How Obama’s allies shed their objections to extraordinary government surveillance


Article Highlights

  • Mark Agrast wrote about Bush admin overreaches, and called for greater judicial supervision.

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  • Today, Agrast is a lobbyist for Obama DOJ on "national security matters."

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  • There’s one reason there aren’t as many liberal critics of executive-branch surveillance these days: The executive branch hired them up!

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Under the Bush administration, Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Mark Agrast worked hard to curtail U.S. government surveillance of individuals whom the government didn’t have a warrant to surveil. Agrast wrote about Bush administration overreaches, and called for greater judicial supervision. He lobbied Congress on these issues, according to CAP’s lobbying filings.

Today, Agrast is a lobbyist for Obama’s Justice Department on “national security matters.” I think it’s safe to say that the agenda of the Obama DOJ on surveillance and civil liberties is different than the agenda of the Center for American Progress — or at least the Bush-era CAP.
Search CAP’s website for the word “NSA,” and you’ll see that this agency, which got 32 mentions at in 2006 and 2007, has been mentioned only three times since Obama came to office, and not once in 2011, 2012, or 2013.

Prism and metadata haven’t made an appearance on the site, as far as I can tell. Maybe it’s just that CAP was more interested in Bush’s specific expansions of government surveillance (warrantless wiretapping, for instance) than Obama’s. Maybe it’s partisanship.

But maybe CAP’s loss of interest in surveillance is simply due to the change in personnel — along with Agrast, two other CAP lobbyists on civil liberties joined the Obama administration.

Cassandra Butts, a classmate of Obama’s at Harvard Law, was a CAP lobbyist on civil liberties, until she became Obama’s deputy White House counsel.

Daniel Restrepo lobbied on surveillance in 2007, but in 2009, he joined Obama’s National Security Council.

So, there’s one reason there aren’t as many liberal critics of executive-branch surveillance these days: The executive branch hired them up!

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Timothy P.
  • Timothy P. Carney helps direct AEI’s Culture of Competition Project, which examines barriers to competition in all areas of American life, from the economy to the world of ideas. Carney has over a decade of experience as a journalist covering the intersection of politics and economics. His work at AEI focuses on how to reinvigorate a competitive culture in America in which all can reap the benefits of a fair economy.


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