I confess I always had mixed feelings about Rand Paul. The Kentucky senator is clearly a smart guy but his brand of libertarianism seemed better on paper than in real life. Moreover, his constant warnings about privacy and the excessive power of our overweening intelligence agencies felt overwrought. I assumed those agencies had their hands full with ISIS et al. and that it bordered on the paranoid worrying about their cooperating with our own government leaders in domestic spying. If anything was unAmerican, that was. And it was illegal.
Boy, was I wrong.
As events continue to evolve in the Susan Rice “unmasking” scandal, my hat’s off to Rand. He’s my new hero, out there demanding Rice testify and wondering why the former national security adviser was doing investigating that normally would have been done by the FBI.
Another hero is Lee Smith, whose article in Tablet is positively blood-curdling. After reminding us of what we already know — that Rice’s “unmasking” of Trump teammates in and of itself is not a crime, even if unseemly — Smith adds:
But what if Donald Trump wasn’t the first or only target of an Obama White House campaign of spying and illegal leaks directed at domestic political opponents?
In a December 29, 2015 article, TheWall Street Journal described how the Obama administration had conducted surveillance on Israeli officials to understand how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, like Ambassador Ron Dermer, intended to fight the Iran Deal. The Journal reported that the targeting “also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”
Despite this reporting, it seemed inconceivable at the time that—given myriad legal, ethical, political, and historical concerns, as well as strict National Security Agency protocols that protect the identity of American names caught in intercepts—the Obama White House would have actually spied on American citizens. In a December 31, 2016, Tablet article on the controversy, “Why the White House Wanted Congress to Think It Was Being Spied on By the NSA,” I argued that the Obama administration had merely used the appearance of spying on American lawmakers to corner opponents of the Iran Deal. Spying on U.S. citizens would be a clear abuse of the foreign-intelligence surveillance system. It would be a felony offense to leak the names of U.S. citizens to the press.
Increasingly, I believe that my conclusion in that piece was wrong. I believe the spying was real and that it was done not in an effort to keep the country safe from threats—but in order to help the White House fight their domestic political opponents.
Smith goes on to show how Obama & Co. essentially weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of foreign officials — in this case Israelis — to gain the administration’s ends (i. e. tarnish Jewish-Americans in opposition to the Iran Deal for having “dual loyalties” in order to weaken opposition to the deal).
It was sort of a trial run for the technique — spying on foreigners in order to taint American citizens — that seems to have later been employed in the Trump era. Some of these foreigners could be Russian, like the ambassador, but they also came from other countries, if we are to believe Devin Nunes, who is looking — unlike his cohort Adam Schiff — more and more believable at this point.
One technique I’ve heard about would have been simple. Pick out a Trump team member you want to shadow. Learn his calling patterns. Does he have a cousin in France he calls on weekends? Spy on the Frenchman — it’s legal — and you have the team member into the bargain, plus a recording to use or leak how you wish. Was this method employed? I certainly don’t know, but I’d like to. There are probably many other techniques I have no idea about that could be even more relevant and disturbing.
Which leads us into a deep thicket that makes the Deep State look shallow. How do we rein in our intelligence agencies — make it impossible for the government to exploit them for domestic purposes — while still allowing them to do their work? Can this even be done? Don’t we have to give the agencies at least some room to operate? This is where I usually parted ways with Rand Paul and, for that matter, Julian Assange. Now I am not so certain.
Of one thing, however, I am sure. The entire use of intelligence agencies by the government needs a thorough airing, as do the agencies themselves. This will be extremely difficult. Threatened, the agencies, like any bureaucracy, but even more by their nature, will clam up. Getting at the truth will take a thousand crowbars and twice as much patience.
Further, normally strong advocates of civil liberties (at least they said they were), the Democratic side will do anything in their power to avoid the subject, lest the reputation of Barack Obama be shattered, which is of course a possibility. In the current hyper-partisan climate, they will go to extraordinary lengths to prevent that. This very night I saw a MSNBC video clip of an editor of Mother Jones, a man I have known for some time, saying — with a straight face — that the reason Susan Rice’s veracity was being questioned by conservatives was because she is black. With people thinking like that, this country is a deep trouble. Or more precisely, it’s gone off the deep end.
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. Follow him on Twitter @rogerlsimon.