Comey did it to himself & Us, by gutting Privacy, Encryption, & 4th Amendment

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In former FBI director James Comey’s interview with ABC News, he attempted to position himself as an upholder of the rule of law, of the constitution, and even of the truth.

Human beings are very good at forgetting their own misdeeds and building narratives that justify themselves, which may even be desirable evolutionarily. But the particular shape of Comey’s amnesia is troubling because of what it means for American democracy.

Comey has been a central figure in the gutting of the fourth amendment of the Constitution and in attempts to make sure the FBI and the rest of the US government can break your encryption and spy on you illegally. It is true that Comey did not want to go as far in that direction as former vice president Dick Cheney, but he wanted to go so far as nevertheless to make the constitution meaningless and to make Americans vulnerable to hacking. You see, the tech companies cannot create backdoors for the FBI without creating backdoors for Russian troll farms in St Petersburg.

Am I saying Comey did it to himself? I am saying Comey did it to himself. And to the rest of us.

Comey condemned Edward Snowden for his revelations about illegal government collection of Americans’ data from telephone calls. Even that was misdirection because Snowden’s more important revelation was that the NSA has individual-level tools to monitor emails. But even the telephone metadata issue is grave, since it would tell you to whom Warren Buffet is speaking, potentially allowing manipulation of the stock market; it would tell you if a politician is seeing a specialist in venereal diseases, allowing you to blackmail him.

And apparently Comey and others corrupted the entire US judicial system by illegally requisitioning telephone metadata to zero in on drug sellers, then notifying local police to arrest them and lie to the judge about how the police began their evidence trail. 100,000 of the inmates in our vast penitentiary gulag are guilty of no more than selling some pot, which most of us don’t even think should be illegal, and many were put there by unconstitutional government surveillance which then concealed itself from the judiciary. Far from standing for the constitution or the truth, Comey dramatically undermined both. Comey has bequeathed these unconstitutional tactics to the weaselly and wholly unscrupulous Jeff Sessions, who is having his minions use them against DACA dreamers and Black Lives Matter.

Comey watched James Clapper lie to Congress about mass warrantless surveillance of the American people. Comey knew Clapper was lying. He did not come after Clapper. He did not resign. His insistence on truth-telling suddenly was abandoned. He was disappointed that Gen. Petraeus was not prosecuted for lying to the FBI about his affair. Clapper’s assassination of the Fourth amendment and dissimulation was not an issue for him.

Comey doesn’t like Trumpworld. Comey helped create Trumpworld.

Then there was his attempt to strongarm Apple into weakening (you might as well say deleting) encryption on its smartphones. Comey saw an opening to get rid of that pesky encryption by creating a legal precedent, and he lied about his true motives, maintaining that there was no other way for the FBI to investigate the San Bernardino shootings. (Let me help him with that; a couple of mentally unstable people were allowed to buy an arsenal and went postal). When the FBI did hack in, they found nothing useful. They did Apple the favor of demonstrating that current encryption is too weak.

National Security elites like Comey are not our friends when it comes to privacy. The NSA used tradecraft and bribery to get an encryption company to adopt an NSA standard, which turned out to have backdoors for the NSA. And, of couse, for everyone else.

American democracy was certainly hacked in 2016. You can argue about whether Putin’s patriots were decisive or not, but you cannot deny the attempt. Comey has been so eager to get the bad guys that he has robbed the rest of us of our 4th amendment rights and of our privacy, and gave Russian and UAE hackers essential tools.

He still can’t see it.

Comey doesn’t like Trumpworld.

Comey helped create Trumpworld.

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Bonus video:

James Comey calls Trump morally unfit for office in exclusive ABC News interview | ABC7

15 Responses

  1. This is very different from what I see at CNN: Shame on CNN for excluding Professor Cole’s very respectable perspective. The MSM’s first priority is to block dissent.

  2. Thanks for printing this Professor Cole. You have provided us with a great public service, with this revealing article. Again, thank you.

  3. “Human beings are very good at forgetting their own misdeeds and building narratives that justify themselves…”

    Very insightful, well-integrated, and important thoughts in this post. The above line frames the core issue. Not to get all Freudian, but defense of the Ego drives pretty much everything else, so being able to control that imperative strikes me as the single thing essential for transcendence, or progress, whatever someone’s political orientation.

    There have been other posts or comments here lamenting the lack of critical thinking, or a good liberal arts education, seen as essential for a democracy. But I don’t think even those things are necessary, past the point of being able to read and write with nominal skill.

    Everything else becomes possible once one develops some insight to their own biases and blindspots. Like the man said, Know Thyself. From that point one can hope to avoid being manipulated by their Ego, or at least to grow and get past it whenever the wool is pulled. Growth becomes possible. They then have the ability, and inevitably will, eventually spot the behavioral patterns that have been recurring since the earliest histories of Greece, and become immune to them. Self governance becomes possible for themselves, and for society in general.

    Sadly, Comey missed the boat, and he still doesn’t have a clue. Not to say he’s especially lonely in that regard.

