Edward Snowden's revelation that the National Security Agency was collecting information on millions of ordinary Americans through illegal wiretaps and other blatant intrusions into their private lives brought a collective "ho-hum" from most members of Congress. Mr. Snowden probably had little doubt that his actions would bring down scorn and derision upon his own head, that official wrath would be directed at him, not at the agency he had exposed as being chronically addicted to flouting boundaries set by laws and established by the Constitution. Integrity has become such an ambiguous commodity in America that the term "whistleblower" now has a denigrating taint to it.
Snowden was right about the focus of the ensuing furor. Rep. Peter King, the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, railed against the New York Times' suggestion that Snowden should be granted leniency, calling the young man a "traitor or a defector." As far as instilling any sense of actual security in the nation, Mr. King's blustery presence as our Protector-in-Chief is about as reassuring as the proverbial roll of duct tape. He completely missed the real implications of both Snowden's intent and his seismic disclosures. King seemed more concerned that the United States had been unmasked as a country that routinely flaunts the law to achieve its own goals, a piece of news that hardly qualified as a minor footnote to the rest of the world.
Sen. Lindsay Graham was happy to learn that the NSA could access his personal phone records to prove that he wasn't a terrorist. (Sprint, an invaluable weapon against the terrorist-under-every-rock scourge, was recently sued by the Justice Dept. for grossly overbilling the government for facilitating spying on its customers. In corporate America, flag-waving traditionally assumes a place under bottom lines.)
Sen. Graham isn't so happy anymore and neither is Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who, up to now, has managed to pour a thick coating of sugar over every new assault on individual liberties perpetrated by our runaway train intelligence agencies. It now looks as if Sen. Feinstein plans to embark on an overdue diet. The CIA, it seems, has been keeping a too-close eye on the workings of the Senate Intelligence Committee by hacking into their computers.
It's scary to think that it didn't occur to people charged with running this country that, to save its own hide, the CIA wouldn't use any means available. Just to recap: Congress has managed somehow to gloss over the Central Intelligence Agency's routine use of rendition, illegal detention, and torture (or "harsh interrogation," depending upon how comfortably removed you are from the actual assault) and they have minimized the CIA's countless and overwhelmingly fruitless intrusions into private citizens' personal lives. But it really irks them when the sacrosanct ground of their own little domains is tread upon. All of the sudden, the Constitution is threatened, the world falters on its axis, and the rest of us get a priceless opportunity to savor the thought, "So, how do you like it?"
"This is Richard Nixon stuff," sputtered the ever-quotable Graham, who at least managed to avoid blaming it all on Benghazi. "This is dangerous to the democracy. Heads should roll, people should go to jail if it is true. If it is, the legislative branch should go to war with the CIA." Mr. Graham has always been a big fan of war as a solution for most anything. It's good for his state's economy and priceless job insurance.
The most vulnerable head at the moment seems to be resting upon the shoulders of CIA Director John Brennan. Mr. Brennan is a close confidante of President Obama. The Obama administration has shown a marked lack of enthusiasm for reigning in the intelligence abuses that were the hallmarks of the Bush/Cheney years. You will, no doubt, recall that one consequence of Mr. Bush's anti-terrorism zeal was the preemptive invasion of Iraq, a nation that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack and was conspicuously (and embarrassingly) free of weapons of mass destruction. Over ten years, a trillion dollars, and thousands of American lives later, another offshoot of Mr. Bush's action rendered John Kerry's finger wagging at Russia over Ukraine seem just a touch hypocritical in a glass houses sort of way.
If Brennan's head is ripe for chopping, Ms. Feinstein's face is covered with egg. It seems the cheerleader has been rooting for the wrong team. The CIA director stated on March 11 that his agency had not tampered with computers belonging to the intelligence committee, completely reversing his admission in January to Feinstein that, in an effort to ascertain how much damning information had been uncovered about its brutal methods, the computers had been hacked. While the egg dripped off of her chin, Sen. Feinstein decried the action as a violation of the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and an Executive Order prohibiting the unwarranted surveillance of private citizens.
I'd like to take the opportunity to welcome Sen. Feinstein to the real world.
Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.