Are the NSA and IRS Scandals the Same?

As an attorney suing the IRS on behalf of 25 conservative groups (with more to be added soon), I’m more than familiar with the Obama Administration’s willingness and ability to abuse its power for partisan and ideological ends. Indeed, as a conservative, I’m well aware of the overwhelming temptation for any administration — Democrat or Republican — to misuse and abuse the vast power of a vast government.

As a veteran of the Iraq War, I’m also familiar with our jihadist enemy — its boundless savagery, its expansionist ideology, and its bitter hatred for America. When people ask me what I took away most from Iraq, I always say, “I had no idea what true evil was until I saw al-Qaeda.”

And that brings me to my core problem with the argument that the IRS scandal shows us how government can be abused, thus we should roll back our surveillance programs. But in the IRS case, the entire targeting program was created out of whole cloth to punish one set of Americans for exercising core First Amendment freedoms. The conservative targeting program was an abuse by definition and illegal from its conception. With the IRS, there was no threat to address, while the government abuse is very real and substantiated.

With the NSA, by contrast, the threat is very, very real, and the government abuse at least seems to be hypothetical. As Andy McCarthy has repeatedly pointed out, based on the facts that we have, our surveillance programs comply with applicable law.

Moreoever, as Dr. Krauthammer, Jonah Goldberg, and others have noted, items like F-16s and Abrams tanks can also be abused — in fact, there is a long international history of formidable standing armies being turned on the citizenry — but we also recognize that national defense is a core, constitutional function of government, and there is a tradition of honorable conduct by American military leaders.  In other words, despite its matchless capacity to do harm, we trust the Army.

Here is my question to those most concerned about the NSA scandals: given the very real jihadist threat combined with the constitutional obligation of the government to “provide for the common defense” while still securing the “blessings of liberty,” how should we guard the nation? Let’s recall, of course, that our enemy exploits our military and legal self-restraint to magnify our vulnerabilities.

I am by no means wedded to the notion that the surveillance programs recently revealed are necessary to achieve a reasonable level of security. I do think, however, that it’s unwise to think that we can replace them with nothing — especially as we roll back our offensive operations overseas — without paying a terrible price.

One final note: It is difficult to defend the NSA programs when one doubts the will of the Obama Administration to act even when surveillance yields useful intelligence. Let’s not forget that our government has a history of identifying terrorists — only to let them walk free and attack Americans:

Tamerlan Tsarnaev is the fifth person since 9/11 who has participated in terror attacks after questioning by the FBI. He was preceded by Nidal Hasan; drone casualty Anwar al Awlaki; Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (born Carlos Leon Bledsoe), who murdered an Army recruit in Little Rock in June 2009; and David Coleman Headley, who provided intelligence to the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre in 2008. That doesn’t count Abdulmutallab, who was the subject of warnings to the CIA that he was a potential terrorist.

The right balance between freedom and security is worth debating, but if ideology and incompetence leave us with neither freedom nor security, then the need for debate ends.

Neither freedom nor security?  Historians may later call that the “Obama Doctrine.”

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This post first appeared here on National Review.

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  • jcon526

    It’s an early report, but it appears that the IRS did not necessarily have an ideological aim, as both conservative and liberal groups were targeted.

  • JasonMankey

    The IRS Scandal is not a “scandal.” Both liberal and conservative groups were singled out for scrutiny and that’s a GOOD thing. If someone is asking for tax exempt status it shouldn’t be handed to them on a silver platter.

    There are series problems facing America, this is not one of them.

  • Jerry Lynch

    It should also be noted that the groups targeted for extra scrutiny, as far as I know all received their 501c3, although it now appears many of them should have been denied for their political activities and purpose.

    If you want to make a point, Mr. French, and want people to believe what you are saying, misleading statements like this, “But in the IRS case, the entire targeting program was created out of whole cloth to punish one set of Americans for exercising core First Amendment freedoms.” This is patently False. How do you expect to be taken seriously when you resort to this type of behavior. Criminy, just be honest; is it reall that hard?

    And I see it as impossible for you not to know better that that statement is wrong. And what do you mean by a “whole cloth”? Not a shred of evidence of any White House direct or indirect involvement. The lies of Issa and other Republicans is not evidence. Perhpas you wrote this ill-founded report before the IRS released documents that show they targeted “progressives,” “blue,” and even Israel-leaning groups.

    So you went off on a fiery tangent that had no fuel but your own vitriol. No big deal, we all do it at times. However, there are the least of these, the few, that do not start out like you, Mr. French, with an indictment we try to prove. You do nothing better in all of your blogs than to divide and tear down; you never add anyhting substantive to a solution but to dispise the opposition, and you believe that is doing something positive.

    The rest of the argument to support your hypothesis–”Neither freedom nor security? Historians may later call that the “Obama Doctrine.”–makes no sense. Obama defended NSA and obviously under his administration it is doing its job. You seem to be suggesting that because there was a whistleblower (spy, traitor?), Obama has dropped the security of the country. That’s a guess for I really see no logic in your conclusion.

