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July 15th, 2008
05:31 PM ET

Government surveillance of your private email?

Jeff Denning, Former Air Marshal

Jeff Denning, Former Air Marshal

Barclay Palmer
AC360° Senior Producer

We see the headline and our eyes glaze over. What could be more boring than the 7-year-old fight since 9/11 over how much power the government should have to monitor private communication in its efforts to fight terrorism? Without warrants, that is. (By the way, how hard is it to get a warrant from a terrorism-fearing judge? Some people wonder - why are politicians even fighting about this?)

Even the acronym bandied about in the news these days has no ring… no zing. FISA?? Couldn't they think up one of those cool, secret-sounding three-letter acronyms, like FBI, CIA or NSA?

Besides, we're talking about terrorists - not us. You and I lead honest, diligent lives that wouldn't interest even the most prurient government analyst. (I do, anyway. Maybe I shouldn't speak for you?)

So Jeff Denning wants to know, what's the government doing, going through his private emails? The Illinois father of four towheaded children, with a fifth on the way, a decorated former Dallas police SWAT team member who has served this country as a federal air marshal and as soldier a in Iraq, TWICE.

Has Denning turned terrorist, or spy? No.

Denning says he had forwarded an email on his personal email account about questions about the federal air marshal program... an email saying CNN would like to talk with federal air marshals about how many of them are actually on commercial flights.

This after our Drew Griffin reported there are actual marshals on fewer than 1% of flights, plus a few armed pilots.

The Transportation Safety Agency, or TSA, disputed that report before Congress, and launched an internal probe into who leaked information to CNN.

Denning says the TSA called him, asking what he has sent on his personal email, saying it was investigating the release of sensitive information. The TSA denied to CNN that it had gone through Denning’s email, but did confirm an investigation into "possible unauthorized release of sensitive and classified information to the news media."

Now the TSA - again, set up after 9/11 - is not restricted by the controls imposed on the FBI after J. Edgar Hoover's abuses at the FBI.

So the TSA has the legal authority to check private email - Denning's, and yours, for that matter, if it suspects you've done any wrong.

Comforting? For many, yes.

A different question: If Denning is right, is a probe into a news leak the best way for the agency to use its broad investigative authority - and your tax dollars - or should it use that manpower and money to hire more air marshals?

One caution, however: it might not matter what we think. The fight continues - against terrorism, and the best way to carry out that fight.


Filed under: Barclay Palmer • Keeping Them Honest
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Jeremy

    They do have the Experience. They are career Politicians and we all know that there isn't a single politician who is honest they all have their own agenda ad it isn't what we need or want. This goes rite down to the state levels. I agree with James it will probably come down to another Revolution before our Tyrannical B.S. Government gets the picture that they really are not in charge WE ARE and maybe it is time we prove it.

    July 16, 2008 at 2:32 am |
  2. simons

    Your harping on negative spots about Obama & wife shows thay you cannot stop being white. There are so many positives that woud makw a better syory, I understand what she was talking about when she made her statement about being really proud of being an american, When the news can give us a syraight dtoru without thier personal biases.

    McCain makes more errors and changes in his speeches. Let us hear equal information.

    July 15, 2008 at 11:43 pm |
  3. kelati weldegaber

    I am first time bloger. I watch the news with interest especially I like to watch AC 360 always. One thing that keeps bothering me was that each presidential canidates expierence in terms of the forigen policy or the economy. I am not sure to what is the fuss about the expirence , becouse if this men either one of them is elected to be the president of this nation all they have to be capable is finding the best mind in both subjects and let them lead the way. By doing so if the economy do well and the foriegn policy works well who ever the president will be the expert on rields. So let's stop the nonsense of talking about thier expirence and elect the most honest person in the white house.

