The latest news arrives after Attorney General Barr testified before Congress that the FBI spied on a member of Trump’s campaign team in 2016. In response, James Comey, former FBI director, distinguished between surveillance and spying:
When I hear that kind of language used, it’s concerning because the FBI and the Department of Justice conduct court-ordered electronic surveillance. I have never thought of that as spying. If the attorney general has come to the belief that that should be called spying, wow. That’s going to require a whole lot of conversations inside the Department of Justice.
Police didn’t regard setting up a video camera in a brothel as spying, either. That was ‘court-ordered electronic surveillance.’ Do we have idiots and perverts at the highest levels? That means peeping Toms who watch hours of pornography to catch their johns, bureaucrats who don’t know the plain meaning of the word ‘spy’, and self-interested officials who twist definitions to make words mean whatever suits them. Remember senior Justice attorney John Yoo, who took pains to exonerate torturers in advance? We will have to have a lot of conversations inside the Department of Justice to explain him.
I’ll tell you something, James Comey. You don’t have to have a long conversation to understand the difference between surveillance and spying. Surveillance is when granny stands on her porch to see if her neighbor’s children might cause trouble. Surveillance is when you walk into a bank, a video camera stares straight at you, and a sign under it says ‘premises under electronic surveillance.’ Spying is when you do these things in secret. The object of your interest does not know you monitor them.
How can that distinction be so hard to grasp? DOJ’s bright legal minds want us to know that court-ordered surveillance makes this kind of activity okay. ‘Court-ordered’ means some joker at the FBI contacted the bureau’s friends over at FISA, or some other court the Department of Justice sets up to authorize its outlandish actions. No court orders surveillance. The FBI does.
I only wish Comey would admit his ineptness. Granted, no former FBI director will admit something like that in public. What we want from people like him, three years after he led his bureau into Washington’s political swamplands, would be some glimmer of recognition about what he accomplished. If the possibility that he helped Trump win makes him ‘slightly nauseous,’ so much the better, but honestly, we want more than that.
We wish he would display not humility, but recognition that his view of reality during 2016 departed radically from that of people outside his tight little world. We want him to think a little bit. The man has a brain, but he does not use it to good effect. He constantly talks about his beloved FBI and Department of Justice as if these organizations deserve our respect. They do not. He believes he led his agency well. He did not.
I had some sympathy for Mr. Comey back in 2016. You could observe his public difficulties readily enough. Later I realized, he brought most of these problems on himself. He insinuated himself in 2016’s presidential politics, when he did not have to. If he had just done his job, he would not have found himself disgraced at this point. As it is, he and his agency happily interfered in presidential campaigns, as if people would approve of FBI activities when they came to light. People do not approve. They expect the FBI to stay out of politics.
Apparently he thinks surveillance, and every other kind of domestic police work, are dandy: who else can protect the republic from the Russkies, and all threats domestic and foreign? Comey gives Clinton just enough support to keep that madman out of the Oval Office, and altogether uses his agency’s resources to keep our political processes on the up and up. He actually acts as if the Russkies’ participation in our election was damaging, while the FBI’s was not.
If I’m Putin sitting in the Kremlin, I think, “Man, with people like James Comey around, I don’t have to do anything. I want to disrupt their elections, make Americans lose faith in their own political processes, and maybe somehow, in my dreams, get Trump elected. I have this guy atop the country’s secret police, who does all that for me! Moreover, he’s a patriot who goes to work every morning to protect his country!”
That’s what I mean by stupid. Comey cannot see his motives or his actions from any point of view other than his own.