In case you haven’t noticed, the U.S. national security establishment is really, really angry that the NSA’s surveillance programs have been outed in the press.
Rep. Peter King, a former chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, is a case in point. On Tuesday, the New York Republican told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the journalists reponsible for uncovering the top-secret programs — prime among them the Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald — ought to be prosecuted (a point he reiterated on Wednesday). That’s right: a senior member of Congress is advocating the prosecution of journalists for reporting on a drastic expansion in the government’s intelligence-gathering apparatus.
"If they willingly knew that this was classified information, I think actions should be taken, especially something of this magnitude," King told Cooper. "I think, with something of this magnitude, there is an obligation — both moral, but also legal — against a reporter disclosing something which would so severely compromise national security."
Not surprisingly, the remarks have invited a swift backlash. But this is hardly the Long Island congressman’s first brush with controversy. In fact, you could say King, a stalwart defender of aggressive counterterrorism tactics, has made inflammatory comments something of a hallmark. Here’s a quick rundown of past comments that really did come out of the lawmaker’s mouth.
‘Increase surveillance’ on Muslim communities
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, King inveighed against the threat posed by American Muslims. "Ninety-nine percent of Muslims are outstanding Americans, but the fact is, that’s where the threat is coming from," King told Fox News. "If you know a threat is coming from a certain community, that’s where you look," he added.
It gets worse. King also urged police to put local Muslim communities under increased surveillance following the attack. "Police have to be in the community, they have to build up as many sources as they can, and they have to realize that the threat is coming from the Muslim community and increase surveillance there," King told National Review. "We can’t be bound by political correctness," he added.
‘Too many mosques’
The threat posed by Muslims in America has been a recurring theme for King. In 2007, he went so far as to tell Politico that there are "too many mosques in this country." Though he later argued that his quote was taken out of context, the gist of his remarks was clear. "Unfortunately we have too many mosques in this country, there’s too many people who are sympathetic to radical Islam," King told Politico. "We should be looking at them more carefully, we should be finding out how we can infiltrate, we should be much more aggressive in law enforcement."
In 2011, King gained further notoriety by convening congressional hearings to investigate Muslim radicalization. At the time, he went on the Laura Ingraham Show to explain the rationale behind the hearings:
HOST: Congressman, how widespread do you think this radical jihad sentiment is in US mosques? How many mosques do you think are infected?
KING: The only real testimony we have on it is from Sheikh Kabbani who was a Muslim leader during the Clinton Administration, he testified back in 1999 and 2000 before the State Department that he thought over 80 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by radical Imams. Certainly from what I’ve seen and dealings I’ve had, that number seems accurate.
Offensive ‘moral anguish’
On the heels of President Obama’s national security speech last month outlining his plan to scale back the use of drone strikes against suspected terrorists, King said that he was "offended" by the president’s tone of "moral anguish." "Every soldier, every cop who’s faced with a decision to make, a life or death, does the best he or she can," the congressman explained.
But some terrorists are ok
Before he became a nationally recognized politician, King was something of a booster for the Irish Republican Army, the terrorist organization responsible for attacks that often resulted in civilian casualties. "We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry," King said at a rally in 1982. Three years later, his tune hadn’t changed much. "If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it," he declared.
Asked later to explain his support for the terrorist group, here’s what King had to say: "I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel. The fact is, the I.R.A. never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States."
One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, right?