Without going over the edge to Rush Limbaugh territory, the internal spying on reporters and politicization of the IRS do raise the question. Could Obama be trumping “Tricky Dick” on the latter’s home turf? Few politicians can match Richard Milhous Nixon for obsession with leaks, propagation of secret wars and creation of a list of enemies.
Let’s consider the evidence thus far and remember first that an indignant bi-partisan Congressional investigation, a ferocious press well beyond Woodward and Bernstein and a public that was riveted to the hour-by-hour testimony exposed Nixon’s dirty tricks.
Obama’s penchant for secrecy has allowed only snippets of the most deadly policies to be revealed. Without even the most basic details on essential policies including execution of Americans, targeting criteria for lethal drone strikes and offensive cyber warfare ops, it will be hard to given Nixon an even playing field in the comparison, but “Nixon vs. Obama, who was worse?” is a question that many people are starting to ask.
On the zeal for tracking down leaked information, Richard Nixon’s obsession is legendary. He reacted to the leak of the Pentagon Papers by first asking the FBI to organize secret break ins, and when the FBI refused created his own “a special investigations unit,” a secret group of top aides to combat the leaking. They were latter known as “The Plumbers.” Led by the obsession to find dirt on Daniel Ellsberg, a former aide to the Secretary of Defense who passed the Pentagon Papers information to the New York Times, Nixon’s aides organized a series of break-ins culminating in the arrests of burglars at the Watergate offices in Washington, D.C. We all know how that story ends.
Obama’s record is still a work in progress, but he shows great potential to top Nixon. Not only has the Obama administration punished leakers, but has also targeted legitimate whistleblowers to a far greater extent than any President in recent memory. Last year, the Obama administration charged John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent, under the Espionage Act for telling reporters details about waterboarding torture techniques used on suspected terrorists. Kiriakou’s decision to share details (few if any of them top secret) is hardly more revealing than Ellsberg’s handing over of a vast store of Pentagon Vietnam War strategy and assessments.
Obama’s latest foray into leak investigations exploded with the recent admission by the Department of Justice that they have been digging through the records of an estimated 100 phones of reporters working for the Associated Press. These phones include main numbers in Washington, New York
and Hartford, Connecticut as well as cell phones, private home phones and likely quite a bit more.
The intrusion was apparently an attempt to determine who was leaking classified information to the AP about terrorist plots in Yemen. Revelation of the spying has exploded across the Twittersphere. But now the story showed signs of exploding into another political minefield – did the Obama Justice Department monitor the telephones of Congress?
California Congressman David Nunes dropped a bombshell on May 14 when he insinuated that telephones in the House of Representatives were also monitored. “They [DOJ] went after the phone records, including right up here in the House Gallery…. So you have a real separation of powers issue,” said Nunes in an interview on May 14. “Did this really rise to the level that you would have to get phone records that would, that would most likely include members of Congress?”
Calls for a full explanation have thus far been largely ignored by Justice. Attorney General Eric Holder has passed the buck, alternately saying it was policy enacted by his deputy, that at some point he recused himself, yet in the same breath justifying the surveillance of the Associated Press. As this scandal develops, will Holder be Obama’s John Mitchell? Comparing Nixon and Obama on their obsession with leaks, with the caveat that much of the Obama administration’s actions are still secret, I’d stil say it’s hard to top Nixon, give this round to the Dick.
Re Secret Wars, who is worse? Nixon’s ability to bomb nations on the sly, including the campaign vs. Cambodia and
Laos is difficult to top. Three million tons of bombs, an estimated 500,000 Cambodians killed and an entire military campaign falsified to pretend the bombs were being used inside Vietnam. That’s an impressive list and does not even include Nixon’s secret forays vs. Chile and military action in other cold war hot spots.
But Obama’s team has risen to the challenge. The Obama drone campaign with its thousands of uncounted victims, many of them civilians, is just the tip of the spear. As outlined in Jeremy Scahill’s new book “Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield”, pretty much anywhere humans can be tracked, targeted and killed in combat zones the Obama team has secret assassination squads at work. With assassination enshrined as national policy and plans to institutionalize the never ending Global War on Terror, Obama has been far more methodical in his ability to institutionalize secret warfare. Who wins? Call this round for Obama.
Whose enemies list would you rather be on Nixon or Obama? Nixon’s political enemies list which began at a list of a modest 20 people expanded to nearly 600 and was designed to be used in conjunction with IRS Audits of politically unacceptable thinking (sound familiar??) but in reality the IRS hammer was rarely if ever implemented. The Nixon crew was unable to organize reprisals against the vast majority of people on the list, leading those on the list to rank it not as punishment but as a cool social status. Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson was indignant that he was not on the list, “I would almost have preferred a vindictive tax audit to that kind of crippling exclusion.”
The folks on Obama’s enemies list are not saying that, in fact they are not saying anything because most of them are dead. Call it the “Secret Kill List”, the “Hit List” or the “Disposition Matrix”; in short you have a modern database, which the US government describes as a “next generation capture/kill list.” The criteria to be placed Obama’s list range are far broader than and the consequences of being named by Obama go way beyond tax audits, with punishments ranging from capturing, rendering to outright assassination. Who wins in the battle to create a true enemies list? Obama in a rout.
After these first three rounds, it’s Obama 2, Nixon 1. Now Obama faces a brutal headwind and as Nixon so brutally discovered, an enraged press knows no pity.
I’d bet that before the year’s out, Las Vegas will be providing the odds on Obama’s impeachment. Though I am the first to point out that much of the fodder for the anti-Obama campaign comes from the Looney Tunes/birther fringe, Obama’s personal decisions on these most pressing ethical and moral decisions has handed his enemies a crate of dynamite. No wonder the New York Times in a front-page article on May 15 referred not to “President Obama” but “Mr. Obama.”
Jonathan Franklin, a native of Massachusetts is an investigative reporter and author. His latest book 33 Men, chronicles the rescue of the Chilean Miners trapped underground for ten weeks. He can be followed on twitter at Chileanwinter. Or he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.