Jay Stanley is a measured, rational policy analyst. He is a man of facts, not given over to wild speculation or sensationalization. Which is why, before offering his theory that the NSA may currently be blackmailing certain politicians to support the agency's efforts, he sounds almost apologetic.
He sounds apologetic because he doesn't like what he's about to say, not having the unmistakable, absolute data necessary to back it up:
Sometimes when I hear public officials speaking out in defense of NSA spying, I can’t help thinking, even if just for a moment, “What if the NSA has something on that person?”So why, then, does Stanley proceed to offer what, in truth, is a conspiracy theory regarding the NSA and current political support in Washington? Political support that goes against public opinion?
Of course it’s natural, when people disagree with you, to at least briefly think, “They couldn’t possibly really believe that, there must be some outside power forcing them to take that position.” Mostly I do not believe that anything like that is now going on.
Because, as he admits, the agency has lost all credibility regarding its actions. More than this, though, it has already been revealed that NSA analysts and cooperating entities have surveilled some of the world's most powerful and important leaders.
The NSA's reported reach into not just the lives of ordinary citizens, but the lives of world leaders, has been so expansive that David Sirota explicitly addressed the potential of NSA blackmail against members of Congress. And as Stanley reminds, NSA surveillance against members of Congress is something that has been alleged by whistleblowers with direct knowledge of such activities.
Whistleblower Russell Tice...alleged that while at the agency he saw wiretap information for members of Congress and the judiciary firsthand. Such fears explain why it is considered an especially serious matter any time elected or judicial officials are eavesdropped upon. The New York Times reported in 2009 that some NSA officials had tried to wiretap a member of Congress without a warrant. Members of Congress (and perhaps the judiciary) surely also noted a Washington Post report based on Snowden documents that the NSA had intercepted a “large number” of calls from the Washington DC area code due to a “programming error.”Do we know that some members of Congress have been approached by NSA officials in possession of compromising personal information? Do we know that members of Congress vociferously expressing support for the NSA hare doing so for reasons other than political ideology or a concern for electoral politics.
Unfortunately, we know too much already to rule such scenarios out as the stuff of Hollywood. We know too much already about the NSA's surveillance reach, and about its failure to disclose such activities.
As revelations continue to trickle out from the documents Edward Snowden provided Glenn Greenwald and others – and there will be more revelations – perhaps we'll be able to put Stanley's theory to rest.
My fear is that the opposite will be the case.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.