(Editor’s note: Liberty Nation has not provided a link to The Intercept article referenced herein as the documents remain categorized as classified)
During the long years of the Cold War, Americans looked at the Soviet Union as the antithesis of all the United States stood for and fought to protect. One of the most well-known facets of Soviet existence was life without a free press. Conversely, the American media was always considered the Fourth Estate, expected to hold the government accountable while the Soviet press served as the primary government propaganda arm. Highly censored and even watched, journalists in Soviet Russia were expected to further the narratives and act as trumpets in the government orchestra – which never stopped playing trinutes to the State.
For the most part, U.S. citizens never conceived that such censorship could happen on American soil. Perhaps that is no longer the case.
Revelations during the election that many journalists were basically on retainer from the Clinton campaign were met with outrage and disgust, but, sad to say, no real surprise. Corruption is something Americans understand and have even come to expect. This week, however, author Cora Currier laid bare an entire framework of ongoing government surveillance specifically targeting journalists in an article for The Intercept.
It appears that Russia is not the only country with freedom of press issues.
The Intercept published its story in June of 2016 with heavily redacted information; even between the black bars of governmental secrecy, a worrisome picture emerged. The article reveals the Federal Bureau of Investigation, using National Security Letters, regularly spies on journalists in the United States – without a warrant, probable cause, or constitutional authority. This week Intercept republished the story but this time offered the full, un-redacted, still classified documents, showing the entirety of the FBI’s program.
Getting around the standard rules of investigation is relatively simple for FBI officials; they merely need to invoke the phrase “relevant to a national security investigation.” In the name of protecting Americans, it seems any violation of Constitutional rights is permitted.
Don’t believe it? Try getting on a commercial flight without having a host of rights violated by a government agent who, statistically speaking, is poorly educated, poorly trained, and may be looking at how much cash you are carrying. After all, the ATF may have promised the agent a cut of whatever he helps the agency seize.
The Obama administration prosecuted more leakers and journalists than any other Presidential administration in history, and so it does not come as a bombshell that the FBI has been spying on journalists with the blessing of top-level officials. And perhaps that is the essence of the problem. Americans have become the frog in the proverbial pot, blissfully swimming in the delightfully warm water, never realizing that the government is slowly turning up the heat – and has been for some time.
Former President Barack Obama found himself in some hot water back in 2013, when his Justice Department got caught secretly spying on James Rosen, a reporter for Fox News. The DOJ had not only pulled Rosen’s phone records (and those of reporters at the Associated Press as well) but put the journalist under physical surveillance. Rosen’s so-called crimes included exposing the State Department for deleting press briefing footage confirming the Obama Administration lied about ongoing dealings with Iran. In other words, Rosen caught the government in a lie, and did his job as a journalist – he reported it to the American public. And in return, the feds turned the all-seeing eye of Sauron in his direction.
At the time, then-Attorney General Eric Holder made symbolic gestures and promised new policies that would supposedly make it more difficult for the government to target journalists. What Holder left out of his grandstanding was that none of the new rules applied to National Security Letters. Known in government parlance as NSLs, these documents enjoy a separate set of rules that allow for nearly unchecked surveillance powers on anyone as long as someone utters the magic words “national security.”
The government typically issues a gag order regarding the surveillance activity, threatening officials at phone companies and other data sources with arrest if they inform the target. Give us what we want, and if you tell anyone, we will hurt you. There’s an expression for that; and it’s not “national security.”
There are many more stories; tales of journalists and staffers who find themselves under a microscope because they stepped outside of ranks and dared say the words that apparently terrify the government: This is wrong, and I’m going to do something about it. For all the hype about freedom of the press, the reality is that speaking truth to power is no longer an honored American pastime – it can be a very dangerous proposition if that truth casts doubt on the actions of the government.
The U.S. Constitution has granted the media both a huge privilege in the form of freedom of the press and a commensurate responsibility to be the watchdog of government. They have certainly exercised the former. It is well past time they be protected when demonstrating the latter.