Forget G. Gordon Liddy and the White House plumbers of Watergate days. If you’re looking for a my-president-right-or-wrong apparatchik in the grand tradition of the Soviet Union, willing to do anything for her leader, look no further than former national security adviser Susan Elizabeth Rice.
Rice, who evidently exploited the world’s most technically advanced intelligence agency, the NSA, for similar purposes (spying on the opposition), has made Liddy et al seem like primitives. Apparently, the former Obama adviser was the one who “requested to unmask the names of Trump transition officials caught up in surveillance.” The final unmaskings took place in January, days before Trump’s inauguration. (Eli Lake at Bloomberg, Adam Housley and John Roberts at Fox, and Sara Carter and John Solomon at Circa have reported this story in only slightly varying ways.)
Failing some extraordinary explanation (so far Rice isn’t talking), the onetime national security adviser exhibited an arrogance that once again proves Lord Acton’s famous apothegm: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Rice undoubtedly believed she was undertaking her sub rosa, possibly felonious, activities for a greater good, but in reality she has been undermining the very basis of our democratic republic in a manner calling forth another quote from the 19th century British lord: “End justifies the means. This is still the most widespread of all the opinions inimical to liberty.” That Rice was able to prevaricate so casually during a recent PBS interview, claiming she “knew nothing” about the unmaskings of Trump officials when she had instigated them, proves Acton right yet again and exposes the “ends justify the means” mentality as Rice’s default position.
(Speaking of Acton, he also wrote: “Men cannot be made good by the state, but they can easily be made bad.”)
From her serial lies about the Benghazi terror attack being caused by a video to this latest surveilling — incidental or otherwise — of political enemies and its own attendant dishonesties, Rice seems to have been the “go to” person for Obama White House dirty work and cover-ups, Obama’s hatchet woman. She did not and could not, however, have acted alone. She was part of a culture.
The unmasked names, of people associated with Donald Trump, were then sent to all those at the National Security Council, some at the Defense Department, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-CIA Director John Brennan – essentially, the officials at the top, including former Rice deputy [Iran deal fixer] Ben Rhodes.
The names were part of incidental electronic surveillance of candidate and President-elect Trump and people close to him, including family members, for up to a year before he took office. [bold mine]
Up to a year? Is it possible it was even longer? When did it actually start? It would be interesting to see how “incidental” this all was. Will the Senate Intelligence Committee be sufficiently bipartisan to really investigate that? Or will they be mired in the supposedly nefarious Russian connection that Clapper himself found no evidence of, even after, as we now learn, having been privy to all this “incidental” information for months or years? You would have to assume this Trump-Russia collusion was remarkably subtle to have withstood such constant investigation by so many for so long.
No, the real story here is the Russification, more accurately the Sovietization, of the Obama administration. They did believe, unlike Lord Acton, that “the ends justify the means.” That phrase, incidentally, is sometimes incorrectly ascribed to Machiavelli, who wrote something far more sophisticated. In reality, it was coined, or at least codified, by the 19th century Russian revolutionary Sergey Nechayev and used by Lenin and Stalin to justify their murderous acts.
I hasten to say there are no murders going on here that I know of. But there is a massive subversion of the principles of our republic. The moment the party in power is permitted to exploit the extraordinary capabilities of our intelligence agencies to surveil in any way the party out of power is the moment that we are well on the road to high-tech totalitarianism. We may already be there.
Difficult as it would be, what is called for now is a full airing not of Russian espionage, which has been going on pretty much constantly since the 1920s, but of our own intelligence agencies and how they function and how they are interacting with current and past administrations. We must be certain that existing privacy laws have actually been observed and, if those laws have not been sufficient, that they be revised to protect the apparently already violated civil liberties of our citizens.
Meanwhile, when it comes to actual punishable law-breaking, the person most vulnerable is, of course, the leaker (or leakers). Those who accidentally or purposefully “unmask” identities unfortunately can skate away under current readings of the law. But if I were to guess, in this instance, the unmasker and the leaker are quite possibly one and the same. Ms. Rice has much to answer for — and she should do it under oath.
As the scandal evolves, will the finger point even higher? In fact, it already has. Unbeknownst to almost all of the American public, back in 2011 Barack Obama eased the rules on the unmasking of American citizens in NSA surveillances, putatively to counter foreign espionage threats. Six years letter and the tables have been turned on us. Was that always the intention? Or was it simply absolute power corrupting absolutely?
Roger L. Simon is an award-winning novelist, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and co-founder of PJ Media. His latest book is I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already. You can follow him on Twitter @rogerlsimon.