That aside struck me so powerfully.
Out of nowhere, Baker adeptly summed up why the DEA's behavior was objectionable: In a country meant to be governed by the people, it hid a program with huge privacy implications, knowing full well that it would be deeply controversial, despite the fact that it wasn't classified or vital to national security. That was objectionable, even if one thinks the program was legal and effective.
As noted, Baker went a bit farther. For him, the very value of transparency got called into question when no outcry was sparked even by a program with all those strikes against it.
While I agree that these revelations about the DEA made barely a blip in the news, and that they ought to have sparked a bigger outcry, objections have been raised. Last month, I wrote that the DEA's behavior was "an affront to self-government." The American Civil Liberties Union said, "It’s unconscionable that technology with such far-reaching potential would be deployed in such secrecy. People might disagree about exactly how we should use such powerful surveillance technologies, but it should be democratically decided, it shouldn’t be done in secret.’’
The sorts of writers, publications, and civil liberties organizations that typically object to government overreach undertaken in secret sounded all the usual alarms.
But Baker didn't forcefully object to the DEA's behavior at the Washington Post or Lawfare. He didn't use his significant influence among elites to publicly shame the DEA. He hasn't championed ways to ensure such anti-democratic behavior doesn't happen in the future, unless he has undertaken such a campaign in secret. And in his silence, he has behaved much like the rest of his tribe of lawyers and civil servants who've become insiders in the national security state—a tribe that behaves as if the responsibility to criticize and fight objectionable behavior of this sort is best left to civil-liberties organizations and journalists.
This is a tribe that has lost the inclination to police itself.
Baker understands the problem with the DEA's behavior well enough to pinpoint it, but despite being a prominent voice in public discourse, he never thought to strenuously object, even as he scoffed at the public for not objecting more strenuously. Indeed, he only noted the factors that made the DEA's behavior so at odds with democratic values as an aside, to cast doubt on the value of transparency at the NSA. And even that is more than most in his tribe have done.
When a prominent attorney and former appointee sees a government abuse more clearly than his fellow citizens, is he obligated to raise his voice against the abusers? I'd argue that doing so is a civic obligation—and that the obligation is particularly acute for people who advocate for a powerful, opaque national security state, dismissing warnings that the federal government is too vulnerable to abuses. The assurances Americans are given about agencies like the NSA, FBI, and DEA ring hollow precisely because elites so often prove unwilling to hold them accountable—even elites who are otherwise committed to serving their country.