Last week, a little noticed clash took place on Capitol Hill involving the fundamental values underlying the First Amendment. The issue was the lawfulness of publishing the secrets that were given to reporters by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden. The disputants were Cong. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and FBI Director James Comey.
Rogers is the chief congressional apologist for the massive NSA spying apparatus. He is the current chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and in that capacity, he is one of the dozen members of Congress from both houses who were privy to much of the NSA spying before the Snowden revelations. In our perverse post-9/11 world, federal law actually permits this Gang of 12 to substitute for all 535 members of Congress with respect to knowledge of intelligence secrets.
Since 9/11, the Bush and Obama administrations have succeeded in claiming they have congressional consent for the massive NSA spying by merely getting a consensus from the Gang of 12. There is, of course, no provision in the Constitution for the substitution of all 535 members of Congress with a select group of 12 of them, but Congress and Presidents Bush and Obama have gone along with this. The kicker is that all members of the Gang of 12 have been sworn to secrecy and threatened with prosecution if they reveal to anyone, including other members of Congress, what the NSA and other intelligence agencies reveal to them. What kind of representative democracy is that?
Rogers is one of the chief architects and cheerleaders of this post-9/11 unconstitutional version of representative democracy. This is the same system that sends the NSA to judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for search warrants that purport to authorize the NSA to capture the content of every text message, email, telephone call, bank statement, credit card bill and utility bill of everyone in America. This apparatus, too, involves another Gang of 12: the 12 federal judges on the FISA court. They suffer from the same secrecy kicker as Rogers' gang does: They, too, are sworn to secrecy and have been implicitly threatened with prosecution if they violate their oaths.