    What is a little more frightening is your seeming suggestions that we not be so concerned about certain freedoms in exchange for greater security. The Patriot Act surrendered some of the ideals of America to save lives, not what we stand for. You seem to think this a fair and wise choice, freedom for safety, given your experience of the evil Jihadists. Scary.

    And why do you keep writing these purely Neocon political attacks against the president and Democrats on the Evangelical Channel?

  • Jerry Lynch

    Let it also be noted that both the person in charge of the IRS is a Bush-holdover and the man running that office was also a Republican. Where things seemed to go awry was the SCOTUS bizarre ruling on superpacs, which was thoroughly abused by both Right and Left Wing groups that balatantly used their 501c3 for a political agenda. Far more, and bigger, Right Wing organizations took full advantaged.

  • Jerry Lynch

    Mr. French, your blogs are usually ugly and hate-filled toward your political opponents, hardly a subject for advancing the kingdom. Find your proper place on some rabid Right Wing site where your obvious intelligence and grand bias would be duly appreciated, and you will win the accolades and unending agreement of like-minded conspircy theorists.

  • Jerry Lynch

    A confession: I can barely contain myself when I see one of your blogs. Just seeing your name produces a heat that is hard to bear. I want to say here, “people like you drive me nutz,” yet that sounds ever so superior. There are difficult differences of opinion. How I see things appears to be diametrically opposed to your vision. Fine. This does not make you bad and me good, you wrong and me right, in my eyes. Just frkn try to be honest. So cheap to misreperesent the truth in this article. Why? No one will take you seriously.

  • Cletus

    They’re the same in the sense that Republicans are using them as an excuse to whine about being persecuted yet again and to try to score political points.
    They’re different in that the IRS was actually just doing its job and targetted progressive groups as well, and so there is actually no ‘IRS scandal’ just a load of smoke and noise from the usual suspects.

  • David French

    Your response is not accurate. See this most recent report:

    Here’s a key quote from the Inspector General’s new letter: “Our audit did not find evidence that the IRS used the ‘progressives’ identifier as selection criteria for potential political cases between May 2010 and May 2012,”

    And in testimony today the Acting IRS commissioner confirmed that IRS does not have information to contradict the Inspector General’s most recent letter.

    The few liberal groups that were identified in BOLO lists were approved, were not targeted for similar questions, and were often merely asked if c4 status were more appropriate than c3.

    By contrast, the IRS targeted and held up the application of every single group with “tea party,” “patriot,” or “9/12″ in their name — every single one. This was true even in c4 applications (where political advocacy is permissible as well as unlimited issue advocacy). Then, once more than a year of delay passed, they were asked unconstitutionally intrusive questions, including requests for internet passwords, political and charitable activities of family members, donor lists, copies of social media pages (personal and professional), copies of even “indirect” communications with members of elected bodies. A number of our clients still have not received the exemptions applied for, and some are still receiving intrusive questions long after the White House declared that the misconduct stopped.

    The IRS and Administration recognize this is wrong, through repeated testimony of its senior officials, through the apology of Lois Lerner, and through the outrage expressed by the President himself. The President doesn’t believe this was just the IRS “doing its job,” the old and new Commissioners don’t, and the overwhelming majority of Congress — Democrat and Republican — don’t.

  • Jerry Lynch

    Mr. French. your unabashed Right Wing leaning and your obvious hatred for anything that might be construed as to the Left, makes you unbelievable, literally. You do not indict and present evidence, you condemn and try to make it stick. You present the figure of an evangelical that all others expect and are eager to rightly put down. Get off this channel for your political vitriol. You are doing nothing whatsoever to advance the kingdom; you are making that commission a mockery. Or try to approach these sensitive issues without a pre-disposed conclusion. An honest and open look would be refreshing.

  • robert

    The IRS can ruin a life with even more power then a church. I cant stand much of your theology Mr. French I find it deeply troubling, I cant stand “tea bagger” candidates for most things conservative. At times your world view says my world view is a lie and it really makes me angry, frustrated etc. But never would I wish an IRS audit on you or yours. The IRS is a necessity given our modern economic system. But to use that power to subject “opponents” is wrong, it is wrong if Republican or Democratic pundits deploy it. I am a flaming liberal, I support gay marriage, access to healthcare for all, but I struggle wit abortion. Not being a women I tend to not speak to much about it. I am deeply troubled by the rhetoric on both sides of the isle, and I struggle with what it is to be an American. But turning the US government on those that disagree with the current administration is just wrong. It guts our constitution and is just a plain horrible thing to do.

    My mother made a statement in the early 70′s concerning the irs and they said they would ruin her life. They made good on that threat. I am still living with that threat. She was wrong in what she did but she also paid the price. I am terrified of the IRS and other government agencies, they can destroy you without missing a heartbeat. I want to work with my government, I want to work with the opposition and come to some agreement. I want to be an American that builds a consensus. You know Mr. French I have fallen on my face many times begging your God to answer me and my pleas, I understand expecting an answer is an unreasonable expectation and it is. I agree that you fight and their rights should be protected.

    An aside this religion is very strange, it really is.