We have been hearing for years that the existence of the CIA, the FBI and other agencies of the intelligence community constitute a threat to our civil liberties. The alarums about tapping our telephones and otherwise snooping on us have been traditionally sounded by the left but also — perhaps more pianissimo — by the right. Sen. Rand Paul has been a peerless voice on the right in sounding off for civil liberties. When he speaks out, I listen. One of the rallying points of concern in America has been the concern for civil liberties. When the American Civil Liberties Union was founded, it had its champions left, right and center.
The excesses of former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover alarmed us all, but leading the chorus were what we then called liberals and, of course, those sturdy defenders of personal liberty, the libertarians. As the years passed, they could always be relied upon to speak out in defense of freedom, sometimes neurotically, sometimes out of a sober sense of urgency.
Last week, however, I personally discovered that the left's concern for civil liberties has vanished, or at least become muted by partisanship. The right's concern for civil liberties, too, seems muted. With my colleague George Neumayr, I reported on a vast breach of the right to privacy by fellow Americans. We reported the existence of at least one intelligence agency, and possibly others, using foreign agents to eavesdrop on Americans. They thought that by using foreigners, they would not be held accountable. Then, another of my colleagues, Dan Flynn, repeated the charge. The result? Silence. No one on the left, on the right or in the middle seemed to care.
As I intimated above, I assume the left's neglect was owing to partisanship, for we were reporting on a former Democratic administration's surveillance of the Trump presidential campaign. Candidate Donald Trump claimed he was being wiretapped, and it turns out he was right: The Obama administration had been intercepting communications at Trump Tower to spy on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, and it "umasked" Trump officials during the transition. But what explains the right's neglect? It cannot be partisanship. I presume it is but another instance of the conservatives' lifelong political problem: indifference.
What we reported is this: A source with a record of proven reliability over many years overheard FBI agents venting about former CIA Director John Brennan having used British intelligence agents to spy on the Trump campaign. American contractors were also used. The British used American equipment. They had an extensive spying network here in America, using the 12th floor of a building in Crystal City, Virginia, and an NSA building in San Antonio. Moreover, Brennan was not the only one who knew about the spying. Then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was another, and still more senior officials in the Obama administration were aware of it. I am told that then-FBI Director James B. Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe were also aware of the surveillance. They had tried to get FISA warrants to snoop on Trump's associates but were turned down, though they would later get a warrant to spy on Carter Page. So Brennan turned to the British. If they wanted to keep their spying a secret, they were pretty sloppy. But then, they thought they could afford to be sloppy. They knew that Hillary Clinton was going to win.
As I say, one would think spying on American citizens would be opposed by all sides in America today. One would expect a consensus to exist at least on this. But it does not appear to be the case. Members of the left have uttered not a peep. Even the ACLU is quiet. Yet there is one outspoken civil libertarian left: President Trump. He can notify his Department of Justice to take action. In fact, he can even release a tweet. It is time for all defenders of the free society to be heard. American elections are best conducted without the involvement of our intelligence agencies. Not even Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's agents should be invited.