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Democrats have new respect for rule of law when it comes to hacking

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The Obama administration and liberals in the media seem to have a newfound respect for law and order when it comes to using “extralegal” means to undermine political opposition at home and abroad.

Democrats have been hysterical over claims made by some in the media that hackers linked to the Kremlin targeted members of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and leaked what they found online. (The intelligence community has notably refused to confirm that claim, even to members of Congress.)

{mosads} It’s the first time in years that Democrats have objected to a government targeting political leaders for hacking, or trying to get involved in a foreign election. President Obama had fewer apprehensions during his term in office.


Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden first revealed the scope of that reality in 2013. Among the revelations included in documents he published was the administration’s surveillance of the United Nations headquarters in New York City through the “Fairview” program operated by the intelligence community in cooperation with AT&T. 

Of course, that program was operated separately from the NSA’s surveillance of cellular devices held by 35 other world leaders, included German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Neither the American public nor a majority in Congress was made privy to that activity until Snowden exposed it.

In the aftermath of exposure, Obama promised the practice would end. Fast forward to the end of last year: Members of Congress who had interacted with American-Jewish groups discovered they had been swept up in renewed NSA surveillance aimed at keeping tabs on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The White House also obtained private communications between Netanyahu’s aides and members of Congress, leading to accusations that the Obama administration was spying on legislators.

Even more nefarious, the White House didn’t want to leave a paper trail, so it didn’t tell the NSA what information to share and what to withhold.

Are these accusations of rigging an election? Of course not, but the parallels are clear. Without judicial or legislative authorization, U.S. intelligence agencies spied on world leaders at the unilateral or near-unilateral direction of the executive branch in defiance of global norms.

In the instances listed above, the U.S. spied on its own allies in order to gain intelligence and perhaps to sway opposition abroad. The only real difference is that the U.S. didn’t release any communications it obtained, attempting instead to keep its activity a secret.

Until Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee were targeted, it was hard to find a Democrat who had any problem with a government engaging in surveillance for political reasons.

It’s easy for Donald Trump’s opponents to condemn Russia in furtherance of a narrative that Trump would not have won but for hacking, “fake news,” or FBI Director James Comey’s investigation into Clinton. But it ignores the very real possibility that more people in more states preferred Trump to Clinton, and it amounts to a denial on the part of Democrats who refuse to acknowledge that the U.S., under the Obama administration, engaged in the same nefarious behavior they’re now denouncing.

Ashe Schow (@AsheSchow) is a higher education reporter for and the senior political columnist for the New York Observer.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Ashe Schow Barack Obama cybersecurity Donald Trump Fairview Hacking Hillary Clinton Hillary Clinton National security nsa Russia Surveillance Technology

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