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Monday 10 June 2013

Tel Pundits Get Snooping Wrong

Agenda driven journalism is to be expected from the red-tops and mid-market tabloids, but sadly it is all too often the norm at the Maily Telegraph, which ceased some years ago to be a paper of record. This spills over into the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs, where readers have been treated to the sad sight of Damian “bad omen” Thompson trying to be a serious pundit.
Aided and abetted by the likes of Tim Stanley, who you can tell as he’s a doctor, Thompson has tackled the revelations regarding the industrial scale snooping that the US National Security Administration (NSA) has been up to – not discovered by the Tel – and has concluded that his paper’s agenda means he must kick Barack Obama over it, because, well, it’s written, that’s why.

Stanley fares little better, although at least he admits that the whole business did not just start the moment Obama was inaugurated back in early 2009. Sure, Obama is the current incumbent of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but as I pointed out at the weekend when observing the similar mistakes made by Dan, Dan The Oratory Man, this can be traced directly back to the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001.

This act, following on from and in reaction to the 9/11 attacks, had many provisions that were due to “sunset” four years later. But there was a move to re-authorise. And the problem faced whenever any part of this act is due to “sunset” is that action is inevitably urged not to let this happen, on some kind of security related grounds. Any President doing otherwise would be called out for weakness.

Moreover, laying into Obama manages to miss the briefing given to Congressional leaders, these representing both sides of the aisle (as the Majority leaders, Harry Reid in the Senate and John Boehner in the House, do). Thompson and Stanley – and for the latter, a supposed expert on the US, this is a worrying miss – seem not to appreciate that there are three power bases in US Government.

And the President is but one of them (apart from Congress, there is also the Supreme Court), this being part of the checks and balances that restrain any tendency toward excess by the Executive branch. That Executive branch is the Presidency. Put directly, the President – whoever is the incumbent – cannot just please himself when it comes to making or amending laws.

So when Thompson asks “Will Obama see out his full term?” he shows a basic ignorance of how the US system works. Daniel Ellsberg, he of the Pentagon Papers, has written about the snooping and Edward Snowden’s leaks without personalising any of it – because it isn’t about one person or just one power base. And it’s also about bringing the intelligence agencies into line.

What you will not read in the Telegraph any time soon. No change there, then.

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