I feel that I have experienced information overload this week. It has not been a slow news week. I might prefer to enjoy the Super Bowl today or the Olympics next week but my mind seems to be preoccupied with the State of our Union and a few items that President Trump may have left out of his speech last week. His speech was memorable with a fair accounting of his accomplishments during the past year and his vision of the many items yet to come - with considerable language intended to reach across the aisle and gain support from the Democrats in attendance. Good luck with that. (their demeanor during the speech has been compared to the statues of Easter Island.)
But the subtext of the event was the anticipation of "The Memo", as we have come to think of the bombshell document from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Before I can discuss the memo, I want to look back at the history, during my lifetime, of the abuse of power by the Intelligence Community and the struggle of our government to honor the Constitutional limitations with due deference to the important checks and balances inherent in our system of government = our Constitutional Republic.
Our system of government has produced many heroes who have served our nation with passionate devotion. But there have been many examples of individuals or groups who have blurred the line between service to the nation and abuse of power for themselves or for their causes. During my lifetime, I have observed the Federal Bureau of Investigation build files of information on US citizens to serve the personal whims of the Director - such as files on Martin Luther King whose stand on Civil Rights was apparently viewed by Mr. Hoover as a greater threat to the nation than the mafia crime syndicates of the day. The White House staff of President Richard Nixon crossed the line when they apparently thought it was more important to serve the President than to serve the Presidency. (with the unfortunate acronym of CREEP for the "Committee to RE-Elect the President" - just a touch of irony there).
In 1975 the US Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities or the Church Committee for its Chairman, Frank Church (D- Idaho) took on the CIA, NSA, FBI and the IRS for a variety of abuses in a massive investigation. To be fair there has always been a tension between the activities of the Intelligence agencies and the concern for civil liberties of a free people. But Senator Church thought of the various intelligence agencies as rogue elephants. These abuses ran from opening and photographing domestic mail (from the late forties to the seventies) to the covert assassination of foreign leaders. The Church Committee in the Senate, the Pike Committee in the House, and the Rockefeller Committee chaired by the VIce-President generated considerable debate over the legality and propriety of Intelligence agency actions. The Ford administration through the efforts of Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Ellsworth persuaded the Congress not to dismantle many of the agencies.
Senator Church appeared (August 17, 1975) on NBC's Meet the Press stating, "In the need to develop a capacity to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air.(...) Now, that is necessary and important to the United States as we look abroad at enemies or potential enemies. We must know, at the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left: such is the capability to monitor everything -- telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide... If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know... I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."
I recommend further reading "Why Activists Today Should Still Care about the 40 year old Church Committee Report, Brandon Marcetic, May 3, 2016,
Several videos (eerily similar to current events) on the Church hearings:
One of the legal changes to come out of the Church Committee hearings was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or FISA Court (1978) which was an attempt to control access to the intelligence machinery with a requirement of a warrant - not unlike the independent judicial warrant required by the 4th Amendment of the Constitution. However, the process has proved to be somewhat ineffective as it seems like a rubber stamp for the FBI or DOJ who submits the request. The FISA judges accepted nearly all of their requests (99.93 percent approval in 2013) and all of their requests in 2014 and 2015.
The Obama administration seems to have weaponized his administration against your fellow citizens. The IRS has admitted to intentionally holding up applications for tax-exempt status for conservative groups. Eric Holder, the Attorney General, had no problem with tapping twenty some phone lines used by James Rosen, Fox News Journalist - including his parent's phone on the off chance that he might use their phone.
And now, with the advent of the memo, it appears that the Intelligence Community is, once again, straying across the line. The DOJ and the FBI seem to think they can act without limitation.
The technology that worried Senator Church in 1975 has, of course, been upgraded massively since then. And while our privacy rights are nearly non-existent in this day and age because of commercial data gathering, the government is still subject to the Constitution and other legal restrictions. But one of the problems is that the free press which we depend upon to speak truth to power has completely abrogated their responsibility and have acted for some time as a shill for the Democrat party.
The memo to which I refer is drafted by Devin Nunes (R-CA), the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He is currently under attack by the media and the left for the contents of the memo. I anticipate the Democrats on the committee will issue a minority memo, which I would like to see before I present the full text of the majority memo. The memo only discusses the abuse of the FISA Court, and I have other questions about that as well. I view this memo to be a strong first step in challenging the DOJ and FBI, but, to paraphase Winston Churchill - it is not the end of the conversation or even the beginning of the end. It may be the end of the beginning of what may become the greatest scandal and abuse of power in my lifetime. As I indicated in my title, it is only first down and 40 yards to go. That may be as close as I get to the Super Bowl tonight.