It was about two weeks ago that Tucker Carlson first claimed, without evidence, that not only was the National Security Agency spying on him and his staff but that it was plotting to “leak” his show’s internal communications in an apparent effort to take it “off the air.”
Not long after that, the NSA took the fairly unprecedented step of issuing a public denial, alleging via Twitter that Carlson “has never been an intelligence target of the Agency and the NSA has never had any plans to try and take his program off air.”
The whole episode is bizarre—for many reasons. Even in today’s day and age, the sight of a well-known cable news dunce publicly feuding with America’s biggest, creepiest spy agency is something that you don’t see very often.
Now, it would appear that the news anchor and his show actually filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the spy agency, in an apparent effort to shake loose any evidence of the government’s supposed snooping. Alex Pfeiffer, investigative producer for Tucker Carlson Tonight, filed the FOIA on June 28th, Buzzfeed has reported, garnering the document through its own information request.
Pfeiffer’s FOIA, which consists of only about two sentences worth of text, casts a very broad and vague net.
“I am requesting any call records, texts, or emails the NSA has obtained from journalist Tucker Carlson’s cell phone or email,” reads the document. “I am requesting any memos or documents related to surveilling journalist Tucker Carlson. I am requesting any communication between NSA officials regarding journalist Tucker Carlson.”
The dates for document capture span from Jan. 1st, 2019, to June 28th, 2021, the date of the FOIA’s filing.
On the one hand, it doesn’t take a whole lot to believe that Carlson’s claims could be, in one way or another, true. It’s not as if the NSA has a lot of guardrails (i.e., meaningful congressional or judicial oversight, ethical scruples, etc) to dissuade it from rogue spying.
On the other hand, making claims of this kind is a pretty easy way for a news network like Fox to gin up attention and viewership out of nothing. Carlson has provided no evidence that his communications have been intercepted beyond his story about the unknown Mr. X who supposedly tipped him off.
As we’ve written about, this whole episode actually comes at an apt time. Recent, compounding surveillance controversies have resurrected the ongoing debate about the dangers of omnipresent law enforcement spying in America. That doesn’t make Tucker any less of an annoying and imperfect harbinger of said message, nor does it make him not potentially full of shit.
UPDATE, Thursday, July 8, 2 p.m. EST:
After publishing this story, Axios broke the news that, shortly before the NSA spying allegations emerged, Carlson was seeking an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The outlet reports that anonymous sources allege that “U.S. government officials learned about Carlson’s efforts to secure the Putin interview. Carlson learned that the government was aware of his outreach — and that’s the basis of his extraordinary accusation, followed by a rare public denial by the NSA that he had been targeted.” The story explicitly states that Axios had not been able to confirm “whether any communications from Carlson have been intercepted, and if so, why.”
This is pretty interesting but, frankly, it doesn’t make the story make any more sense.
Carlson’s claims are that the agency had not only been reading his private emails, but that it planned to leak them in an effort to take his show “off the air.” He has also claimed that “sources in the so-called intelligence community” had already “told at least one reporter in Washington what was in those emails.” He has further claimed that officials’ reason for doing this is to tar him “as a disloyal American. A Russian operative.” On the flip-side, the NSA has claimed that the Fox News host has “never been an intelligence target” and that his claims about targeting his show are false. Irregardless of whether Tucker was attempting to set up an interview with Vladimir Putin, both the NSA’s and Carlson’s claims cannot be true at the same time.
Read the whole document below.