As the Senate Intelligence Committee worked on the nearly 12,000-word Intelligence Authorization Act 2018, it’s a one-sentence amendment tacked on at the end that has many observers concerned about domestic spying.
The “Sense of Congress” amendment added to the end of the bill states that WikiLeaks “resembles a non-state hostile intelligence service” and should be “treated as such.” The rest of that section of the legislation affects the sharing of classified information by members of the Executive Branch to “hostile foreign powers” using “methods other than established intelligence channels.”
The list of hostile foreign powers in the bill is short:
- North Korea
Effectively adding WikiLeaks allows the U.S. intelligence community not to spy upon Julian Assange, but rather upon his “collaborators” on American soil. Spying on U.S. citizens directly isn’t allowed without a special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant, and one of the most difficult hurdles is proving the American is acting as an agent of a foreign power.
This new legislative language makes it much easier to clear that hurdle. Now, simply reading its content could be all it takes for a U.S. citizen to fall under government surveillance, creating a dangerous and very slippery slope for American privacy rights protected by the Fourth Amendment.
It’s not difficult to figure out where the new language came from. Since the Senate confirmed President Donald Trump’s nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo, he has called WikiLeaks a “hostile foreign power,” saying:
"It walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. It has encouraged its followers to find jobs at CIA in order to obtain intelligence … It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia."