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The Independent Institute
Commentary

Congress Believes: Spy on Thee, but Not Me


The reaction of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein to recent revelations that the CIA secretly searched Senate Intelligence Committee computers reveals much about what Washington thinks about the rest of us. “Spy on thee, but not on me!”

Feinstein’s hypocrisy on this issue is astounding. She is an enthusiastic backer of the National Security Agency spying on the rest of us, but when the tables are turned, and her staff is the target, she becomes irate. But there is more to it than that. There is an attitude in Washington that the laws Congress passes do not apply to its members. They can trample our civil liberties, they believe, but it should never affect their own freedom.

Much of this started when politicians rushed to pass the Patriot Act after 9/11. Those of us who warned that such extensive new government power would be used against us someday were criticized as alarmist and worse. The violations happened just as we warned, but when political leaders discovered the breach of our civil liberties, they did nothing about it. It was not until whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden and others informed us of the abuses that the “debate” over surveillance—that President Obama claimed to welcome—could even begin to take place. Left to politicians such as Feinstein, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and Obama, we would never have that debate, because we would not know.

Washington does not care about our privacy; both political parties are guilty. When serious violations are discovered, they most often rush to protect the status quo instead of defending the Constitution. Feinstein did just that as the NSA spying revelations began to create pressure on the intelligence community. Her NSA reform legislation was but a smoke screen: Under the guise of “reform,” it would have codified the violations already taking place.

What is buried in the accusations and denials about CIA snooping on Senate computers is that the issue of concern was an expected 6,000-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on the recent CIA history of torture at the “gulag archipelago” of secret prisons it set up across the world after the attacks of 9/11. We can understand why the CIA might have been afraid of that information getting out.

When CIA whistle-blower John Kiriakou exposed the CIA’s role in torturing prisoners, he was sent to prison for nearly three years. Feinstein and her colleagues didn’t lift a finger to support him.

When the government behaves like an empire rather than a republic, lying to the rest of us is permissible. They spy on everybody because they don’t trust anybody. The answer is obvious: Rein in the CIA; remove its authority to conduct these kinds of covert actions.

Rein in government. Lawmakers should not defend Fourth Amendment rights only when their staffs have been violated. They should do it all the time for all of us.

The people’s branch of government must stand up for the people. Let’s hope that Feinstein has had her wake-up call and will now finally start defending the rest of us against a government that increasingly sees us as the enemy.


Ron Paul is a former U.S. Congressman who enjoys a national reputation as the premier advocate for liberty in politics today.