Surveillance and Political Corruption

Lord knows I’m not a big AIPAC fan, but the fact of the matter has always been that the AIPAC spy case, though a fun black eye for a nasty operation, has been pretty fishy as a legal matter. And along those lines, the premises under which Jane Harman’s conversations with pro-Israel activists became the subject of surveillance seems even fishier. There’s a large poetic justice factor here in that Harman has been a big defender of potentially abusive surveillance so she doesn’t, personally, have much to stand on as an opponent of abusive surveillance when applied to her. But hypocrisy only gets you so far.

However, the substance of what was recorded really does look damning. Which reminds me of something I was thinking about during the Blago Era, namely how many politicians’ reputations could really stand up to serious surveillance? It seems very likely to me that if you picked a member of congress at random, decided you had probably cause to suspect him of corruption, and thus starting wiretapping all his calls with donors and key political supporters that you would find a ton of dubious quid-pro-quos and backscratching arrangements.

Thinking about that further reenforces the point that selective, unaccountable surveillance is very dangerous. A president could do a great deal to gin up pretexts to wiretap members of congress and blackmail them even without the members doing anything unusually egregious. But it’s also a reminder that we have a political system that’s substantially powered by a kind of systematic, quasi-legalized bribery.