(ANTIMEDIA Op-ed) — Right on schedule, the corporate media is in a tizzy over President Donald Trump’s failure to acknowledge the death of Senator John McCain, who passed away over the weekend after a battle with brain cancer.
As CBS “reported”: “While the White House originally lowered the flag late Saturday evening, White House reporters, including CBS News’ Mark Knoller, noticed that the flag was back at full staff Monday morning.”
“As Trump Stays Silent on John McCain’s Death, the Senator Gets a Last Word,” reads a New York Times headline.
NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw tweeted Monday:
pres trump – you are commander in chief by law, duty bound to honor sen mccain
ignoring his death is a disgrace
— Tom Brokaw (@tombrokaw) August 27, 2018
You get the picture. The media feeding frenzy has reached a fever pitch over Trump’s failure to adequately honor the same senator who pushed for war in Iraq and advocated arming and training Syrian rebels, a U.S. government program that eventually saw the Department of Defense empowering extremist factions. McCain then criticized Trump for ending the CIA’s iteration of that program, claiming doing so was handing a win to Russia.
But McCain is an American hero today, seemingly because he was a Republican who openly challenged Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the media is ignoring a far more important development: A federal trial challenging the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance programs, which McCain failed to question. In fact, in 2015, two years after whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed the extent of the NSA’s privacy invasions, a court ruled to rein in some of the agency’s bulk phone data collections—and in protest, McCain flatly said, “People seem to have forgotten 9/11.” (Despite the highly publicized feud between the senator and the president, like McCain, supports mass surveillance.)
That same year, McCain voted against the USA Freedom Act, a modest attempt to scale back the surveillance state. He abstained multiple times from voting on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a policy that has served as a rubber stamp authority for the NSA to conduct its most invasive spying practices. The FISA courts have allowed the PRISM program, a key revelation of Snowden’s leaks, to continue into 2018.
The NSA’s PRISM program has relied on collaboration with big tech companies like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Apple, and Skype. Though PRISM is supposed to monitor foreign communications, domestic data has been continuously collected, as well. While this collection technically requires a warrant, those warrants come from FISA courts, which rarely deny government requests. As the ACLU has noted, the government “uses PRISM as a backdoor into Americans’ private communications, violating the Fourth Amendment on a massive scale. We don’t know the total number of Americans affected, even today, because the government has refused to provide any estimate.”
The civil liberties organization is arguing a case in federal court Monday that “has the potential to restore crucial privacy protections for the millions of Americans who use the internet to communicate with family, friends, and others overseas.” The case involves Agron Hasbajrami, a Brooklyn man, who is seeking to overturn terrorism charges because the government has admitted to reading his emails without a warrant.
Though the man already pleaded guilty to a charge of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group in Pakistan, he—along with the ACLU and Electronic Freedom Foundation, which are representing him—“challenged the government’s warrantless surveillance and is asking the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out the resulting evidence,” the ACLU said.
Whatever one might say about Hasbajrami’s activities, the case has serious implications for innocent Americans who have never committed any crimes. As the ACLU noted:
“Americans regularly communicate with individuals overseas, and the government uses PRISM surveillance to collect and sift through many of these private communications. The government has even admitted that one of the purposes of Section 702 is to spy on Americans’ international communications without a warrant.
“The government casts a wide net, making it easy for innocent Americans who communicate with family, friends, and others overseas to be swept up. Relying on a single court order, the NSA uses Section 702 to put more than 125,000 targets under surveillance each year. These individuals need not be spies, terrorists, or accused of any wrongdoing — they can be journalists, business people, university researchers, or anyone else who may have information bearing remotely on ‘foreign affairs.’”
This is a huge case that addresses longstanding government encroachments on Americans and is far more relevant to their freedom than a spate between Donald Trump and John McCain. But the media is too busy reporting on Trump’s superficial snubs of a man who enthusiastically advocated destroying those freedoms.
Similarly, earlier this month the media blasted Donald Trump for refusing to mention McCain’s name, which Congress included in the National Defense Authorization Act to honor the dying lawmaker. Neither Trump nor the media addressed the codification of endless war to the tune of $717 billion or Congress’ refusal to repeal the indefinite detention of American citizens. The great offense was that Trump did not pay his respects to a politician.
And as the media continues to wax hysterical about Trump’s dishonorable behavior, the real issues remain swept under the rug while the very public the government is spying on is distracted by partisan quibbling and false outrage. The TSA continues to expand its authority, the NSA is collecting growing amounts of data, the use of facial recognition technology and biometrics is on the rise, and the government continues to spend trillions of dollars on wars that have failed to stop terrorism.
But the White House only flew the special American cloth at half mast for a day, and we should all be very concerned.
Editor’s Note: This article previously stated that over the past year, the FISA courts denied a record number of requests (.11 percent), but that figure reflects the denial rate over previous decades and administration, not the last year.