By Charles P. Pierce
July 16, 2012
I have a suggestion for the Constitutional Law Professor In Chief.
Knock off this scarifying pissantery. Today.
Outside of its embracing of some — but not all, god knows — of the Bush gang's more outre interpretations of the president's national-security powers, the one thing that could cause me to vote this fall for Dr. Jill Stein, my old fellow fencing parent, is the Obama administration's apparent mania for tracing down leaks, and the administration's increasingly clumsy attempts to explain why they're engaging in formalized Egil Krogh-isms when they get caught out. There is simply no excuse for the continuing treatment of Bradley Manning. Their attitude toward the reporter-source relationship in certain areas is downright alarming. And now this — the Food and Drug Administration has an apparent secret-police function.
Moving to quell what one memorandum called the "collaboration" of the F.D.A.'s opponents, the surveillance operation identified 21 agency employees, Congressional officials, outside medical researchers and journalists thought to be working together to put out negative and "defamatory" information about the agency.
I don't often play this card, but, if this came out during the Bush administration, you wouldn't be able to get some people off the ceiling with a crowbar. This is not about protecting "secrets." This is about squelching criticism, and using the powers delegated to you by the federal government to do so, regardless of the lame excuses offered by officials of the FDA. This is about spying on members of Congress — from both parties — who tried to exercise their legitimate oversight function.
While they acknowledged that the surveillance tracked the communications that the scientists had with Congressional officials, journalists and others, they said it was never intended to impede those communications, but only to determine whether information was being improperly shared.
And I am the czar of all the Russias.
Some slopes are not necessarily slippery, but some of them are luge runs, and this is one of them. If you allow one part of the executive branch — the intelligence community, let's say — to act beyond the Constitution, and you do so with such regularity that it seems to become the political status quo, well, then you license every department of the executive branch to behave the same way. And thus does the FDA take upon itself some of the essential functions and justifications of the CIA, as ludicrous as that sounds in theory. Over the past decade, the entire executive branch has become in some way police-ified. And again, if you allow that to become the way things are -—"Mankind are disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable," Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration Of Independence, "than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed" — you normalize the instincts of authoritarianism both in the government, where they are always barely dormant, but, even worse, in the citizenry as well.
The intercepted e-mails revealed, for instance, that a few of the scientists under surveillance were drafting a complaint in 2010 that they planned to take to the Office of Special Counsel. A short time later, before the complaint was filed, Dr. Smith and another complaining scientist were let go and a third was suspended. In another case, the intercepted e-mails indicated that Paul T. Hardy, another of the dissident employees, had reapplied for an F.D.A. job "and is being considered for a position." (He did not get it.) F.D.A. officials were eager to track future media stories too. When they learned from Mr. Hardy's e-mails that he was considering talking to PBS's "Frontline" for a documentary, they ordered a search for anything else on the same topic.
Science dies without the free flow of information. The same can be said of democracy.