A View From The Handbasket

Monday, May 15, 2006
Slip and slide
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:35 PM

On the off chance that anyone reading this still thinks that the executive branch can be trusted to limit their massive surveillance powers to the hunt for al-Qaeda, you can stop thinking that now.

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

Sorry for the all-Big-Brother-all-the-time flavor here lately, but it seems like every day brings with it new outrages, despite the over-the-top attempts to muzzle the press.

If the excuse for warrantless wiretaps was "it's only international calls involving known terror suspects," and the excuse for data mining all calls was "they're only looking for terror activity," then what's the excuse for this? I imagine it's something along the lines of "CIA leaks damage national security and aid terrorists."

Talk about the very definition of a slippery slope. It's really easy to get from there to monitoring journalists who write stories critical of the administration, then to using the surveillance powers to chase drug dealers, then drug users, then "subversives," then illegal MP3 downloaders, then jaywalkers, then the guy with the "Impeach Bush" bumper sticker, then we're all showing our papers at checkpoints.

All that aside, though, the sudden desire to lock up the recipients of leaks is an alarming shift in attitude, especially from an administration that's on record as using leaks for its own ends. The problem is that under the current regime, this sort of reporting is a self-fufilling prophecy. Everything the White House does is so secret and so counter to what they publicly avow that leaks are by definition the only way to report the truth as opposed to the party line. And if a reporter gets locked up for doing that, then they're ipso facto getting locked up for straying from the party line.

It's coming to the point (if we're indeed not already there) that we will need to answer the question of whether the executive branch is entitled to do whatever it wants in secret and unfettered by law. And if no one asks that question, then it will answer itself.

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