The surveillance state is going to stick around.
Don't kid yourselves: Obama's "reforms" will reform very little
Remember that George W. Bush, a Republican, walked back his warrantless wiretapping program in 2007 after a public outcry. This president, a Democrat, isn't going to follow suit—especially given the new instability in Iraq and worries about the vacuum left by the coming pullout from Afghanistan.
All of which means Friday's speech is going to be a piece of kabuki theater: The president is going to have to look like he's taking meaningful action to curb the NSA's reach when he really isn't. To that end, Obama is expected to tweak the bulk data program rather than overhaul it or, as civil libertarians demand, junk it outright.
One such tweak could involve asking telecom providers to house the calling data rather than the government. Another could involve the appointment of a so-called "public advocate" to argue against the administration in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the monitoring of suspected foreign agents.
Changes such as those, however, will be purely "cosmetic," argues Jonathan Turley, an expert on national security law at George Washington University.
We now must pressure Congress -- and the congressional candidates
. Our best play is to carve out a "strange bedfellows" coalition of progressives and libertarians on privacy issues.
The surveillance state has been around for a while.
There has been a lot of talk about the 1971 FBI break-in in Media, Pennsylvania, as enacted by an ad hoc group known as the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI. This "noble burglary" released a lot of information about the strange obsessions of FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover. The pilfered documents revealed that the FBI spent about one percent of its time looking into organized crime and 40 percent of its time keeping tabs on political groups. (One must, of course, keep in mind that Media is a quiet town close to several universities.)
The identities of the burglars
are now known; the planner of the event was a physics professor named William Davidon. (If Sheldon Cooper ever decides to become a criminal mastermind, he might actually accomplish something.) But do we truly
know the story?
with Craig Bromell says that some important aspects of the affair remain mysterious. Over the years, Bromell has been a cop, a talk show host, and a TV producer. In 2006, two former FBI agents called his radio show and gave him some fascinating leads about what really
went down back in 1971. Bromell started investigating.
His contacts made it clear that FBI head J. Edgar Hoover never wanted the Media case to be solved. “It would have been too damaging,” explains Bromell. “The magnitude of the files would have come out as evidence in a trial.”
A tough law and order guy himself, Bromell says he was shocked at the massive FBI surveillance. “It was right-wing, left-wing, Hollywood, politicians, law enforcement. They blanketed everyone. It was staggering,” he says. “There was no oversight, no better than a dictatorship.”
Some of his FBI sources expressed sympathy with the activists who burglarized the office, believing the government should not be spying on citizens, he says.
He believes the burglary was, in some way, an inside job. FBI agents had infiltrated peace activist groups. According to one theory, the undercover agents found out about the planned break-in. Not wanting to blow their cover, the agents went along – perhaps even participating in the burglary – but then lost control of the seized files, says Bromell.
Another theory is that the break-in was engineered by a rogue FBI agent disturbed by the agency’s tactics. “It makes sense but I can’t prove it,” says Bromell.
Some of his FBI sources even pointed to a possible Watergate link. They say that some of the damaging files from the Media office had ended up at Democratic National Committee headquarters and that’s what the Watergate burglars wanted, explains Bromell. “I believe there’s some type of connection.”
The theory of a Watergate link has been around since the early 1970s. Some suggested that Nixon's spooks engineered the robbery in order to give him cover for getting rid of Hoover. It is known that Mark Felt, now believed to be Deep Throat, refused to increase security at the Media offices shortly before the break-in took place. Max Holland (a CIA-friendly writer whom I do not trust) thinks that Felt hankered after Hoover's job and became vengeful when Nixon gave the gig to someone else.
Incidentally, the 1971 event liberated the document which first brought the notorious term COINTELPRO to world attention.
The other great intrusion that theorists have vaguely associated with Watergate was, of course, the very spooky burglary of a Howard Hughes-owned warehouse at 7000 Romaine Street in Los Angeles. Long story there. (You may want to pick up Michael Drosnin's book Citizen Hughes
.) Almost needless to say, I've driven by that location (it's not too far from Hollywood Blvd.) just to salute the parapolitical plotters of yore. The "Mormon mafioso" who ran the Romaine building was Bill Gay, whose son later founded Bain Capital. Yes, Bain
-- of Mitt Romney fame. Remember
(Of course, Watergate was itself a burglary. Lot of that going around, back then...)
And finally...more Christie!
Although my views are tentative and may soon change, I'm leaning toward the theory that the bridge scandal originated not in a petty piece of political vengeance but in response to a land development deal
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D) said she hasn't dismissed the idea that the closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge in September was retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., where traffic was gridlocked for days, for not endorsing Christie. However, she said she was open to a theory about the redevelopment project that was first offered by MSNBC host Steve Kornacki and former political reporter Brian Murphy on Sunday.
"Would these developments play a role in this and be sort of a typical Jersey political story? Absolutely," Weinberg said. "It could have been to show this developer: 'You want a piece of the action? I want -- I'm making something up here -- I want to be the traffic consultant, I want to be the attorney who rents out the property,' or, you know, whatever."
The commonly-held theory is that the whole thing began when Christie forces leaned on Mayor Mark Sokolich for an endorsement, and Sokolich wouldn't play ball. The problem with that theory is that Sokolich does not recall being leaned on. That single fact gives us good reason to look at other
The primary architect of the alternative narrative is Steve Kornacki
of MSNBC. If you visit the story at the other end of that link, you'll encounter this comment:
The project is in two parts -- the first has been approved and is under construction but the final financing details for the second phase of the project are still being worked out, according to Kornacki's report. It doesn't take a very vivid imagination to think that Christie's gang has been trying to squeeze the developers for big contributions or payments, and shut down the access lanes to show just what they could do and how much they could jeopardize the value of the project if they extended the closures or repeated them after it was built. Depending on who the developers are, they very well might pay up to keep their project moving. Looking into the money movements of the developers around the time of the closures might be illuminating!
Alas, Karnacki's idea
has serious problem. We have no evidence that there were
money movements. And no-one has established that a temporary
disruption of traffic in that area would have caused the Money Guys to walk away from the deal.
Maybe, as suggested above, the Christie forces were hoping for a simple pay-off, in order to fund a presidential bid. If so, why hasn't anyone come forward to say "These guys were trying to shake us down?"
For the moment, let's file this one in the "maybe...maybe not" category.