How the Left Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Surveillance State

How the Left Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Surveillance State

We’ve never been huge sticklers about “privacy,” especially when it’s balanced against “security.”  We’ve written a few things here and there about the growing pervasiveness of the security state, but it’s never really been a focus for us.

Most of you probably don’t know this because you weren’t readers of ours back in the 1990s, and those of you who were readers back then, probably don’t remember…because well…the ravages of age and all that.  Nevertheless, our two primary stories for that decade – that is, the two stories we though would have the greatest external/political impact on financial markets in the coming years – were corruption (about which we were proven correct in 2008…and every day since) and terrorism (about which we, unfortunately, were proven correct on September 11, 2001).  For years, the senior (as in oldest) partner here at The Political Forum/The Political Forum Institute cultivated a number of friendships with people in federal law enforcement and intelligence communities, learning from them how serious the risks were and how difficult it was to balance security and privacy.  He even served on the board of an organization (headed by one of the FBI’s most decorated and successful career agents) called the Institute for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.

All of which is to say that we’ve never been among those who have insisted that the government be forced to fight terrorism and other national security risks with one hand tied behind its back.  We have long understood the trade-offs and have sided, for the most part, with those who would keep us all safe.

Today, we’re not so sure that’s still a justifiable position.  We’re not necessarily concerned that the security state is getting too aggressive or too secretive or whatever (although it may be).  Rather, we’re concerned that the security state is becoming/has become part of the “the total state” and will be/is being used to fight a domestic “total war.”

In 2008, Congress passed a handful of amendments to the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act of 1978 (FISA).  Among the most controversial of these amendments was Section 702, which is up for renewal this year.  In January, Axios described Section 702 as follows:

Congress is faced with deciding whether to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — which allows intelligence agencies to conduct warrantless surveillance of non-American citizens outside the U.S. — before it expires at the end of the year….

Little is known about the true extent of 702’s use within the intelligence community, but at a bare minimum, it allows agencies like the CIA, the NSA and the FBI to spy on people abroad through backdoors in telecommunications networks and other online communications systems.

-Gen. Paul Nakasone, head of the NSA and the U.S. Cyber Command, said during an event last week that 702 powers have helped the U.S. government stop planned terrorist plots and cyber espionage campaigns before they happen.

-However, unlike other FISA provisions, 702 doesn’t require a target to be a suspected terrorist, spy or other foreign agent. And often, conversations with U.S. citizens get lumped into 702 data collection.

One can get more information and more conspiratorial-sounding information from various organizations dedicated to preserving civil liberties and the like – and at least some of that conspiratorial-sounding information will undoubtedly be true.

But that’s not our point.

Rather, our point is that the definition of “foreign threat” has, like almost everything else over the last several years, been degraded by rampant, aggressive political hackery.  Moreover, support for the security state has shifted, based on NOTHING MORE THAN THE POLITICAL CAREER OF ONE MAN.  Today, for example, the purportedly mainstream-left-leaning magazine The Washington Monthly published this unnerving rant:

During a March 9 House Intelligence Committee hearing, Representative Darin LaHood dropped a bombshell: the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted multiple unlawful searches of his name as part of the controversial program “Section 702.”  

Should the FBI’s targeting a House member prompt Congress to kill Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act? This program is, after all, supposed to be about preventing attacks on Americans from international terrorist networks and adversarial nations. But despite having his privacy trampled, LaHood wants to keep the program in place. After chewing out the FBI, LaHood concluded, “702 deserves to be reauthorized because it is an invaluable tool to our efforts to counter the threats of our adversaries.”…

[S]ome Democrats with longstanding civil libertarian views regarding surveillance may be tempted to work with anti-FBI Republicans. Representative Pramila Jayapal, who sits on the Judiciary Committee and chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tweeted last month, in response to an article about the FBI’s poor 702 compliance, “This is totally unacceptable AND a great example of why any FISA reauthorization must include meaningful reforms to protect Fourth Amendment rights.” But she and others should think twice before partnering with GOP Rep. Jim] Jordan and [GOP Rep. Andy] Biggs, validating their scurrilous nonsense and undermining trust in our institutions. 

At the same time, resisting any reform of Section 702 may be a political non-starter in this Trumpified House. While LaHood is not letting the FBI query diminish his support of Section 702, he also said the bureau has “a significant trust issue with members of Congress” and that the intelligence committee’s “FISA working group must and will pursue reforms and safeguards through this reauthorization process.” The Illinois Republican, whose father, Ray LaHood, was also a GOP member of the House and Obama’s first transportation secretary, knows his caucus. He is signaling that Republicans must include some FISA reforms to tell their conspiracy-minded base they have done something to rein in the FBI. However, if the proposed reforms go too far and threaten the effectiveness of Section 702, it may lose support from the White House and fail to secure majorities in Congress.

Did you catch that?  Darin LaHood was targeted by the FBI under section 702.  And while he’d like to keep the provision, he’d like some reforms made to it to prevent such things from happening to others.  But don’t trust Darin LaHood!  His reforms are, by definition, garbage.  The guy is only pandering to his conspiracy-addled, right-wing constituents.  And so, for that matter, are all the other Republicans in the “Trumpified” House.

Wait.  What?

According to The Washington Monthly (and the mainstream Left it represents), because voters and even Members of Congress are “Trumpified” there is no reason to take anything they say seriously.  They are Deplorables, only more deplorable than ever.  Anyone who doesn’t trust the FBI wholeheartedly and without question is a risk to national security and should be dismissed out of hand – even “Democrats with longstanding civil libertarian views.”  This is not merely McCarthyism; it’s McCarthyism of the most asinine variety.  It’s not about party or even ideology.  It’s about one man, Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is not the president today.  He is probably NOT going to be the president in 2 years.  He is a private citizen and likely will be until the day he dies.  And yet, they can’t help but fixate on him and everyone even marginally connected to him.  He broke them – and for some strange reason, they’re proud of that.

As we’ve noted before in these pages, Democrats tend to support the Ukrainian effort to resist Russia wholeheartedly, while Republicans tend to be a little more circumspect in their support.  A big part of the reason why this is the case is because to the Left and Never-Trumper-Right, Putin is a surrogate for Trump himself.  The fight against Russia is, to them., the same as the fight against Trumpism.  And it’s a fight that MUST be won at all costs.

In any case, if Section 702 is to be renewed – and we probably support renewal, in the name of national security – then the reason to do so is because it’s necessary, NOT to own the Trumpers.

Unfortunately, this is life in the Total State.  Policy matters not because of its effectiveness or legitimacy but because it punishes our internal enemies (or rewards our friends).

Stick it to Trump! Vote for Big Brother!

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.