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.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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