Ever since Edward Snowden divulged the extent of the NSA spying on Americans, the Obama administration has done everything they can to justify what they are doing. President Obama says it’s legal and necessary and so does Attorney General Eric Holder.
In their defense of the collection and monitoring of all of our phone calls, emails and internet activity, they point to the administration of President George W. Bush as also spying and monitoring phone calls and emails of Americans in the name of national security. But is that justification genuine or hypocritical?
Interestingly, Vice President Joe Biden has been loudly silent on the issue and his silence can only be read as supporting Obama’s actions.
On May 26, 2006, then Senator Joe Biden appeared on The Early Show on CBS. He was interviewed by Harry Smith on the topic of President Bush’s monitoring of phone records. Biden condemns the practice, calls it intrusive and questions how anyone could trust a President and Vice President to do the right thing.
Smith: Fourth Amendment is supposed to protect every American from unreasonable search and seizure. Do you think this big grid passes that test?
Biden: I don’t think it passes the test, but it clearly doesn’t pass the test of two existing statutes that say you can’t do these kinds of things, forgetting the fourth amendment. And, Harry [Smith], the bottom line here is: Here you have the president of the United States making a judgment that’s not reviewable by the courts and not reviewable by the Congress, and we’re supposed to say OK, and they tell us — it’s a little bit like what would happen if the banks turned over all your checking records, without your name, but gave the checking account number and every single purchase you made and pattern of your behavior — and then you were told, ‘Don’t worry, they — that’s not invasion of your privacy.’
Smith: Well, the President though said yesterday we’re not listening to the phone calls, we’re just looking for patterns.
Biden: Harry, I don’t have to listen to your phone calls to know what you’re doing. If I know every single phone call you made I’m able to determine every single person you talked to. I can get a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive. And the real question here is what do they do with this information that they collect that does not have anything to do with al Qaida? There’s a whole deal when you talk about this kind of stuff where under the law, they’re supposed to demonstrate that they’re getting rid of and not keeping any extraneous information that they pick up on wiretaps and/or pick up in sweeps like this. And the President’s saying, I think I wrote down that it’s not mining or trolling. If it’s true that 200 million Americans’ phone calls were monitored, in terms of not listening to what they said, but to whom they spoke and who spoke to them, I don’t know. The Congress should investigate this.
Smith: Here’s the other thing though. We go all the way back to December and the warrantless wiretaps, the President said ‘I have the authority to do this. We went through this. The Congress and they gave me authority to do this. We have the war on terror. We’ve got guys like Senator Jon Kyle that say, complaining about this is nuts. We’re at war here. How are we going to find these guys?
Biden: We have — no one’s arguing whether or not you have the right to go out and tap and go and do everything you need to do to track down al Qaida. That’s not the question here. Years ago, Harry, I was one of those guys that co-sponsored the bill called FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Everyone I’ve spoken to, who’s been briefed on this matter, says that everything that they want to do to deal with al Qaida is able to be done under FISA and maybe with a small amendment to FISA. But this idea that no court will review, no Congress will know and we’re going to trust the president and the vice president of the United States, that they’re doing the right thing, don’t count me in on that.
When a Republican president spied on Americans, Biden was outraged and called for a congressional investigation and said that no one can trust such a President or Vice President. When a Democratic President spies on Americans, Biden remains silently supportive of the action. I hope and pray that Biden’s interview with Harry Smith is played before both house of Congress for all to see and hear. He needs to be grilled by Congress and asked why it was not okay then but is okay now. Knowing Biden, his explanation would be wild and entertaining.