Drone strikes and cyberattacks are changing the nature of combat. Americans know it’s happening, but that’s about it. The Obama administration has embraced tactics that began under George W. Bush and kept most of its activities secret, preventing a public discussion about the legal and moral issues raised.
An article in the latest edition of the Nieman Reports, a 60-year-0ld publication on issues confronting journalists, accuses Obama of making up the rules as he goes along and punishing anyone who publicly questions national security policies.
There is little to none of the judicial and legislative oversight Obama had promised, so the executive branch’s most controversial methods of violence and control remain solely in the hands of the president—possibly about to be passed along to a leader with less restraint.
More than a decade after it started, we still have no clue how much the government is listening in on us or reading our e-mail, despite the obvious Fourth Amendment issues.
And the government’s response to this unprecedented secrecy is a war on leaks.
When leaks have occurred, as they did this summer, members of Congress have responded by demanding criminal investigations into those who revealed the information rather than holding hearings on the covert activities that came to light. The Obama administration has filed espionage charges against six officials for leaking information to journalists, more than all previous presidents combined. They include Thomas Drake, who blew the whistle on mismanagement at the National Security Agency. Six felony charges against him were reduced to one misdemeanor, but five other individuals still face punishment, including Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of leaking documents to Wikileaks.
The Nieman Reports article calls for major media organizations to boost coverage of national security and even to hire reporters assigned to a “secrecy beat.” Those journalistts should be asking questions like should the use of drones require a declaration or war or at least an authorization of the use of force.
This is an issue getting very little attention in the presidential campaign, and there’s no sign that Romney would change course. Let’s hope Bob Schieffer isn’t afraid to ask about it in the final debate on foreign policy issues.