Wiki-flood: Why it’s time for Congress to investigate

Cal Thomas,

Most Americans, I suspect, have the attitude that if the government is spying on someone there is probably a good reason.

In the latest document dump by WikiLeaks, Julian Assange’s outfit may cause some to rethink that premise.

Assange, who is viewed by some as a patriot and by others as a traitor for exposing American secrets and putting the country in jeopardy, has, reports The Washington Post, “obtained a vast portion of the CIA’s computer hacking arsenal” and has begun “posting the files online in a breach that may expose some of the U.S. intelligence community’s most closely guarded cyber weapons.” The trove, reportedly, exceeds “…in scale and significance the massive collection of National Security Agency documents exposed by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.”

Assange claims that the 8,761 CIA documents account for “the entire hacking capacity of the CIA.” He promises there are more documents to come.

wikileaks_small Wiki-flood: Why it's time for Congress to investigate Opinion

Certain malware allow the CIA access to familiar U.S. and European commercial products, including Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, Macintosh Windows and even Smart TVs, which, once enabled, could pick up your living room chatter.

Attorney John Whitehead, who heads The Rutherford Institute, which self-describes as “A nonprofit conservative legal organization dedicated to the defense of civil, especially religious, liberties and human rights,” says he is not surprised at the extent of government spying. In a statement, Whitehead writes: “…government agencies such as the CIA and the NSA have been spying on the citizenry through our smart TVs, listening in on our phone calls, hacking into our computerized devices (including our cars) and compromising our security systems through the use of spyware and malware.”

Whitehead calls the latest WikiLeaks revelations a confirmation of what he and his organization have warned about for years, namely, that “the government remains the greatest threat to our freedoms” and “these government programs are illegal, unconstitutional, unwarranted and illegitimate. The only way things will change is if we force the government to start playing by the rules of the Constitution.”

I used to regard such statements as extreme and coming mainly from the left, but now I’m not so sure. There is no doubt that terrorists and American enemies, such as China and Russia, can and have used our U.S. Constitution, the freedoms it guarantees and the protection against government intrusion on our privacy and liberties against us, but does that mean that in order to protect those liberties the government must undermine them? Doesn’t that seem self-defeating?

In its oversight capacity, Congress needs to explore what these documents have revealed about the CIA and its tactics. If limited government means anything, surely it means limiting government from the power to invade the privacy of its citizens without warrants and due process.

As John Whitehead puts it: “That means putting an end to this shadow government — with its secret agencies, secret military operations, secret surveillance, secret budgets, secret court rulings and secret interpretations of the law — all of which exist beyond our reach, operate outside our knowledge, and do not answer to ‘we the people.’”

This ought not be a partisan issue, though some can be counted on to turn it into one. Freedom is a precious commodity, which can never be taken for granted. It is always in danger of being reduced by the powerful without proper safeguards and watchdogs.

There may be damage done to some of these government agencies and their ability to pursue real enemies, but the damage caused to the Constitution and our freedoms could be worse. Congress has an obligation to look into this flood of documents and what they reveal.

Cal Thomas is America’s most widely syndicated op-ed columnist.

  • DrArtaud

    Snowden and Assange, interesting people. Whistle-blowing is an unfortunate necessity for companies that refuse to proactively address issues. In terms of safety, notifying OSHA constitutes whistle-blowing, and protections are in place; usually; for the whistle-blower. One man that I’m aware of reported a problem, OSHA came in to investigate, it apparently had merit, and right after that, the company tried to put the whistle-blower on a bad shift as punishment. He phoned OSHA, they phoned the company and instructed them not to change his shift as that was clearly punishment for reporting the problem. Of course, the company can still change his shift, but that will bring legal action by OSHA under whistle-blower laws and you risk having OSHA visit your facility and looking more closely at conditions.

    Inspector Generals for govt depts serve similar purposes. They audit depts and report back to Congress. Most I’ve seen are incredibly devoid of apparent political affiliation, as the things they reveal are often devastating for the depts involved. And this is how it should be.

    Snowden says in the music video below (relevant to this topic) that when people say they are unconcerned about govt intrusion into their personal lives via their electronic devices because they have nothing to hide is like saying they are unconcerned about Freedom of Speech because they have nothing to say. Spot on Snowden. The govt and other entities, such as everyday hackers, can extract information from your devices, write information to your device, delete information from your device, send text messages and emails from your device, log your passwords, via the microphone listen to you, via the cameras they can look at you, and more.

    On Android, before downloading an App, look at the permissions. One app terribly abused is a Flashlight App that turns on the Cameras flash and keeps it on. Here is a report on their potentially ominous nature.

    PDF File Link: SnoopWall Flashlight Apps Threat Assessment Report

    I’ve refused to download many apps due to excessive or bizarre permissions. Be careful, be selective, be educated on the issues. Of course, many of these precautions are insufficient to stop govt spying, but the fewer places your data goes, the more secure you’ll be.

    The 4th Amendment says:

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things…

    Of course the Founders never envisioned electronic devices; no more than they envisioned airplanes, cars, semiautomatic firearms, etc.; but the principle of being secured in papers and effects covers that, it’s electronic paper. Though most of us support intelligence gathering on suspected terrorists, the govt has shown, with Trump, a propensity of spying on political candidates, and have violated and destroyed our trust. I no longer have confidence in our intelligence gathering, the arrogance of trying to put Trump “in his place” is more than I can conscience. That is the hallmark of an out-of-control govt agency that is direly lacking in competent oversight.

    More salient to the following, I think, is the activist liberal courts making judgements that are patently absurd, for instance Hawaii and Washington challenging Trump’s second executive order on immigration from select Middle Eastern countries. They are seeing rights where they don’t exist and ignoring them where they do.

    There is no doubt that terrorists and American enemies, such as China and Russia, can and have used our U.S. Constitution, the freedoms it guarantees and the protection against government intrusion on our privacy and liberties against us…

    Anyway, a few music videos, of sorts, on the issue of data security.

    Music Video: Jean-Michel Jarre, Edward Snowden - Exit

    Music Video: Zero-Day

    The next world war will not be invisible.

    After the success of STUXNET, a virus written by the United States to destroy Iranian uranium enrichment facilities, the U.S. government could no longer deny it was developing cyber weapons meant to do physical damage. With US companies and agencies under constant attack from state-sponsored Chinese hackers, it is only a matter of time before tensions boil over and more sensitive infrastructure is targeted. As more of our devices (cars, homes, etc) become connected, we will become more and more vulnerable to the physical threat of cyber warfare.