In an early Wednesday morning story which seems to have been a strategic trial balloon, Charles Babington at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, ran a story trying to portray the NSA surveillance revelations by Edward Snowden and subsequent developments as matters which have only riled up people on the "far left and far right." Otherwise, the American people are okey-dokey with NSA's data dragnet. Too bad for Babington and the administration that what appears to have been a belated attempt to intimidate prominent elected politicians has to a large extent not worked, and that polling data he cited near the end of his report (to be covered in Part 2) contradicts his claim that "Solid majorities of Americans and their elected representatives appear to support the chief elements of the government's secret data-gathering."
You can tell that Babington's effort was something out of the ordinary, because the self-described "Essential Global Network" actually used the term "far left" in the story's headline and content. In a U.S. story, that almost never happens unless a reporter is quoting a far-leftists' conservative or moderate opponent. Usually, the only time you see "far left" used in U.S. AP content is to identify a person's placement in a photo. Excerpts from the story follow the jump.
Babington's babbling appears to have a dual purpose: First, to portray Obama and the White House as reasonable people fighting off the nutjobs on the far left and far right; and second, to promote Hillary Clinton's widely expected 2016 presidential campaign by trying to place Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who is believed to have 2016 ambitions, on the paranoid far right (bolds are mine throughout this post):
NSA DEBATE PITS FAR LEFT, RIGHT AGAINST THE MIDDLE
Revelations of massive government collections of Americans' phone and email records have reinvigorated an odd-couple political alliance of the far left and right.
A number of Democratic civil liberties activists, along with libertarian-leaning Republicans, say the government actions are too broad and don't adequately protect citizens' privacy.
But this unlikely coalition might have trouble doing anything more than spicing up the national debate. Solid majorities of Americans and their elected representatives appear to support the chief elements of the government's secret data-gathering, and even some of Congress' most outspoken, pro-limited-government tea partyers are wading cautiously into the discussions.
Among other things, the latest privacy-vs.-security struggle may test libertarianism's clout within the Republican Party. In political circles, it's a favorite topic since the tea party emerged, built largely on antipathy toward President Barack Obama's major health care expansion.
"This is a marginal national security group within our party," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of those who call the government snooping unwarranted or unconstitutional. "I just don't see how anybody gets elected as a Republican" by running to the "left of Obama on national security," said Graham, one of the Senate's most hawkish members.
Leading the libertarian charge is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has clashed with Graham on other issues, including the use of unmanned aircraft to kill terrorism suspects.
... The furor over security and privacy came with the disclosure — in unauthorized leaks to news organizations — of two far-reaching programs run by the National Security Agency. One gathers hundreds of millions of U.S. phone records to — the administration says — search for possible links to known terrorist targets abroad. The other allows the government to tap into nine U.S. Internet companies and gather all communications to detect suspicious behavior that begins overseas.
A handful of congressional liberals have raised complaints similar to Paul's.
Babington then proceeded to identify only one "congressional liberal" -- Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is an independent socialist.
The AP reporter conveniently didn't name Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who I am quite confident wire service has never characterized as being on the "far left." As I pointed out at my home blog on Thursday, thanks to Edward Snowden and Senator Wyden, we now know three things:
- That Wyden asked James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, about whether NSA's activities have expanded far beyond what most Americans believe is permitted (and what is actually permitted) under the PATRIOT Act. Specifically, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"
- That Clapper was unwilling to admit that NSA’s activities have expanded, because he knows that what NSA is doing goes far beyond what most Americans believe is permitted (and what is actually permitted) under the PATRIOT Act, and far beyond what they are willing to tolerate in the name of safety. Clapper's answer was "No, sir. Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly." Clapper now claims it was the "least untruthful" answer he could give. I don't see how anyone call it anything but an outright lie.
- That NSA’s activities, as confirmed by Snowden, really have expanded far beyond what most Americans believe is permitted (and what is actually permitted) under the PATRIOT Act.
Babington also didn't name Colorado Democratic Senator Mark Udall, another person I can virtually guarantee the AP has never characterized as "far left," who has also harshly criticized the NSA surveillance regime.
One of those on the right not named by Babington -- not the "far right," the right -- who has deep concerns about the NSA surveillance is Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, who happens to know a little bit about the specific language of the PATRIOT Act:
We've gotten used to what "Big Government" looks like – Washington's unchecked deficit spending, the Obama administration's policing of the press and the IRS's targeting of conservative groups. But the problem is bigger than we thought. "Big Brother" is watching. And he is monitoring the phone calls and digital communications of every American, as well as of any foreigners who make or receive calls to or from the United States.
Last week, the Guardian reported that the Obama administration is collecting records of every call made to, from or within the US, as well as records of many digital communications. President Obama has tried to deflect criticism by claiming "every member of Congress has been briefed on this program." While some members of Congress were briefed – particularly those on the intelligence committees – most, including myself, were not.
The administration claims authority to sift through details of our private lives because the Patriot Act says that it can. I disagree. I authored the Patriot Act, and this is an abuse of that law.
Finally, a photo montage at the Politico has the reactions of 22 politicians and former politicians to the NSA revelations. Almost two-thirds had serious concerns, and I don't think Babington is ready to call every one of them "far left" or "far right" (I did not quote Wyden, Sensenbrenner, or Sanders, whose objections have already been noted):
- Al Gore -- "In digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?"
- Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) -- "This is yet another example of government overreach that forces the question, ‘What sort of state are we living in?’ There is clearly a glaring difference between what the government is doing and what the American people think they are doing."
- Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) -- “Why they would need that much data puzzles me. It just seems strange that they would collect all of that only to, I’m sure, drill down on certain aspects later on. That was surprise and raises some questions that I think we ought to answer.”
- Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) -- "This type of secret bulk data collection is an outrageous breach of Americans’ privacy. I have had significant concerns about the intelligence community over-collecting information about Americans’ telephone calls, emails and other records."
- Sen. Roy Blount (R-Mo.) -- "I’ve been a supporter of FISA and the FISA court process, but it does seem to me that on all fronts, the Obama administration is more expansive and aggressive — from drones to phone records — than the Bush administration."
- Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) -- "Never thought I would agree with Al Gore but in the case of the #NSA he’s right. The secret blanket surveillance is obscenely outrageous."
- Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) -- “Civil liberties are incredibly important in this country and to have a FISA court basically give a perpetual court order of telephone records … I think it goes against what this country is founded on."
- "We believe this type of program is far too broad and is inconsistent with our nation’s founding principles. We cannot defeat terrorism by compromising our commitment to our civil rights and liberties,” Prominent Democrats including Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), on the House Judiciary committee said in a joint statement.
Sorry, Team Obama, Team Hillary 2016, and dual-purpose cheerleader Charles Babington. This "Obama's the reasonable moderate" trial balloon won't fly for two reasons: Mainstream politicians of both parties are speaking out against what the NSA's dragnet, and, as will be seen in Part 2, the polls aren't telling us what Babington says they are.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.