HARRISBURG – Sometimes, it is painfully obvious that the two-party system is a joke, at least when it comes to keeping reins on the government’s powers.
Sunday morning, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairwoman and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and House Intelligence Committee, respectively, appeared together on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, to offer a bipartisan defense for the NSA’s unprecedented-and-questionably-legal-but-unquestionably-creepy secret collection of Americans’ phone records.
Do either of them use their positions and influence to call for changes to domestic spying programs or the expansive security state we’ve developed in the last decade? Do I really need to tell you the answer to that question?
In near lock-step, the arguments from Feinstein and Rogers basically boil down to “we need to have all your phone records because 9/11 happened.” (No, really, skip ahead to about 2:30 in the video here and watch Feinstein make some kind of vague point about how upset she was when she once flew over the World Trade Center site….and so therefore it’s okay to violate the privacy of all Americans.)
But the best part of the clip happens around the 5:45 mark, when Stephanopoulos plays an clip of James Clapper, director of national intelligence, testifying before Congress in March. At that time, Clapper says the NSA does “not wittingly” collect mass information about Americans.
Stephanopoulos says he “has a hard time squaring that answer with what we learned this week,” which is a nice way of asking Feinstein and Rogers to go on the record saying that Clapper lied through his teeth to Congress and the American people.
What happens next is a truly breathtaking demonstration of bipartisan excuse-making for the NSA.
Feinstein: “Well, I…I think this is very hard. There is no more direct or honest person than Jim Clapper. You can misunderstand the question, um, this is one of the dilemmas of talking about it. He could have thought the question had content or something. But it is true that this is a wide collection of phone records, as Mike (Rogers) said.”
Let’s try to make sense of that, shall we?
First, Feinstein passes on the opportunity to say Clapper is a liar – when, again, he was very clearly lying and we now know that to be true. Then, she goes beyond ignoring his lie and actually defends him as an “honest person,” and tries to suggest – somehow, though it’s pretty clear even she doesn’t believe this – that it was the question that confused him. Finally, she gets around to admitting the fact that NSA is conducting a “wide collection of phone records,” the very thing that supposed-honest guy Jim Clapper denied was happening.
Wow. But we’re not done yet. Rep. Rogers, your thoughts?
Rodgers: “One of the things that we’re charged with is keeping America safe and keeping our civil liberties and privacy intact. I think we’ve done both in this particular case.”
And there you have it. The most powerful members of each political party when it comes to legal restraints on the gathering of intelligence by the NSA (and, presumably, other agencies as well) think it is fine for men running those agencies to blatantly lie to Congress and feel that gathering massive amounts of data about Americans’ phone usage counts as fairly balancing privacy rights and security.
But this is a two-party system, right?
Boehm is a civil liberties reporter for Watchdog.org and bureau chief for PA Independent. He can be reached at [email protected]