    • You need the good liberal education, and more, to accept historical evidence that your biases and blind spots are dangerous and eventually you will pay a price for them. America is all about charging ahead and grabbing everything in sight, and then looking back to see if you’ve gotten away with it. If you’ve been trained by the short-term bias in capitalist society to devalue future consequences more and more until they’re essentially meaningless, then this is not an illogical way to behave.

  4. I suppose it’s a shame that Trump can’t uses today’s column to attack Comey. Trump would be on Comey’s side on every issue.

    While we are kicking the tall man around, Wasn’t he in charge when all those FBI stings were set up to con domestic Muslims into becoming terrorists so they could be easily arrested, and convicted, for trying to carry out an FBI orchestrated and funded “terrorist plots”? e.g. leveling the Sears Tower in Chicago (currently a Jeff Bazos project)

  5. Corporate-controlled media (CCM) is foisting Comey to the heights to take the heat for getting Trump elected from THEM!! CCM is the real culprit.

    Please, get it right!

  6. Thank you for truth about Comey and his snake-oil mea culpas.

    Talk about ‘the pot calling the kettle black’ – and then some

  7. Robert Mueller is not a civil libertarian hero either, no matter how well he may do in bringing justice to Trmp (or not).

  8. May be dense, but, in the main, do not see how US attack on computer privacy of US citizens helped the Russians hack. The US government accessing US citizen private data does not seem to equate with facilitating Russian access. I can see the connection only insofar as it involves US pressuring a company like Apple to weaken encryption. That aside, to the extent the US government accesses individual data, the hacking by Russians seems only to be as good as it is able to hack American intelligence (which is not the same as the DNC). If the US government adequately guards its records from foreign governments, there does not seem to be a problem as far as US data collection compromising US security. Not saying I agree necessarily with US access or compromising of US citizen data, but the pressuring of Apple aside (maybe no small matter), I am having a hard time seeing the connection. Seems strained. Also, it seems the main issue with Apple was not so weakening security/encryption, but allowing US government to have access to it, which again does not necessarily equate with access by foreign governments. I am far from pleased with how Comey conducted himself as FBI director, including public announcement about Clinton invest windup, and then Weiner and the reopening. Seems to me he overplayed his role. That he seems still not to get. At the same time, his firing by Trump seemed to be a big event, an indication perhaps that Trump was concerned that he might not have been “corruptible.” It also seems to me that in evaluating the actions of these long time public officials in high positions, their commitment to duty aside, it seems people do not appreciate the importance of staying on the job and even rising more. People say they can make millions in private practice and such, but that often is not what they are more interested in. There are issues of legacy, the value/importance of the institution, and trying to do a decent job under trying circumstances. And, whatever one things about McCabe, with him running to White House and such and keeping close friends there, his firing one day before he was due to pension out was an abuse of very high order, designed to intimidate any public official who would stand up. These FBI folks may not be sympathetic figures, but it seems more perspective may be needed in making comparison with Trump and his inner circle.

    • Because if the US government had pushed for consumer privacy and strong encryption it would have made it more difficult for anyone to hack anything.

  9. Somebody should whisper in Trump’s ear that Mueller’s investigation is being stalled by encrypted files he can’t get into. That’ll get him on the right side, albeit for the wrong reason.

  10. “Comey doesn’t like Trumpworld. Comey helped create Trumpworld.”

    Unfortunately, that’s the blunt truth of the matter. And now Comey – and the rest of us – are stuck with the reality he helped midwife.

  11. The issue is government access to user data, however strongly encrypted. If Apple and US government have it, that does not mean that Russians will, unless Apple or US government is careless. There may be something to the idea that US government prefers weaker encryption to facilitate its own access to citizen. There is a problem when all of this, (communication between government and private providers) happens in the dark. Congress has a role in this, after all. So too the courts. Ultimately it seems to boil down to when, under what circumstances, should government have access to citizen data. There is some law on this, albeit data collection was happening for a while between telecom providers and executive branch w/o judicial oversight. Congress has made abdication a bad habit of long standing, this when it comes to privacy, and also matters of war and peace (and many other matters, where there is either apathy or stalemate). Within DOJ, DOS, DOD, much is relative. Comey better than Gonzalez, McMaster better than Bolton, for example. Easy to call on people to resign, and I often wonder why more decent of people would want to remain and be associated with bad doings or lot, but, in considering a given official’s resignation “on principle,” serious consideration must be given to what/who will remain or take that official’s place. We live in the world of the possible, and a substantial shift in the balance of power will be needed to achieve the types of “privacy” protection that appears to be needed.

    • Actually Apple does not have access to your encrypted data and therefore cannot share it wih the government, which is what Comey minded.

  12. So…..there is a hierarchy of bad guys. With people like Dick Cheney at the top, and James Comey somewhere further down. The real question is this — “Are ANY of these Republicans on the side of right and decency….or are ALL of them thieves, crooks and liars?” My vote would be that they are all “thieves, crooks and liars”.

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