Maybe I missed something but I’ve been assuming for the last half-dozen years or so, probably a lot longer, that every word I spoke into a cellphone, every text and email I wrote, every letter I typed in my Internet-connected computers and, more recently, every utterance I made in front of the Amazon Alexa on my desk were being recorded somewhere. And if someone or some organization seriously wanted to find them, if they could wangle permission or even if not, they would be able to get all or most of it. My life, good and bad, is up there in the cloud somewhere, every last word and digit.
Isn’t that true of all of us?
Then why wouldn’t that be true of Donald Trump?
Was he somehow able to escape the sweeping purview of the NSA, CIA, FSB, MI5, MOSSAD, MSS (China), BND (Germany), DGSE (France), SISMI (Italy), VAJA (Iran), BUREAU 121 (North Korea), etc., etc, not to mention a world of non-state actors who took a programming course somewhere and, these days, the refrigerator or the dimmer switch in the guest room, the oh-so-modern Internet of Things.
Angela Merkel wasn’t. Russian Ambassador Kislyak, a nuclear scientist, apparently wasn’t. Nor were, as opéra bouffe, the executives of Sony Pictures whose emails were rifled by the North Koreans.
Let’s be honest, we’re all under surveillance all the time and must rely, from all evidence, not on the laws supposedly protecting us, but, like Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, on the “kindness of strangers” for our privacy. (Let’s hope our peccadilloes are too minor to attract anyone’s attention — at least for now.)
In the end, it’s not a question of were we surveilled, it’s a question of who reveals the contents of that surveillance to whom, and when and why.
That is why, you will excuse me, but I look on the bipartisan conclusions of the congressional intelligence committees — that Trump was not, in that hoary term, “wiretapped” — with a jaundiced eye. In the narrowest sense, maybe not. In the larger sense, of course.
What concerns me — what should concern all of us if we are interested in living a free, independent life — is who leaked the various surveillances that did or did not take place. Those people MUST be punished. (We’ll leave aside for the moment the extent these leaks were enabled by Obama through his last-minute decree that information could be shared among 17 intelligence agencies.) The leaks seem to come in two forms.
The first we could call the “Leak Direct” (or in Shakespearean terms the “Lie Direct“). A prime example is the intercepted phone call between Mike Flynn and Ambassador Kislyak that ultimately resulted in Flynn losing his position as national security adviser in record time. Flynn was a private American citizen at the time of the call and should, according to law, never have had his identity revealed. That didn’t stop the leaker who, it seems, was also not afraid of the serious felony conviction that could come from his or her actions. So far that was a good bet.
The second form we could call in Shakespearean parlance the “Leak Conditional.” It’s filled with disinformation swallowed by a reporter undoubtedly chosen as a eager shill for certain material. A good example of this is the January 20, 2017 New York Times report that referenced putative wiretapping (again that old-fashioned term) of Trump associates and apparently inspired the president to think he was tapped. He should know better than to trust the NYT. They like to tell stories. It would be interesting again to know who leaked here and why. And while we’re at it, where did this leak come from? There are either a lot of felonious people or a lot of gullible reporters around, most likely both. Or maybe there really were petitions to the FISA court. They’re being denied everywhere, but how do we even believe that?
It’s hard to prevent all the intelligence agencies listed above from doing what they do. In the cases of the ones working for us, it’s a necessary evil, alas. But without prosecuting leakers severely, even to a draconian extent, our privacy will be forever compromised. I don’t know what other protection we have than a heavy dose of fear in the hearts of people who think they’re doing us all a favor but usually are just living out their political biases at our expense.
It’s hard to leave this subject without mentioning Thursday’s article from Judge Andrew Napolitano, who wrote:
Sources have told me that the British foreign surveillance service, the Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, most likely provided Obama with transcripts of Trump’s calls. The NSA has given GCHQ full 24/7 access to its computers, so GCHQ — a foreign intelligence agency that, like the NSA, operates outside our constitutional norms — has the digital versions of all electronic communications made in America in 2016, including Trump’s. So by bypassing all American intelligence services, Obama would have had access to what he wanted with no Obama administration fingerprints.
Thus, when senior American intelligence officials denied that their agencies knew about this, they were probably being truthful. Adding to this ominous scenario is the fact that three days after Trump’s inauguration, the head of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, abruptly resigned, stating that he wished to spend more time with his family.
I hope the investigations of Trump’s allegation discover and reveal the truth — whatever it is. But the lesson here is terribly serious.
We face the gravest threat to personal liberty since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 proscribed criticism of the government.
All I can say is — wow. Meanwhile, to help get to the bottom of things, I offer this parody of Shakespeare’s As You Like It from Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:
- The Lie Direct is simply “You lie” or “You are a liar”. Crude, but useful as a challenge to mortal combat.
- The Lie Circumstantial is: “If anyone says such-and-such, he lies.” This gives your opponent the opportunity to evade your wrath.
- Next comes the Countercheck Quarrelsome: “How dare you say such a thing!”
- Then the Reproof Valiant: “You know that is not true.” I usually use this as the outer limit myself, though I sometimes advance to the Countercheck Quarrelsome.
- The next lower degree is the Reply Churlish: “You are no judge; your opinion is worthless.”
- The Quip Modest I find hard to put into words; it is something like “I prefer it that way”.
- And finally The Retort Courteous: “My opinion is otherwise.”
- (redmonk proposed an eighth degree: the Non-Reply Apathetic; an example would be superfluous.)
I go with 7. “My opinion is otherwise.”
Roger L. Simon is an award-winning novelist, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and co-founder of PJ Media. His latest book is I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already. You can follow him on Twitter @rogerlsimon.