Tucker Carlson is at war with the National Security Agency, and it makes great TV. Two nights running, the Fox News host has delivered marvelously inflammatory monologues, straight to camera, accusing the NSA of spying on him and possibly intending to conduct a smear campaign against him in order to cancel his show. He has a source, whom he believes, and like all good hacks he possesses a healthy distrust of officialdom, spies and the establishment.

Carlson wants an answer to this very simple question: has the NSA been spying on his private emails without his permission? And he’s not getting it. Yesterday, after his show repeatedly tried to contact the NSA director, Gen. Paul Nakasone, the agency issued what Carlson called ‘an infuriatingly dishonest statement’ on Twitter:

Cockburn has seen enough tumescent non-denials to read between those lines. What’s implied is that security services actually have monitored Carlson’s emails, hence the evasive line that he ‘has never been an intelligence target’. Cockburn strongly suspects Tucker Carlson became a ‘person of interest’ at the time of the Russiagate conspiracy. Carlson’s anti-war, anti-establishment political views mean that he is often accused of working for Russia. Cockburn has spoken to well-connected intelligence people who have made that claim with a straight face. As recently as 2019, Vanity Fair was still snidely insinuating that Carlson was covertly batting for the dark forces in Moscow.

So it is more than possible that the NSA, obsessed as it was with the idea that Russia somehow placed Donald Trump in the Oval Office, monitored Carlson’s communications in order to tell if ‘foreign powers’ (i.e., the Kremlin) were speaking to him — no doubt as part of some elaborate and sinister plot involving Roger Stone. If that’s the case, it’s probably immoral but not all that shocking. If however, as Carlson’s source claims, the agency intended to bring down his TV show because it dared to challenge their authority, that is criminal and outrageous. And if the NSA has continued to monitor Carlson even though he is not, as they admit, ‘an intelligence target’, the agency probably ought now to explain why. They won’t, of course.

It seems feasible that somebody at the NSA with an animus against Carlson has broken the law in trying to use his private emails against him. It also seems feasible that Carlson’s source is putting two and two together and making five. Unless the NSA directly answers his questions, we may never know.

What’s telling is that most media outlets are eager to point out that Carlson’s bosses at Fox are not repeating his claim, as if the fact that Rupert Murdoch himself isn’t calling up intelligence chiefs to demand answers suggests that the TV network doesn’t support its popular star. Almost nobody apart from a few crazies, Cockburn among them, worries that the intelligence services enjoy a disturbing amount of impunity when it comes to spying on journalists. Still, everyone can enjoy the show.