When Americans learned of the federal government’s massive efforts to collect data on millions of innocent people during the Obama administration, constitutional conservatives were at the forefront of efforts to walk back the privacy violations. Despite support for some of his other policies, conservative voices must remain vigilant of Donald Trump’s efforts to enable the same surveillance state.
The Senate, this week, confirmed Trump CIA director nominee, Mike Pompeo, despite objections from privacy and civil liberties advocates.
Pompeo, a former House Republican from Kansas, has been a frequent surveillance state apologist and an advocate of reinstating and expanding National Security efforts to gather information of millions of innocent people.
“I come to the Agency as a longtime admirer, well acquainted with your skill, courage, and dedication during my years on the House Intelligence Committee,” Pompeo said in a message to the CIA following his confirmation.
Back in 2015, Pompeo sponsored legislation to reinstate the NSA’s ability to sweep up vast troves of American communications metadata following the public backlash that led Congress to walk back some of the government’s surveillance efforts.
He wrote in an op-ed around the time: “Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database. Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed. That includes Presidential Policy Directive-28, which bestows privacy rights on foreigners and imposes burdensome requirements to justify data collection.”
And while the new CIA director has claimed in the past to support increased congressional oversight of spy powers, he’s sent some pretty mixed messages about his seriousness.
One example pointed out by Sen Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is when Pompeo referred to Congress’s long-awaited report on the CIA’s use of torture in interrogations as “narcissistic self-cleansing” and described lawmaker efforts to inform the American people of the agency’s actions as “quintessentially at odds with [their] duty to [their] country.”
Getting back to Pompeo’s surveillance advocacy, he’s used terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino as evidence that the surveillance state needs more power.
But what the new CIA director, and other top intelligence officials, frequently fail to note when using isolated terror attacks to justify increased surveillance is that intelligence agencies had in many cases already been watching the perpetrators prior to the attacks.
Omar Mateen had twice been investigated by FBI officials before he shot up the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Years before the Boston bombing, CIA and FBI officials were warned about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. He was reportedly listed on the federal government’s list of potential terrorists.
And according to anonymous law enforcement sources mentioned in various media outlets, San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik were on the national security radar because of their close relationship with a terrorist arrested for plotting to attack U.S. soldiers.
For many observers, it seems more that the federal government should better use the information it already gathers than that it needs the ability to gather more.
That’s a key argument against bulk collection of communications information: With so much information to sift through, agents lose sight of major threats they’ve already identified.
But anyone who’s studied how government operates knows the prevailing attitude of the state is that more is better.
And that appears to be Pompeo’s attitude toward surveillance. He has, in fact, stated expressly: “Less intelligence capacity equals less safety.”
Unfortunately, time and again we’ve learned that increasing the size and power of government only makes it less efficient and increasingly reckless in its pursuits.