The detective story of our times is unspooling before us and the MacGuffin could affect all of our lives for years to come and the very nature of our republic.
That mystery is "whodunit" in the great Trump Transition leak(s) scandal that actually pre- and post-dates the transition itself.
Who unmasked Michael Flynn and -- so it seems now -- others and why did he, she or they do it? Who later leaked (selectively) President Trump's conversations with the leaders of Australia and Mexico? Is this the same person or are there several?
More importantly, who is watching the watchers and why was their work -- this raw data that supposedly is never seen except on the most extreme "need to know" basis -- apparently so widely distributed? Who inspired this? And who ordered what is known as a "tasking" to enable this to happen in the first place?
These questions are as or more important than healthcare, immigration, taxes or even how long ISIS will survive because they speak to the very nature of our society and the values for which we stand. Are we still a democratic republic or have we drifted so far into a high-tech Orwellian nightmare that we will never emerge from it again?
Yes, I am aware some of Mr. Flynn's activities may be dodgy. But that doesn't excuse the unmasking, particularly of others, one of whom may even have been the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Devin Nunes, who was himself a member of the Trump transition team.
We need a truly independent investigation as divorced from partisan politics as humanly possible to unravel this mystery and expose the roots of this surveillance -- if, as now seems likely, something of this nature occurred -- to public light.
Yes, for the sake of bipartisanship, putative electoral collusion between Trump people and the Russians must be part of this investigation, But I think at this point we can stipulate that the Russians have been trying to monkey with our elections from time immemorial and are now able to do that more effectively due to cyber technology. We should work to counter that and undoubtedly are. And we can also stipulate that people like Paul Manafort and John Podesta -- just to name two on opposite sides of our politics - in their zeal to enrich themselves probably made deals with Russian business-types many of us would regard as unsavory. But I would be surprised, again at this point, if the activities of those men rose to anything close to treason.
No, this is not about the Russians, nefarious as they may be. As Pogo said many years ago about an entirely different matter, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Illegal surveillance of Americans by Americans -- whether "coincidental," deliberate or something in between -- is our problem, and we have to correct it.
Finding truly independent, impartial leadership for such an investigation will not be easy. Jesus and Moses, by all reports, are dead. But it must be done and they must be found. Perhaps it should take the form of the 9/11 Commission, because this is just as important for our times as that event was then. The investigation, to the extent possible, should err on the side of transparency, even to the extent of revealing state secrets. It should be conducted in full view of the public, because such a large number of us have lost confidence in the leaders of our intelligence agencies, including the FBI, and also in their rank-and-file. Our suspicions may be overblown, but that must be proven to us.
Indeed, the Democrats, who have been in control for the last eight years, have much more to fear from such an investigation. But, if they think it through, it is actually in their interests as much as anybody's, perhaps more. They aren't in control now and it is a certainty that the Trump administration is going to be restaffing a good percentage of our intelligence agencies. Mike Pompeo is already at the head of the CIA, and Dan Coats is the director of national intelligence. The Democrats should not want done to them what they -- purposefully or not -- have done to the Republicans.
But even without an investigation we have learned something extremely disturbing. The five-year incarceration for conviction for a single leak is evidently not enough of a deterrent in our current political culture to prevent such a felony. We should double or triple that, probably more. If you are able to see the raw data available to the NSA, which means you are inches away from the most private information of almost every human being on Earth, you have a privilege akin to the gods. The temptations to abuse this are huge. Employees of the agency have been caught spying on lovers or ex-lovers, which is already despicable. To try to use this legally confidential information to change the course of events in a democratic country is a far more horrendous crime and should be prosecuted accordingly. It is indeed treason.