Most Americans, I suspect, have the attitude that if the government is spying on someone there is probably a good reason.
In the latest document dump by WikiLeaks, Julian Assange’s outfit may cause some to rethink that premise.
Mr. Assange, who is viewed by some as a patriot and by others as a traitor for exposing American secrets and putting the country in jeopardy, has, reports The Washington Post, “obtained a vast portion of the CIA’s computer hacking arsenal” and has begun “posting the files online in a breach that may expose some of the U.S. intelligence community’s most closely guarded cyber weapons.” The trove, reportedly, exceeds “in scale and significance the massive collection of National Security Agency documents exposed by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.”
Assange claims that the 8,761 CIA documents account for “the entire hacking capacity of the CIA.” He promises there are more documents to come.
Certain malware allow the CIA access to familiar U.S. and European commercial products, including Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, Macintosh Windows and even smart TVs, which, once enabled, could pick up your living room chatter.
Attorney John Whitehead, who heads the Rutherford Institute, which self-describes as “a nonprofit conservative legal organization dedicated to the defense of civil, especially religious, liberties and human rights,” says he is not surprised at the extent of government spying. In a statement, Mr. Whitehead writes: “Government agencies such as the CIA and the NSA have been spying on the citizenry through our smart TVs, listening in on our phone calls, hacking into our computerized devices (including our cars) and compromising our security systems through the use of spyware and malware.”
Mr. Whitehead calls the latest WikiLeaks revelations a confirmation of what he and his organization have warned about for years, namely, that “the government remains the greatest threat to our freedoms” and “these government programs are illegal, unconstitutional, unwarranted and illegitimate. The only way things will change is if we force the government to start playing by the rules of the Constitution.”
I used to regard such statements as extreme and coming mainly from the left, but now I’m not so sure. There is no doubt that terrorists and American enemies, such as China and Russia, can and have used our U.S. Constitution, the freedoms it guarantees and the protection against government intrusion on our privacy and liberties against us, but does that mean that in order to protect those liberties the government must undermine them? Doesn’t that seem self-defeating?
In its oversight capacity, Congress needs to explore what these documents have revealed about the CIA and its tactics. If limited government means anything, surely it means limiting government from the power to invade the privacy of its citizens without warrants and due process.
As John Whitehead puts it: “That means putting an end to this shadow government — with its secret agencies, secret military operations, secret surveillance, secret budgets, secret court rulings and secret interpretations of the law — all of which exist beyond our reach, operate outside our knowledge, and do not answer to ‘we the people.’ “
This ought not be a partisan issue, though some can be counted on to turn it into one. Freedom is a precious commodity, which can never be taken for granted. It is always in danger of being reduced by the powerful without proper safeguards and watchdogs.
There may be damage done to some of these government agencies and their ability to pursue real enemies, but the damage caused to the Constitution and our freedoms could be worse. Congress has an obligation to look into this flood of documents and what they reveal.
• Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist. His latest book is “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” (Zondervan, 2014).