(ANTIMEDIA Op-Ed) — In an era of what WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange calls “weaponized text” — when terms like “fake news” can be used to discredit media outlets who refuse to tow the corporate line — it’s important to point out instances where journalists get it right.
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One such journalist, who got it right for The New Yorker on Tuesday, is Steve Coll — whether he meant to or not.
In a piece titled “Donald Trump Meets the Surveillance State,” Coll, who is dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, highlighted something independent media has been saying for years.
The true danger of government leaders granting themselves more and more power, Coll argues, isn’t necessarily tied to the person who currently sits on the throne. The true danger is the precedent that gets set for the next one to wear the crown.
“The President and his advisors seem genuinely worried that a ‘deep state’ at the C.I.A. and the F.B.I, of the kind Oliver Stone might imagine, is out to get them,” Coll wrote Tuesday. “In their anxiety, it might be helpful if, instead of tweeting out wild and fanciful accusations about wiretapping at Trump Tower, they were to reflect on the actual engineering of the surveillance state and the much wider dangers to liberty and due process it poses.”
“The Trump Administration has already seen its first national-security advisor, Michael Flynn, resign, after it was revealed that the contents of a conversation between Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s Ambassador to Washington, contradicted descriptions Flynn gave in public and to Vice-President Mike Pence.”
Coll says that as a career intelligence man, Flynn should have known he would be fair game in the realm of surveillance because of the broad authority the government has granted itself through items like Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
That section, which grants the government the authority to spy — without a warrant — on any American suspected of being in communication with a foreigner targeted for surveillance, was used not long ago, Coll points out, to send a young man to prison for thirty years.
Using that case as an example, the writer suggests that given their current standing, Trump and his crew might want to seriously think about how much power they want their governing agencies to have:
“Yet the fact that evidence scooped up by the American surveillance state while it spies on foreign intelligence operatives might end up in a criminal case brought against an American citizen should give President Trump pause, particularly given the F.B.I.’s reported ongoing investigation into alleged contacts between Trump advisors and Russian intelligence and government officials.”
Of FISA, Coll says “the system is highly classified and not subject to scrutiny in open courts,” and goes on to highlight the blaring truth — that it’s precisely systems like FISA that have led to where the United States has found itself in the post-9/11 world:
“Since 2001, because of the U.S.A. Patriot Act and other expansions to counterterrorism authorities and programs, it has become easier for the government to use information collected for intelligence purposes, with or without a warrant, to support criminal prosecutions against any American.”
And he’s correct. Spot on, in fact. But he doesn’t take it far enough.
Coll is talking about the surveillance state, and how it could be turned against those in power. What he could have — and, in the opinion of this reporter, should have — done, is taken it all the way.
The dangers Coll speaks of aren’t rooted in the surveillance state. They’re rooted in the State itself.
What Coll is talking about — again, whether it is his intention or not — is the incremental growth of power. Just last week, Anti-Media reminded readers that, as the dictates being handed down by the current administration are now demonstrating, authoritarian regimes grow in steps. Each new suppression of liberty is built upon the ones that came before.
Coll’s piece is focused on dangers to members of the establishment. And he’s absolutely correct in his assessment. But it would have been nice to see him focus on the dangers to society itself; the ones posed by the State against the people who must exist under it — not on top of it.
Still, Coll saw something that didn’t agree with him. He analyzed it, broke it down into its working components, and then wrote about it. And, in the opinion of this reader, he did it quite well.
And that, friends, is how journalism is supposed to work.