Monday, March 17, 2014

Spies, Damned Spies! (And Other Congressional Hypocrites)

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

In a well-known and frequently referenced scene from Casablanca, the corrupt Captain Louis Renault, grasping for a legal pretense to shutdown Rick Blaine's café, claims he is "shocked--shocked!--to find that gambling is going on here!" He no sooner makes this sanctimonious proclamation, when one of his lackeys approaches him with "Your winnings, sir," which Renault promptly pockets.

One imagines Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, striking a similarly hypocritical tone. Feinstein took to the Senate floor last week to denounce, in some of the harshest terms from a member of Congress to date, the National Security Agency's spying on the Senate chamber and her colleagues.

The CIA-Congress "spat" as many reporters are referring to it, specifically revolves around Congress's years-long effort to obtain evidence of the CIA's torture programs during (but not limited to) the Bush administration. While the CIA's use of torture--or "enhanced interrogation techniques" in the bland, euphemistic language of the "objective" corporate media--has been well established (George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have publicly admitted to and defended the illegal acts), senators like Feinstein claim the practice goes "well beyond" anything they previously knew of.

According to Feinstein, the NSA wiretapped senators' computers without a warrant, a claim CIA chief John "Assassination Tsar" Brennan denies. Feinstein, a longtime proponent of CIA covert actions in general, and the NSA's surveillance program in particular, denounced the agency's actions. The CIA's search, Sen. Feinstein said,

[M]ay well have violated the Separation of Powers principle embodied in the United States Constitution, including the Speech and Debate Clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities and any other government function.

Feinstein went on to add that the CIA's actions may also have violated the Fourth Amendment. (Gee, you think?) Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) concurred with characteristic hyperbolic flair. "This is Richard Nixon stuff," Graham declared. "This is dangerous to the democracy. Heads should roll, people should go to jail if it's true. If it is, the legislative branch should declare war on the CIA."

Feinstein, readers may recall, has been one of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's most vociferous critics. In an interview with CBS's Bob Schieffer last summer (Face the Nation, 06/23/2013), she charged Snowden with "treason," and called for his extradition to the United States. During the broadcast, Sen. Feinstein also rattled off spurious claims that WikiLeaks helped Snowden flee the country, and that China was somehow involved with his actions--claims which she offered zero evidence to back up.

(Curious side-question: Is Dianne Feinstein, herself, now guilty of treason, given that she has effectively revealed the CIA's clearly necessary and well-intended congressional spying activities to the general public? Has she not now endangered Americans and given aid and comfort to our enemies with her disclosure? Take the comments section and discuss...)

Feinstein and her colleagues' rank hypocrisy on the issue of domestic spying--and the fact that Senators Feinstein and Graham can issue such scathing condemnations of the CIA with a straight face--is so absurdly contradictory it seems more like something out of The Daily Show than an actual news item.

Indeed, the Huffington Post may have put in best in a March 11 headline which read, "Senators Okay with Spying on Citizens, but Outraged it Happened to Congress."

Given how "liberal" the media is, one would think the Beltway rank-and-file reporters would be having a field day with our government's egregious double-standards when it comes to the surveillance state. One would, alas, be wrong.

Most of the coverage of this story has approached it primarily from the torture-angle, while conveniently underplaying Feinstein and her colleagues' glaring hypocrisy on the issue of spying. While the question of whether or not the CIA engaged in torture during the (still ongoing) "War on Terror," is certainly a significant one, it is a question everyone except those in the corporate media already knows the answer to: Yes. The torture question, then, becomes a diversion from the more timely issue of warrantless wiretapping.

Exhibit A is a recent front-page story from the New York Times ("Conflict Erupts in Public Rebuke on C.I.A. Inquiry," 03/12/2014).

The story, by Times veteran reporters, Mark Mazzetti and Jonathan Weisman, reads more like a glorified profile piece for Sen. Feinstein--long an exalted and esteemed member of the Senate. The article is typical of the Times' Washington Beltway reportage, relying predominantly on insider sources, White House spokespeople, and CIA personnel. The closest the reporters come to even acknowledging Sen. Feinstein's hypocrisy on the issue of warrantless wiretapping is the following passage:

Ms. Feinstein has proved to be a bulwark for intelligence agencies in recent years: publicly defending the National Security Agency's telephone and Internet surveillance activities, the C.I.A.'s authority over drone strikes and the F.B.I.'s actions under the Patriot Act against a growing bipartisan chorus of critics.
The piece goes on to quote Amy B. Zegart, a scholar of intelligence issues at Stanford University: "Feinstein has always pushed the agency [the CIA] in private and defended it in public... Now she is skewering the C.I.A. in public. This is a whole new world for the C.I.A."

The article goes out of its way to paint Feinstein as some sort of congressional hero--a whistleblower, even. Yet, Edward Snowden's earlier disclosure of the very same illegal spying, rather than registering shock and outrage from the corporate press, instead lead to a "debate" (in which all sides agree) over whether his whistleblower actions make him a "hero," or a "traitor." It is only when the elites have their unconstitutional practices turned on them that they begin to cry foul.

But then, I suppose we should not be surprised by this sort of tepid, "objective" news coverage. After all, according to longtime NYT reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, "You can't just say the president is lying," even when he is clearly and deliberately making statements that are factually untrue. "Objective" is not the right word for this sort of reporting. Obfuscation would be more appropriate.

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will end the surveillance state. It has now become such an entrenched tool in the interminable "War on Terror," that no future administration will give the power up willingly. Barack Obama had a chance to terminate the program, along with the other criminal excesses of the Bush administration. Instead, he expanded those abuses of executive power. He has proven as morally bankrupt and power-hungry as his predecessor.

It is only when the tables are turned and the ruling elites are subjected to the very same crimes they perpetuate on citizens--as the conflict in the Ukraine currently illustrates--that they start crying about the "rule of law," The Bill of Rights, and the Constitution. The law exists only to be bended and twisted to serve their needs. When it does not, it can be ignored.

As the iconoclastic journalist, I.F. Stone observed, "All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out."

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