WASHINGTON – After weeks of silence, there was a small but welcome stirring of concern last week in the House Democratic leadership about the way the government’s secret spying machine is shredding Americans’ constitutional liberties.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California asked an obscure oversight board to comment on two bills filed by House members in the wake of the stunning revelations of whistle-blower Edward Snowden about the federal sweeps and storing of our emails, telephone calls, GPS postings and social media notes.
One bill would effectively stop random snooping on innocent Americans. The other would require more disclosure by government agencies when it prowled on its citizens.
Pelosi raised the issue at a Thursday press conference. This contrasted with Democratic neo-conservatives who ply attacks on Snowden himself to deflect from legitimate worries about unbridled violations of our rights by the ominous National Security Agency.
She may have been prompted by a Quinnipiac Poll, taken before Snowden was said to ask Russia for asylum, that showed a strong majority of Americans think Snowden is a whistle-blower and not a traitor. Or because of anger that President Obama’s two top intelligence chiefs lied to Congress when summoned to comment on Snowden’s revelations.
Pelosi was booed when she told a Netroots conference in San Jose last month that Snowden violated the law when he released NSA documents. Booing is good. It can remind politicians that there are real people back home – a life beyond the lobbyists, the fund-raisers in posh clubs and estates and the camp followers.
The agency to which Pelosi wrote is the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created in 2001 to advise Congress and the president about abuses stemming from enactment of the Patriot Act. President Obama made halting attempts to invigorate it. But it hasn’t done much, considering the deflowering of the Constitution begun under Bush-Cheney and run rampant under Obama and the whip held by his attorney general, Eric Holder.
Holder has worn out his welcome – even in Washington. Besides criminalizing a Fox News reporter’s questions and sweeping the Associated Press’ phones, Holder is now revealed as an inspiration behind an insidious new program exposed by McClatchy Newspapers. It’s called Operation Insider Threat, which calls on all – all – federal employees to psychologically profile, to spy on each other to nab potential leakers of government secrets. Failure to report a likely whistle-blower can result in criminal charges being lodged against a federal employee. This program, which is now law by presidential order, affects not only national security but the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Someone should psychologically profile Holder. Now comes a report from the conservative Judicial Watch that Holder’s Justice Department dispatched money and people from its Community Relations Service to agitate for marches in Florida against Trayvon Martin’s Neighborhood Watch killer George Zimmerman.
About 130 House Republicans have signed on to a non-binding resolution voicing “no confidence” in Holder and calling for his immediate retirement; 218 House votes are needed for passage. Obama has voiced confidence in Holder, but a bill of impeachment against Holder might be next.
It’s impossible to know whether Pelosi is serious about curbing the NSA, or just made a move to fend off public outrage.
Reacting to the earlier scandal of Holder’s spying on AP telephones, Obama asked Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., to introduce a bill shielding reporters from having to reveal their sources. Schumer has, and the American Society of News Editors supports it, but S.987 doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon.