- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2017


In the days following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush and Congress passed legislation that vastly expanded the government’s surveillance powers in the name of national security and protecting the “homeland.”

The passage of the USA Patriot Act, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and increased coordination among U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies were all part of a concerted effort to protect Americans from a repeat of 9/11 or the sort of terror that plagues the Middle East and Europe.

Civil libertarians of the left and right expressed immediate concerns about an apparent government willingness to sacrifice or exchange traditional and often constitutionally guaranteed rights for what they termed security. We were assured that that wouldn’t happen; that we could have both because we could trust the government and particularly the Justice Department, the FBI and our intelligence services to always and everywhere never to abuse their new powers.

As the Patriot Act was being debated back then, two Bush administration officials visited conservative activist Paul Weyrich who, like me and others on the right, publicly criticized it as a dangerous bargain that would almost inevitably lead to abuse either by the Bush administration itself or some future Republican or Democratic administration incapable of resisting using the new powers to accomplish its ends or go after its enemies.

That, Mr. Weyrich was assured, wouldn’t happen because “we are the good guys.” Paul wasn’t persuaded and asked, “even if that’s so, what happens when the “bad guys” get their hands on all this new power?”

When Paul called to recount the conversation, I told him we wouldn’t have to wait for the “bad” guys because human nature dictates that even “good” guys will abuse power if the opportunity arises. My opposition to overreach at the time led me to work with anyone including liberals who shared our concerns and I was often critical during those years of the actions of the Bush administration even though I was a Bush supporter who applauded most of what he was trying to accomplish.

The left was, of course, outraged not just by the increase in governmental power, but by the fact that these powers were in the hands of a conservative Republican administration. They took to the streets, fought government overreach in the courts and worked hard to reform the worst provisions of the new laws. They were convinced that the Justice Department under George W. Bush had become but a political arm of a corrupt, right wing cabal that couldn’t be trusted and denounced abuses by prosecutors whenever their interests were threatened.

They may not have been right about the president and his motives, but they were often correct in their criticism of the overreach. The problem was that many if not most were more interested in “getting” a president they despised than in the rights they claimed to be protecting. I stood up at one meeting as I agreed with them and suggested that they remember the willingness of conservatives to stand up even to one of their own when a liberal with their support made it to the White House.

I told a prominent reporter at the time that while I agreed with much of what they were saying, I suspected their motives. He told me after Barack Obama’s election and his subsequent effort to increase the government’s powers even further that he had dismissed my concerns about the left’s dedication to civil liberties at the time, but had gradually realized I was right.

They didn’t take to the streets when out of control prosecutors drove Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens from office even though the judge in the case accused them of lying and suppressing evidence to get the conviction. They didn’t raise a storm when it was proven that the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were involved in illegal gun running and pressuring innocent retailers to break the law.

They weren’t concerned about the politicization of the Department when it was clear that the FBI was running interference for the Clinton administration and now while the evidence is fairly clear that law enforcement used opposition “research” provided by the Clinton campaign to justify a warrant allowing agents to wiretap a Republican candidate’s associates in the midst of a hard-fought campaign they have little if anything to say.

Some on the left are hypocritically arguing the FBI would never have done what they pretty obviously did do and are suggesting that it is unpatriotic to make suggestions that could undermine public confidence in the Bureau, something they had little concern about in an earlier era.

In a post-1964 interview, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover confirmed suspicions that he ordered agents to “bug” Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s campaign plane and feed the information to President Johnson and his campaign. The interviewer said, “But that’s illegal.” Hoover looked him in the eye and said “yes, but when the president of the United States asks you to do something, you do it.”

What held true then is just as true today.

David A. Keene is an editor at large at The Washington Times.

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