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Hullabaloo


Monday, May 20, 2013

 
Begging to be subjects, Part XXXIV

by digby

Apparently it's necessary to point out that just because something has been legalized, it does not mean that anyone has an obligation to do it. I'm speaking, of course, about this unfolding leak scandal. Yes, the administration appears to have adhered to a strict interpretation of the law (although it seems to me that if the FBI misled the court about possible indictments of reporters in order to get warrants then perhaps that's not actually the case.)

But who cares that it's legal? There is a constitutional principle at stake and we have a right to expect the Department of Justice to be exceptionally cautious about using the sledgehammer of the federal government to shut down the press. Yes, we know the government has reasons to keep secrets and we know the press has reason to want to reveal them. It is a tension that exists at the heart of our system. But that is why we expect that the government, our representatives after all, to give the press notice and allow the process to be litigated through proper channels. These backdoor subpoenas, surveillance of reporters, sweeping dragnets for information is contrary to the principle that the press is a uniquely important institution in a free society.

Perhaps it is just a standard "policy dispute" as the jaded punditocracy drolly asserts today, certainly nothing we could call a "scandal." Everyone knows that reporters are going to be secretly tracked by the government in the course of their jobs. Why what could be more All-American than that?(Oh, and don't worry reporters --- if the government finds something in the course of their surveillance that doesn't pertain to their investigation they pinky swear to forget they ever saw it, so no need to worry that federal agents are prying into your personal life.)

Still, I think it's worth just a teensy bit of concern by those who foolishly believe that the more secrecy a government insists upon having, the more suspicious one should be about why it's keeping all those secrets. That just seems like common sense to me.

Update: It occurs to me that even people inside DC don't know just how massive this secret, domestic intelligence apparatus is, far beyond what's going on with these particular press leaks. There is a hugely expensive, unaccountable, secret part of our government.  I've mentioned this Frontline documentary before but it's never been more timely than now.  If you haven't seen it, it's worth taking the time.  Certainly journalists and opinion writers should. How anyone could be blase after seeing it is beyond me.

For instance, do you know about the "fusion centers?" Probably not.  But you're paying for them:
Today, a bipartisan Senate committee published the searing results of a two-year investigation (PDF) into “fusion centers,” which were created in the aftermath of 9/11 as places for state, local and federal officials to share and analyze information, in the hopes of detecting and thwarting terrorist threats.

The country’s 70-plus state and local fusion centers have “not produced useful intelligence to support federal counterterrorism efforts” and have “too often wasted money and stepped on Americans’ civil liberties,” according to the report, which goes on to criticize the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for insufficient oversight.

According to the congressional report, DHS estimates that it has spent between $289 million and $1.4 billion to support fusion centers since 2003. Why is there such a broad range and so little certainty of just how much money has been spent?

DHS has given an unusual amount of autonomy to each state to figure out what to do with fusion center money, which also means they don’t have good accounting of what each state spends their money on and how effective it’s been. It’s a broad problem for DHS. They were trying to give states autonomy, but it lacks the accountability that such a broad and expensive program needs.

Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) noted that while fusion centers have not provided useful intelligence, they “may provide valuable services in fields other than terrorism,” like criminal investigations, public safety or disaster response. What’s the likelihood that the centers remain in place, but take on other activities? What’s the likelihood that they are eliminated altogether?

Is this ok? Are we just accepting that the government has built 70 surveillance centers that are not doing anything to thwart terrorism, but need to be funded because they might become valuable in "other things" like criminal investigations and "public safety?" Feel safer with more and more yahoos with surveillance power using this federally funded technology to track ...well, anything they want to?
That's just one example. Perhaps it's true that nobody gives a damn about all this, but the one group I would expect to care would be the press. To see some of these pundits and reporters pooh-pooh it  is just depressing.

We've known about much of this for some time, what with the disdainful treatment of Wikileaks and stories of other reporters being hounded and personally investigated. But it's still very unnerving to know that the so-called liberal media won't even uniformly fight for itself when it finds the press in the cross-hairs. What the hell are average citizens supposed to do?

Update: This Greg Sargent interview with Mark Mazzetti, who covers national security for the New York Times, is well worth reading. Unlike the jaded commentariat (not Greg, obviously) people who work in the field really are disturbed.

Of course, if you don't care to know what your government is doing well then, this is just a tempest in a teapot.
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