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Will Tom Cotton Be the New Face of Surveillance Reform Opposition in the Senate?

Tom Cotton

House Republican Tom Cotton looks defeated. Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor in Arkansas and take over his seat in the United States Senate. It is a distinct possibility that Cotton will become one of the most vocal opponents of any efforts to reform surveillance and constrain the National Security Agency or any other government agency’s power.

Over at the Just Security blog, Patrick G. Eddington, a former senior policy advisor to Rep. Rush Holt and a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, put together a primer on congressional midterm races to watch. Eddington highlighted Cotton.

…To say that Cotton is a strong supporter of existing surveillance laws would be something of an understatement. In my view it is this race, and not the Colorado contest, that may have the most impact on surveillance reform chances in the Senate in the 114th Congress. Cotton’s wartime military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan lend an emotional–not necessarily factual–weight to his contention that curbing existing surveillance authorities would jeopardize American lives abroad and at home. If elected, he would quickly become the face of surveillance reform opposition in the Senate.

In July 2013, Cotton opposed the “Amash Amendment,” which sought to defund the NSA’s surveillance program that collects and stores the phone records of millions of Americans.

“This program has stopped dozens of terrorist attacks, that means it’s saved untold American lives. This amendment is not simple. It does not limit the program. It does not modify it. It does not constrain the program. It ends the program. It blows it up,” Cotton declared.

He also argued, “Why do you need it? Verizon, AT&T, and other companies will not keep this data for the years necessary. And secondly, you need it quickly. When I was in Iraq, as platoon leader with the 101st Airborne, if we rolled up a bad guy and we found a cell phone or we found a thumb drive, we would immediately upload that data so intelligence professionals could search it so they could go roll up another bad guy because you only have a few hours to stop a terrorist once you catch another terrorist.”

“Folks, we are at war. You may not like that truth, I wish it weren’t the truth, but it is the truth. We are at war. Do not take away this tool from our warriors on the front lines.”

When Keith Alexander was NSA chief, he liked to play off the phrase searching for a needle in a haystack by suggesting “you need the haystack to find the needle.” Cotton has gone a step farther and criticized reform as taking a “leaf blower” and “blowing away the entire haystack.”

But Tom Cotton would not only be a Senate warrior for defending the global security state’s surveillance powers. He would likely be a strident critic of any media organizations that exercised their First Amendment right to publish material on dragnet surveillance and even go so far as to advocate that journalists be jailed.

While deployed in Iraq, he wrote a letter to the New York Times after it finally published its story on warrantless wiretapping by Eric Lichtblau and James Risen in 2006.

“Having graduated from Harvard Law and practiced with a federal appellate judge and two Washington law firms before becoming an infantry officer,” Cotton stated, “I am well-versed in the espionage laws relevant to this story and others—laws you have plainly violated. I hope that my colleagues at the Department of Justice match the courage of my soldiers here and prosecute you and your newspaper to the fullest extent of the law. By the time we return home, maybe you will be in your rightful place: not at the Pulitzer announcements but behind bars.”

The climate for press is already chilly with President Barack Obama’s administration, however, Cotton would be able to take advantage of that and push even harder against investigative journalism on national security issues.

Cotton also believes that America is in a war against “radical Islamic jihad.”

“Are we fighting too many wars? And I would say no. We’re fighting one war and it’s a war against radical Islamic jihad. It’s not a war against terror alone. Terror is a technique or a tactic . . . It’s a war against specific people, radical Islamic jihadists, who are trying to using terror to defeat the United States,” he said at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2013.

“This is a war that we have to engage in and a war that we have to win,” he also declared.

If he sounds like a neoconservative friend of Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, that is because he probably is. Eli Clifton reports:

According to newly released FEC filings, Cotton received $960,250 in supportive campaign advertising in the last month from the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), a right-wing group headed by the neoconservative pundit, Bill Kristol, who infamously predicted that the Iraq war would last two months. At its inception, the ECI was based out of the same Washington office as the Committee of the Liberation of Iraq, a pressure group that lobbied for the 2003 invasion.

Cotton celebrates drone warfare: “When an American drone unexpectedly brings justice to Anwar al-Awlaki, it powerfully reminds all terrorists that their safe haven may not be so safe after all.” And loathes giving rights for terrorism suspects, like Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law who was put on trial in a federal court and not before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay.

With House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers leaving Congress, Cotton could be poised to take up the mantle of hawkish security state supporter in Congress most likely to appear on Sunday morning talk show programs every other week.

Someone will need to be able to spout discredited theories about Snowden being under “Russian influence” when encouraged to do so by “Meet the Press” producers.

He truly believes in all the most militaristic, authoritarian and even Islamophobic aspects of security doctrine in this post-9/11 world and embodies the only response the NSA has in the fight to retain power. The powers that be will definitely want to take advantage of his military background and groom him into a greater ally against progressive-libertarian forces seeking to reform surveillance.

Photo is from the US Government and Printing Office and in the public domain.

*Post was updated to reflect that Cotton won his race for US Senate.

CommunityFDL Main BlogThe Dissenter

Will Tom Cotton Be the New Face of Surveillance Reform Opposition in the Senate?

Tom Cotton

House Republican Tom Cotton looks set to defeat Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor in Arkansas and take over his seat in the United States Senate. If this happens, it is a distinct possibility that Cotton will become one of the most vocal opponents of any efforts to reform surveillance and constrain the National Security Agency or any other government agency’s power.

Over at the Just Security blog, Patrick G. Eddington, a former senior policy advisor to Rep. Rush Holt and a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, put together a primer on congressional midterm races to watch. Eddington highlighted Cotton.

…To say that Cotton is a strong supporter of existing surveillance laws would be something of an understatement. In my view it is this race, and not the Colorado contest, that may have the most impact on surveillance reform chances in the Senate in the 114th Congress. Cotton’s wartime military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan lend an emotional–not necessarily factual–weight to his contention that curbing existing surveillance authorities would jeopardize American lives abroad and at home. If elected, he would quickly become the face of surveillance reform opposition in the Senate.

In July 2013, Cotton opposed the “Amash Amendment,” which sought to defund the NSA’s surveillance program that collects and stores the phone records of millions of Americans.

“This program has stopped dozens of terrorist attacks, that means it’s saved untold American lives. This amendment is not simple. It does not limit the program. It does not modify it. It does not constrain the program. It ends the program. It blows it up,” Cotton declared.

He also argued, “Why do you need it? Verizon, AT&T, and other companies will not keep this data for the years necessary. And secondly, you need it quickly. When I was in Iraq, as platoon leader with the 101st Airborne, if we rolled up a bad guy and we found a cell phone or we found a thumb drive, we would immediately upload that data so intelligence professionals could search it so they could go roll up another bad guy because you only have a few hours to stop a terrorist once you catch another terrorist.”

“Folks, we are at war. You may not like that truth, I wish it weren’t the truth, but it is the truth. We are at war. Do not take away this tool from our warriors on the front lines.”

When Keith Alexander was NSA chief, he liked to play off the phrase searching for a needle in a haystack by suggesting “you need the haystack to find the needle.” Cotton has gone a step farther and criticized reform as taking a “leaf blower” and “blowing away the entire haystack.”

But Tom Cotton would not only be a Senate warrior for defending the global security state’s surveillance powers. He would likely be a strident critic of any media organizations that exercised their First Amendment right to publish material on dragnet surveillance and even go so far as to advocate that journalists be jailed. (more…)

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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