Tucker Carlson says a “whistleblower” in the National Security Agency tipped him off that the agency was planning to leak emails and texts to get him off the air over a story he’s working on. Sounds rather fantastical. We’ve seen no evidence or corroboration of the accusation. My initial instinct should be to dismiss conspiratorial claims about domestic espionage. As it happens, though, I’ve been alive for the past two decades. And history tells us it is wholly conceivable that intelligence and law-enforcement agencies would spy on a television personality. They spy all the time. They do it illegally. They do it for partisan reasons. They do it to lawmakers. They do it to journalists.
It wasn’t that long ago when former President Barack Obama’s director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, famously lied to Congress about the agency’s snooping on American citizens. “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” asked Sen. Ron Wyden in 2013. “No, sir,” Clapper said under oath, ” … Not wittingly.” Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed this as a lie.
It was John Brennan’s CIA that ran an illicit spying operation against the United States Senate, with five agents breaking into Senate Intelligence Committee files. He then lied about it to lawmakers and the public. When asked about the hacking, Brennan claimed that “nothing could be further from the truth. I mean we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s just beyond the — you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.” Do you think people who hack into Senate files — and get away with it — will have any ethical compunction about spying on a TV personality?
Obama also weaponized the NSA for partisan reasons, abusing its foreign-intelligence-collection authority to spy on pro-Israel Jewish-American groups and lawmakers in connection with its Iran-deal negotiations. It was also Obama’s FBI that fabricated FISA-warrant applications — 390 problems were found in 39 of the 42 applications, “including unverified, inaccurate, or inadequately supported facts, as well as typographical errors,” according to a subsequent inspector general’s report — to spy on the opposition campaign over trumped-up “collusion” charges that were largely propelled by a partisan oppo-research document.
Journalists? It was former Attorney General Eric Holder who invoked the Espionage Act to spy on a Fox News reporter, shopping a flimsy case to three judges before finding a pliant one that allowed him to name the reporter as a co-conspirator. The same Obama administration spied on more than 20 Associated Press phone lines. Who knows how many other journalist phone lines this happened to?
Former President Donald Trump’s Justice Department followed suit, collecting the phone records of Washington Post reporters, and tried to obtain email records in an effort to smoke out leakers. The Biden administration — staffed with many of the same people who had unmasked political opponents, though they had no genuine role in counterintelligence operations — defended the Trump DOJ’s actions.
Not one person paid any real price for any of the actions above. The Brennans and Clappers of the world were rewarded for their corruption with lecterns on cable television, from which they proceeded to lecture American people about the importance of patriotism and integrity. And just as the specter of terrorism or “Russia!” gave agencies the justification for domestic spying, today, it seems, they have “white supremacy.”
Even as left-wing rioters and looters were active in American cities across the country in 2020, the Department of Homeland Security was writing reports claiming white supremacists were the most “persistent and lethal threat” in the United States. With the ginned-up, government-led hysteria about right-wing forces gathering to topple our democracy — and Carlson constantly being thrown in with that lot by liberals — is it beyond the imagination that intelligence agencies would find a way to intercept a popular personality’s emails and texts while he’s working on a story?
Again, Carlson’s accusation may not amount to anything. I have no idea. The onus of proof is on him. But we have little reason to dismiss the possibility out of hand. After all, our intelligence agencies have spent decades abusing their power and corroding the public’s trust.
David Harsanyi is a senior writer at National Review and the author of the book “First Freedom: A Ride Through America’s Enduring History With the Gun.”