    July 15, 2008 at 10:38 pm |
  4. James Dylan

    I go back and forth with the issue of FISA. The desire for it, to stop the bad guys. My foresight sees a tyrannical government spawning the need for another revolution. And I wonder, then what side will I be on. Today I have nothing to hide, but tomorrow that nothing may be something should the governments foresight change. Am I paranoid and heard to many times that absolute power corrupts absolutely? Sometimes I confuse myself and must return to my instincts. We, I , can't live in fear from anyone, especially our own government. The back and forth in myself has now stopped. Get rid of FISA, the constitution still stands and we can't let anyone tear it down from within because of fear. If the constitution falls let it be because we are all dead.

    July 15, 2008 at 10:01 pm |
  5. lampe

    Donald, maybe you would like the government to read your e-mails? I on the other hand would not ,and The Senate just voted on this and they could have voted against, it but most of them did not including Obama, maybe you should listen to the news now and then. So you see it could have been voted down.

    July 15, 2008 at 9:37 pm |
  6. Jim-

    If the Government is dumb enough that it wants to read my emails
    all they will get is a bunch of emails back & forth about Historical restoration projects – Now if they would screen my incoming email especially all the Spam with the scams,& Junk & do something About those it might be helpfull.

    July 15, 2008 at 9:24 pm |
  7. Tom

    Yep Loretta and that is exactly what you saw...

    I am an honest and patriotic citizen. And I expressed my dissatisfaction with an indivindual who seems to have devoted his life to smearing the job that I do every day. It is too bad people like Denning are not more responsible when they endanger the public... Well with the blog culture we seem to be stuck in with yellow reporters like Barclay and Drew I too expect to see this happening more and more.
    I am sorry you do not have all the facts.

    July 15, 2008 at 9:23 pm |
  8. Donald Williams

    Lampe ,
    HOw can you blame Obama or McCain for what the TSA do. I wonder do you silly people really think before you write in these Blogs. George Bush is still President and in control of the executive branch of government . Oh by the way pots cannot call kettles black. I personally do not care for any of the people that has or running for President because, all of them will change something they said earlier when they have to. Obama has refine what he has said eariler so has McCain . Get a clue these people are not God.

    July 15, 2008 at 9:10 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    Hi Barclay

    The TSA should spend its time and money hiring more air marshalls instead of snooping in email. The government isn't the only one that snoops though – most corporations monitor their employees emails and reserve the right to read them since they were created and sent on company resources. So be careful what you write – there are a lot of Big Brothers out there.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 15, 2008 at 8:53 pm |
  10. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    McCain is safe............................

    July 15, 2008 at 8:40 pm |
  11. Tom

    Government surveillance of your private email? How about: "Air Marshals with professional pride?"
    Yes Denning forwarded an e-mail and he sent it to me, a real Air Marshal. TSA did not waste their time hacking into anyone's e-mail, I gave it to them. I was personally insulted and professionally disgusted that someone would go out of their way to recruit FAMs to go on television and tell the bad guys that it was safe to attack because air marshals only protect "1%" of flights. Why don't you just paint a target on my back instead... Or on your families who are flying this summer?

    July 15, 2008 at 8:32 pm |
  12. Loretta from California

    and this is exactly what I expected. Those of us who are honest, patriotic citizens but who may express dissatisfaction should expect to see this happening more and more.

    July 15, 2008 at 7:35 pm |
  13. lampe

    Why not ask Obama, what he thinks? after all he flip-flopped on this also. Thanks in part to him, this is what we as U.S. citizens are going to have to live with.

    July 15, 2008 at 7:35 pm |
  14. Stacy

    We see the headline and our eyes glaze over. What could be more boring than the 7-year-old fight since 9/11 over how much power the government should have to monitor private communication in its efforts to fight terrorism?

    Maybe your eyes glaze over, but mine don't. Though this helps answer the question of why there's hardly been any reporting on FISA on the show.

    Thank you for this post. Think we could get one of those panels to "dig deeper" on this subject sometime?

    July 15, 2008 at 7:17 pm |
  15. Sharon from Indy

    The paranoid within the government agencies is like when J Edgar Hoover was the head of the FBI.

    The right of due process has been ignored and placed under homeland security; wire taps and survillance abuses are becoming common; what's next, the Gestapo interrogations of US citizens?

    July 15, 2008 at 6:49 pm |