We are hearing a story that the federal government has secretly been collecting communications records of journalists at the Associated Press for months. The government provided no reason for the surveillance, but there is some speculation that this is part of the Obama administration’s war on whistle blowers and other leakers of classified information. As government operations become increasingly more classified, almost any unauthorized leak to the press can be prosecuted.
When questioned about the legality of the surveillance, a spokesman for the Justice Department said that they follow “all applicable laws, federal regulations and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations.” Of course, the Justice Department has a long history of abusing it’s surveillance powers which effectively makes such pronouncements laughable. They have routinely targeted people for political reasons going back at least to the Kennedy administration with leaders of the anti-war and civil rights movements being subjected to such abuses.
Recent cases of abuse of power include the Clinton administration’s unauthorized use of hundreds of FBI security clearance files and the NSA’s massive warrantless wiretap program ordered under Bush after 9/11. Even more recently is the case of the IRS targeting right-leaning political organizations. The bottom line in every one of these cases is that no one ever suffered any repercussions from these abuses of power and that will continue to be the pattern going forward. Just as President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for his criminal abuse of power, Congress granted immunity to the telecom companies that were complicit in the NSA wiretapping scandal. Regardless of which party is in power, government always protects its own if there is a way to do so. After every abuse of power (or at least those that are discovered), government officials either deny that there was abuse or they apologize and declare that it won’t happen again. But, they always have their fingers crossed.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation weighs in on the AP wiretaps:
The widespread collection of information, as well as the apparent delay in notifying AP, both appear to be yet another violation the government’s own regulations, 28 C.F.R. sec. 50.10. In 2010, the DOJ Inspector General reported on three other violation, involving the Washington Post and New York Times. The regulations require that, “wherever possible” subpoenas of records of the news media should be “directed at material information regarding a limited subject matter, should cover a reasonably limited period of time and should avoid requiring production of a large volume of unpublished material.”
If the federal government doesn’t follow its own rules with regard to wiretaps, how could anyone with a brain think they will follow their own rules with regard to targeted killinng? I keep asking myself why the public enthusiastically trusts the government when the government is so often caught lying to them. The answer is that the each of the two parties tend to trust their own guy and are mostly blind to abuses of power by the guy they help elect. So, any president can usually count on roughly half of the electorate to support whatever he does.
Glen Greenwald writes::
The ACLU last night condemned the DOJ’s acts as “press intimidation” and said it constitutes “an unacceptable abuse of power”. The Electronic Frontier Foundation denounced it as “a terrible blow against the freedom of the press and the ability of reporters to investigate and report the news”. The New York Times’ Editorial Page Editor Andy Rosenthal called the DOJ’s actions “outrageous” while Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron said they were “shocking” and “disturbing”.