“I regret that in the politicization of everything that happens in Washington, D.C., some took offense.” That’s Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano’s latest non-apology for her department’s report that veterans are a threat to the country. Obviously she doesn’t get it. The central issue is not about anyone taking offense but of rights being violated.
Several recent reports suggest an emerging pattern of systematic abuse of federal law enforcement and intelligence assets to target law-abiding Americans engaged in the peaceful expression of political views. The target groups are not domestic terrorists but those who make known certain opinions on abortion, same-sex marriage, guns, immigration, foreign trade, job outsourcing, the federal relationship with states and America’s role in the international community. Their crime is that they disagree with Obama administration policies.
The Department of Homeland Security is not the only government agency engaging in intrusive behavior. The New York Times reported that the National Security Agency has been intercepting domestic e-mail and phone calls “on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress.” The overcollection was described as “significant and systematic.” The Wall Street Journal reported on the FBI’s Operation Vigilant Eagle, which is a domestic program focusing on veterans involved in extremist groups. The FBI says that tripwires are in place to protect civil liberties, but there is no need for such an investigation when the FBI itself reported in July 2008 that just 19 veterans of the war on terrorism became involved in extremist movements between 2001 and 2008.
There must be better uses for the FBI’s limited resources, yet the Canada Free Press and Northeast Intelligence Network report that directives were issued to all 56 FBI field offices to “coordinate and conduct, either at the field office level and/or with the appropriate resident agency, covert video surveillance and data collection of the participants of the TEA parties … independently and outside of the purview of local law enforcement.” Such monitoring represents a significant abuse of power against law-abiding Americans freely exercising their First Amendment rights - in this case against massive government spending.
The Department of Homeland Security report on right-wing extremism has received more attention than these other transgressions. Ms. Napolitano doggedly supports that report even as questions have emerged over its propriety from her department’s own civil rights division. Congressman Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has sent Ms. Napolitano a letter stating that the report “appears to raise significant issues involving the privacy and civil liberties of many Americans - including war veterans.” He has called for a congressional hearing and reminded the secretary that “freedom of association and freedom of speech are guaranteed to all Americans - whether a person’s beliefs, whatever their political orientation, are ‘extremist’ or not.” The report is also the subject of a federal civil liberties lawsuit filed by the Thomas More Law Center.
This abuse of power goes far beyond any of the charges leveled at the Bush administration, but civil liberties groups that were quick to castigate former President George W. Bush have been deafeningly silent as Americans’ First Amendment freedoms of speech and association come under assault. That legitimate political differences can become the justification for official action is the type of thing we would expect to see in Iran or North Korea, not the United States.