Or as the New York Times put it, at least briefly, “the administration has now lost all credibility.” Before they moderated their criticism. Though even moderated, it was still criticism of the obvious egregious abuse of power.
Here’s the report on the story on the abuse. Which was actually an editorial by the NYT board on ‘President Obama’s Dragnet,’ the text of which Frank Weathers provides in part.
Within hours of the disclosure that the federal authorities routinely collect data on phone calls Americans make, regardless of whether they have any bearing on a counterterrorism investigation, the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights.
Those reassurances have never been persuasive — whether on secret warrants to scoop up a news agency’s phone records or secret orders to kill an American suspected of terrorism — especially coming from a president who once promised transparency and accountability. The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it. That is one reason we have long argued that the Patriot Act, enacted in the heat of fear after the 9/11 attacks by members of Congress who mostly had not even read it, was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.
Based on an article in The Guardian published Wednesday night, we now know the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency used the Patriot Act to obtain a secret warrant to compel Verizon’s business services division to turn over data on every single call that went through its system. We know that this particular order was a routine extension of surveillance that has been going on for years, and it seems very likely that it extends beyond Verizon’s business division. There is every reason to believe the federal government has been collecting every bit of information about every American’s phone calls except the words actually exchanged in those calls.
A senior administration official quoted in The Times offered the lame observation that the information does not include the name of any caller, as though there would be the slightest difficulty in matching numbers to names. He said the information “has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats,” because it allows the government “to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States.”
That is a vital goal, but how is it served by collecting everyone’s call data? The government can easily collect phone records (including the actual content of those calls) on “known or suspected terrorists” without logging every call made. In fact, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was expanded in 2008 for that very purpose. Essentially, the administration is saying that without any individual suspicion of wrongdoing, the government is allowed to know who Americans are calling every time they make a phone call, for how long they talk and from where.
This sort of tracking can reveal a lot of personal and intimate information about an individual. To casually permit this surveillance — with the American public having no idea that the executive branch is now exercising this power — fundamentally shifts power between the individual and the state, and repudiates constitutional principles governing search, seizure and privacy.
The defense of this practice offered by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to be preventing this sort of overreaching, was absurd. She said today that the authorities need this information in case someone might become a terrorist in the future. Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the vice chairman of the committee, said the surveillance has “proved meritorious, because we have gathered significant information on bad guys and only on bad guys over the years.”
But what assurance do we have of that, especially since Ms. Feinstein went on to say that she actually did not know how the data being collected was used? The senior administration official quoted in The Times said the executive branch internally reviews surveillance programs to ensure that they “comply with the Constitution and laws of the United States and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.”
That’s no longer good enough.
Frank’s Patheos blog post has the links and commentary, and it’s about time this is all said. That the Times is saying it is a sign of, well, the times. Daily Beast columnist and USA Today contributor Kirsten Powers has been a bellwether. She posted this on her Facebook page Thursday:
Why is it that it seems like almost every important thing we learn about the Most Transparent Administration in History is because of leaks?
Liberal commentators are now calling out the administration. It’s about time.