While always problematic to varying degrees, the intelligence community has been gaining power and going rogue since the early 2000s with the passage of the Patriot Act.
Now, it seems they may be spying on one of TV’s most prominent journalists, Tucker Carlson. Carlson recently claimed he was targeted by the National Security Agency (NSA) and believes it was seeking information that would lead to the cancellation of his show.
It’s frankly not a wild story. The intelligence community has been caught spying on many Americans in the past, both prominent actors like Martin Luther King Jr. and everyday citizens.
The NSA denied Tucker’s claim with a perfunctory statement, but for those familiar with the agency’s record of abuse, a simple denial is not going to be enough. One of those people is Senator Rand Paul (R, KY), who has spent over a decade exposing the NSA’s privacy violations and working to restore Americans’ civil liberties.
Paul recently wrote a letter to the NSA urging an investigation into the matter.
“But when a long train of abuses conducted by the NSA evinces a consistent design to evade the law and violate the constitutionally-protected liberties of the people, the NSA must do more than tweet a carefully worded denial to be trusted,” he wrote to the agency’s Director. “As the head of the NSA, you can help restore credibility to your agency by being completely honest with the American people and explaining in detail whether the NSA conducted surveillance on Tucker Carlson in his role as a journalist, whether you or anyone else within the federal government approved his alleged unmasking, and whether Mr. Carlson’s private emails were shared with any other reporters or news organizations.”
Paul’s push for an investigation is a necessary step, and one more of our leaders should be demanding. We desperately need more transparency and accountability from this agency.
For those unfamiliar with the history, the NSA’s corruption stems from the Patriot Act, which was a reaction to the attacks on 9/11. From the very beginning, civil liberties advocates warned about the abuses likely to take place under this expansion of government power.
But the original language of the Patriot Act supposedly only allowed the government to tap the communications of those suspected of criminal activity or terrorism. This led many to express the now-famous sentiment, “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”
It was always a silly statement. The Bill of Rights was written with the knowledge that a powerful government has the ability to frame people, manipulate their papers, misconstrue the facts, and harm innocent people. To assume one would be exempt from such harm merely because they are innocent is naive at best.
In 2004, former Republican Congressman Bob Barr said, “I don’t care if there were no examples so far. We can’t say we’ll let government have these unconstitutional powers in the Patriot Act because they will never use them. Besides, who knows how many times the government has used them? They’re secret searches.”
In the years that followed, we ultimately did learn about many of those secret searches, in large part thanks to the heroic service of Edward Snowden.
In 2013, Snowden, a CIA employee, leaked documents proving the existence of a government-run surveillance program that monitored the communications of everyday citizens, not just the potential terrorists the intelligence community claimed to target with the Patriot Act.
From that point on, it was like a leaky faucet, with more information about the corruption and abuse coming forth. Much of this would have gone unnoticed were it not for Senator Rand Paul. When the stories first began to break, Barack Obama was still president, and much of the media was hesitant to print information that would harm his legacy.
But Paul used his platform to elevate these stories and ensure the American people were at least aware of what was happening within their government. For example, during a now-legendary filibuster in 2015, Paul said, “I’m for looking at all of the terrorists’ records – I just want their name on the warrant, and I just want it to be signed by a judge; just like the constitution says.”
That should be a pretty basic demand, it is after all enshrined in our Bill of Rights in multiple places–namely the Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment.
These are serious matters with too few champions. Tucker’s story alone, if proven true, involves violations of his free speech, freedom of the press, right to privacy, and due process laws. And if they can do it to him, you’d better believe they can do it to you too. Indeed, they already have.