform.”
A FISA court issues approval of surveillance of American citizens on U.S. soil.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) of the committee also described himself as a “hawk” — but said he had ignored previous warnings about abuse of FISA powers because he believed “that stuff like this just couldn’t possibly happen at the FBI and Department of Justice.”
Hmm. That comment is, at best, naïve.
And among other things, it ignores the entrenched deep state that President Donald Trump has been talking about for so long.
Republicans have often given the benefit of the doubt to actions by the armed forces, law enforcement, and the national security apparatus, in the name of security, be it national or local. Hence, Sen. Sasse’s surprise at the actions by the FBI.
But what that senator forgets is the maxim, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” spoken by Lord Acton, a British historian of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Having said that, the Dems must be called out strongly — for far different reasons.
Their almost natural antipathy to our military, law enforcement, and national security forces have led them to use the civil liberty rationale to hamstring those agencies from doing their proper duties.
From President Lyndon Johnson’s wiretapping of political figures including Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1960s to the hearings of the 1975 Church Committee led by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) that crippled U.S. intelligence in the 1970s, the Dems have used their power simultaneously for political surveillance and damage to national security.
One may only look at the recent abuses by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), current chair of the House Intelligence Committee, in releasing the private phone records of political opponents such as presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to see that the Dems have not given up their old tricks — or not judiciously questioned the current applications of surveillance programs, as Republicans have done.
Many wielding the power of near-total surveillance over our lives are creatures of the D.C. Establishment, with all its concurrent attitudes and loyalties — which the Trump campaign and administration have experienced and been victims of for literally years at this point.
And now, after the revelations that the FBI’s use of FISA included 17 “significant errors or omissions” related to the surveillance of Trump aide Carter Page, two Republican lawmakers are proposing reforms to the FISA process, as the Washington Examiner and other outlets have noted.
It’s why Reps. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) — both members of the House Intelligence Committee — apparently will propose legislation to tweak the FISA processes amid the concerns raised by IG Horowitz’s report.