The other day an acquaintance told me that he had recently been at an event featuring Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal. He asked the senator if the National Security Agency was blackmailing politicians. According to my friend, Blumenthal essentially ducked the question.
Really. So I decided to see what reasonably reliable sources have to say about this. Well, yeah, the ACLU is worried about it. It wouldn't be anything new, actually. J. Edgar Hoover did it, as is well known. The ACLU quotes Ronald Kessler's book on Hoover:
“The moment [Hoover] would get something on a senator,” said William Sullivan, who became the number three official in the bureau under Hoover, “he’d send one of the errand boys up and advise the senator that ‘we’re in the course of an investigation, and we by chance happened to come up with this data on your daughter. But we wanted you to know this. We realize you’d want to know it.’ Well, Jesus, what does that tell the senator? From that time on, the senator’s right in his pocket.”
Lawrence J. Heim, who was in the Crime Records Division, confirmed to me that the bureau sent agents to tell members of Congress that Hoover had picked up derogatory information on them.
So, if the NSA is listening to Francoise Holland's and Angela Merkel's phone calls, it's pretty hard to believe they aren't listening to Barack Obama's and Harry Reid's. And the impunity of the CIA and NSA after the various revelations of late is quite noteworthy.
Andrew Rosenthal in the NYT notes that the NSA has collected embarrassing personal information about Muslim activists -- none of whom is accused of involvement in any crime -- in order to discredit them. Former NSA analyst Russell Tice might be a nut -- who was fired in 2005 for whistleblowing -- might be a nut, but then again he might not. He claims that the NSA spied on Barack Obama when he was a senate candidate and routinely spied on phone and email messages of Congress, the Supreme Court, reporters, and the military during his tenure. If so, they're undoubtedly doing it now.
The eternally bloating budget of the national security establishment, and their absolute impunity, do make you wonder.