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Nunes’s Memo Is a Stunt, but Surveillance Does Need More Scrutiny

February 1, 2018 in Economics

By Julian Sanchez

Julian Sanchez

Of the many strange inversions the Trump era has produced, few
are as jarring as the flip in Republican orthodoxy about the
federal intelligence and law enforcement communities.
Law and order” conservatives who, a few
years ago, treated skepticism about the Patriot Act as a
blasphemous insult to the integrity of American intelligence
professionals now routinely traffic in talk of “deep state” conspiracies to abuse
surveillance powers.

That was thrown into relief Wednesday, when the FBI traded
brickbats with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chair of the House
Intelligence Committee. In an unusually public rebuke, the FBI condemned the imminent release of a memo
produced by committee staffers alleging misconduct by bureau
officials. Nunes quickly returned fire, accusing the FBI —
headed by President’s Trump appointee, Christopher A. Wray
— of having “stonewalled Congress’ demands for
information.” The memo may reportedly be released soon.

Democrats, stepping into the role Republicans had shed, have
sided with the intelligence community, invoking the need to protect
classified sources and methods. And it’s not hard to see why:
Nearly everything about Nunes’s reinvention as a champion of
privacy and civil liberties reeks of disingenuousness.

There are legitimate concerns about the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court and the myriad means — not all requiring
warrants — by which law enforcement gets access to private
conversations involving U.S. citizens. But the fervor around the
memo means that these serious policy debates will follow so many
others into the maw of Trump-driven partisanship and that the
broader questions of how our national security state operates
— questions more about legal and institutional design than
the motives of individual FBI agents — will go
unexamined.

Nunes, along with many of the allies who joined him in whipping
up a public outcry to #ReleaseTheMemo, voted last month to reauthorize a
controversial warrantless spying authority known as Section 702.
Bipartisan efforts to add privacy safeguards for Americans’
communications were swatted down with confident assertions that
there had been no recorded abuses of such surveillance — an
assessment it seems odd to make at the same time as one is alleging
a systematic effort by senior intelligence officials to deceive
overseers and conceal egregious misconduct.

The overarching narrative
that the Nunes memo apparently seeks to build — a story of
rabid partisans within the Obama administration cooking up a bogus
Russia investigation to use as a weapon against Trump — is
almost certainly nonsense.

The manner in which Nunes’s hermetically sealed concerns about
misuse of spying powers have been pursued is unprecedented. The
House Intelligence Committee, which has historically been
discomfitingly cozy with the agencies it oversees, made …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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