Today I want to highlight a troubling bill moving through Congress that seems inspired by a thuggish, authoritarian speech given earlier this year by CIA head Mike Pompeo.
I found that speech so disturbing at the time, I wrote an entire piece taking it apart. Below is an excerpt from that talk which is relevant to this piece:
WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. It has encouraged its followers to find jobs at CIA in order to obtain intelligence. It directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information. And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations.
It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. In January of this year, our Intelligence Community determined that Russian military intelligence—the GRU—had used WikiLeaks to release data of US victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia’s primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks.
Pompeo said that in April. Fast forward a few months, and let’s take a look at what the U.S. Senate is up to.
From The Daily Beast:
If the Senate intelligence committee gets its way, America’s spy agencies will have to release a flood of information about Russian threats to the U.S.—the kind of threats that Donald Trump may not want made public.
The committee also wants Congress to declare WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” which would open Julian Assange and the pro-transparency organization – which most of the U.S. government considers a handmaiden of Russian intelligence – to new levels of surveillance.
On Friday, the committee quietly published its annual intelligence authorization, a bill that blesses the next year’s worth of intelligence operations. The bill passed the committee late last month on a 14-1 vote, with Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon as the lone dissenter, owing to what he calls the “legal, constitutional and policy implications” that the WikiLeaks provision may entail…
The bill would establish a “sense of Congress” that WikiLeaks and its leadership “resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors and should be treated as such a service by the United States.” The language echoes almost exactly CIA director Mike Pompeo’s scathing April speech calling WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” a departure from the “I love WikiLeaks” rhetoric from then-candidate Trump.
The move, Eoyang assessed, would open WikiLeaks up to even more extensive surveillance.
“It would allow the intelligence community to collect against them the same way they collect against al-Qaeda,” Eoyang said. “If you think you’re helping WikiLeaks to aid a transparency organization, the US government fundamentally disagrees with you and you could find yourself on other end of NSA scrutiny.”
Wyden has criticized WikiLeaks before, including a May statement that “Trump actively encouraged Russians and WikiLeaks to attack our democracy.” WikiLeaks denies the accusation. But Wyden voted against the bill out of concern for the implications of the WikiLeaks provision.
“My concern is that the use of the novel phrase ‘non-state hostile intelligence service’ may have legal, constitutional, and policy implications, particularly should it be applied to journalists inquiring about secrets,” Wyden said in a quote to the Daily Beast he later released in a statement.
“The language in the bill suggesting that the U.S. government has some unstated course of action against ‘non-state hostile intelligence services’ is equally troubling. The damage done by WikiLeaks to the United States is clear. But with any new challenge to our country, Congress ought not react in a manner that could have negative consequences, unforeseen or not, for our constitutional principles. The introduction of vague, undefined new categories of enemies constitutes such an ill-considered reaction.”
See what happened there. The head of the CIA makes a dubious claim in order to launch what amounts to a backdoor attack against the press. Then, just a few months later, Congress begins pushing a bill which uses the exact same language as Pompeo. This episode once again demonstrates what a joke our so-called “representative” democracy is in practice. If the public wants something, it’ll never happen, but if spies or corporate titans need something done, Congress does not skip a beat.
Also of significance, was the near unanimous support from within the Senate Intelligence Committee, with only Ron Wyden voicing dissent. This is noteworthy because Sen. Wyden was one of the few people who vocally warned about unconstitutional surveillance before Snowden dropped his bombshell.
He was also the one who exposed James Clapper lying about domestic spying while he was Director of National Intelligence:
As I’ve been warning incessantly, the war on free speech and freedom of the press is escalating. We must be more vigilant than ever.