The first thing Republicans did on Monday was try to use the tragedy to call for expansive new surveillance powers for the FBI – despite the fact that the FBI had no problem surveilling the Orlando attacker while they were investigating him. As the New York Times noted on Monday: “FBI agents in Florida used multiple investigative tools, including an undercover informant who made contact with the suspect, wiretapping his conversations, and pulling personal and financial records” when they first investigated him in 2013.
But Republicans didn’t let the facts get in the way. They want to massively broaden the use of national security letters, controversial and unconstitutional tools that the FBI would be able to use to get people’s email records and internet history without involving a judge or courts at all. Of course, they can already get this with a court order, but Republicans (and the Obama administration) want as little judicial scrutiny over these activities as possible.
Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton’s “solutions” are much similar: she hinted Monday she is for expanding surveillance capabilities as well, saying we needed an “intelligence surge” to “bolster our capabilities across the board, with appropriate safeguards here at home.” She neglected to mention that we’re in about Year 15 or so of an “intelligence surge” that has seen our national security agencies receive literally hundreds of billions of dollars and their legal capabilities expand at every turn.
She also said claimed we should “get back to … the spirit of 9/12.” Ah yes, the days of secretly planning illegal surveillance, torture, and worldwide war. Where do we sign up?
Democrats in Congress, meanwhile, have decided their number one issue stopping people on the No Fly List, or the much more expansive terrorist watch list, buying guns. To many people this may seem reasonable: no one wants suspected terrorists to get access to guns. However, those lists have an enormous problem: they are due process nightmares, with secretive and unconstitutional rules that leave citizens no feasible way to get off them when they have been put on by mistake (which has happened over and over).
Sadly, this has barely come up in the discussion despite the fact that Democrats used to harshly criticize the No Fly List under George W Bush. (The late Senator Edward Kennedy once found himself on the list, and even he struggled to get off it). Many people do not want to admit that this wouldn’t have stopped the Orlando attack, because Mateen was off the list by the time he bought the guns he used.
And then of course there’s Donald Trump, who has spent the past few days congratulating himself about the attack and absurdly insinuating the president sympathizes or is secretly working with Isis. He has reiterated his xenophobic and racist proposal to ban all Muslim immigrants despite the fact that the attacker himself was born in America and therefore an American citizen.
At the same time, Trump’s bag man Chris Christie is insistent we respond to a domestic attack carried out by a disturbed American with no known contact with anyone overseas by bombing more people halfway around the world – only he doesn’t know exactly who we should bomb. He said this week, “It’s unacceptable to allow this kind of stuff in our country and for us not to fight back, and we need to fight back, and that’s all these people understand.” When pressed for exactly where we should be bombing, Christie only replied, “You gotta get over there and start making them pay where they live.” Christie is apparently unaware we’ve already dropped tens of thousands of bombs after over a year at war with Isis.
Of course the best way to stop murderers from killing large numbers of people would be to categorically ban the sale of weapons that make mass murder so easy. That, however, seems to be the one thing that everyone understands is the least likely thing to happen.
Trevor Timm is a Guardian US columnist and executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a non-profit that supports and defends journalism dedicated to transparency and accountability. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorTimm
Copyright; The Guardian News and Observer Media Limited. Reprinted with permission.
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