Skip to comments.[Vice President] Cheney says top congressional Democrats complicit in spying
Posted on 12/22/2008 8:59:18 PM PST by 2ndDivisionVet
Dick Cheney's interview yesterday with Fox's Chris Wallace was filled with significant claims, but certainly among the most significant was his detailed narration of how the administration, and Cheney personally, told numerous Democratic Congressional leaders -- repeatedly and in detail -- about the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program. And, according to Cheney, every one of those Democrats -- every last one -- not only urged its continuation, but insisted that it be kept secret:
WALLACE: Let's drill down into some of the specific measures that you pushed first of all, the warrantless surveillance on a massive scale, without telling the appropriate court, without seeking legislation from Congress.
Why not, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the spirit of national unity, get approval, support, bring in the other branches of government?
CHENEY: Well, let me tell you a story about the terror surveillance program. We did brief the Congress. And we brought in...
WALLACE: Well, you briefed a few members.
CHENEY: We brought in the chairman and the ranking member, House and Senate, and briefed them a number of times up until this was be from late '01 up until '04 when there was additional controversy concerning the program.
At that point, we brought in what I describe as the big nine not only the intel people but also the speaker, the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, and brought them into the situation room in the basement of the White House.
I presided over the meeting. We briefed them on the program, and what we'd achieved, and how it worked, and asked them, "Should we continue the program?" They were unanimous, Republican and Democrat alike. All agreed absolutely essential to continue the program.
I then said, "Do we need to come to the Congress and get additional legislative authorization to continue what we're doing?" They said, "Absolutely not. Don't do it, because it will reveal to the enemy how it is we're reading their mail."
That happened. We did consult. We did keep them involved. We ultimately ended up having to go to the Congress after the New York Times decided they were going to make the judge to review all of or make all of this available, obviously, when they reacted to a specific leak.
But it was a program that we briefed on repeatedly. We did these briefings in my office. I presided over them. We went to the key people in the House and Senate intel committees and ultimately the entirely leadership and sought their advice and counsel, and they agreed we should not come back to the Congress.
Cheney's reference to the "additional controversy concerning the program" that arose after 2004 and that led to additional Congressional briefings is ambiguous and creates a somewhat unclear time line: is he referring to late 2004, when the White House learned that The New York Times knew about the NSA program and was considering writing about it (only to then obey the President's orders to keep it a secret), or is he referring to the time when, more than a full year later, in December 2005, the NYT finally got around to writing about it, once Bush was safely re-elected?
Either way, Cheney's general claim is as clear as it is incriminating. According to him, key Congressional Democrats were told about the illegal NSA spying program in detail, and they not only actively approved of it, but far beyond that, they insisted that no Congressional authorization should even be sought, based on what was always the patently inane claim that to discuss the fact that the administration was eavesdropping on our conversations without warrants (rather than with warrants, as the law required) would be to reveal our secrets -- "our playbook" -- to Al Qaeda.
It is certainly true that Dick Cheney is not exactly the most scrupulously honest public servant around. In fact, he's almost certainly the opposite. Still, what he said yesterday was merely an expanded and more detailed version of what has previously been publicly reported and, to some degree, confirmed about the knowledge and support of Democratic leaders for the NSA program. Cheney's claims encompasses the following key Democrats:
Nancy Pelosi (Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee, House Minority Leader);
Jane Harman (Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee);
Jay Rockefeller (Ranking Member, Senate Intelligence Committee);
Harry Reid Tom Daschle (Senate Minority Leader). Unsurprisingly, Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller all voted last July to legalize warrantless eavesdropping and to immunize telecoms from liability, thereby ensuring an end to the ongoing investigations into these programs. And though he ultimately cast a meaningless vote against final passage, it was Reid's decisions as Majority Leader which played an instrumental role in ensuring passage of that bill.
One would think that these Democratic leaders would, on their own, want to respond to Cheney's claims about them and deny the truth of those claims. After all, Cheney's statement is nothing less than an accusation that they not only enthusiastically approved, but actively insisted upon the continuation and ongoing secrecy, of a blatantly illegal domestic spying program (one that several of them would, once it was made public, pretend to protest). As Armando says, "The Democratic members who participated in this meeting have two choices in my mind - refute Cheney's statements or admit their complicity in the illegal activity perpetrated by the Bush Administration."
I'm going to spend the day calling these members and trying to get some response to Cheney's claim. If I'm unable to obtain any responses, I'll post their numbers and encourage everyone to make similar calls. As I wrote on Saturday -- and documented before: "As a practical reality, the largest barrier to any route to prosecution -- including this one -- is that the Congressional Democratic leadership was complicit, to varying degrees, in the illegal programs." That's true not only of the NSA program, but also the Bush/Cheney torture program.
One last point: there is much consternation over Dick Cheney's "Nixon/Frost moment" yesterday, where he expressly endorsed the idea that, as a "general proposition," a "wartime" President can do anything he wants -- even if it violates duly enacted statutes -- as long as it's justified in the name of national security. In one sense, Cheney was being so explicit yesterday about his belief in Bush's lawbreaking powers in part because he's taking pride in being so defiant on his way out the door -- daring a meek and impotent political class to do anything about his lawlessness -- and also because Chris Wallace conducted one of the best interviews (and, revealingly, one of the only interviews) about the Bush/Cheney view of executive power.
But that this was the Bush administration's central operating principle is something that -- as was true for Cheney's involvement in America's torture regime -- was long known. As I wrote all the way back in December, 2005, days after the NSA scandal was first revealed:
These are not academic questions. Quite the contrary, it is hard to imagine questions more pressing. We are at a moment in time when not just fringe ideologues, but core, mainstream supporters of the President -- not to mention senior officials in the Administration itself are openly embracing the theory that the President can use the power and military force of the United States to do whatever he wants, including to and against U.S. citizens, as long as he claims that it is connected to Americas "war" against terrorists a war which is undeclared, ever-expanding, and without any visible or definable end.
While Bush advocates have long been toying with this theory in the shadows, the disclosure that Bush ordered warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens in undeniable violation of a Congressional statute has finally forced them to articulate their lawless power theories out in the open. Bush got caught red-handed violating the law, and once it became apparent that no argument could be made that he complied with the law, the only way to defend him was to come right out and say that he has the right to break the law. So that debate -- over the claimed limitlessness of George Bush's power -- can't be put off any longer.
By itself, the long-disclosed September 25, 2001 Yoo Memorandum left no doubt that our Government had formally and explicitly adopted an ideology of lawlessness. As a country, we just chose to ignore all of that, chose to do nothing about it. The absues and extremism of the last eight years began as a Bush administration initiative, but it culminated as something for which both political parties, our leading political and media institutions, and our citizenry generally bear collective responsibility.
* * * * * On a somewhat related note, this creepy little post inserted onto Matt Yglesias' Center for American Progress blog by Jennifer Palmieri, the CEO of CAP's "Action Fund", is a vivid exhibit illustrating how Washington works, for reasons which Matt Stoller, Markos Moulitsas, and Brendan Nyhan all describe. Matt very well may not consider it to constitute interference with his editorial autonomy, but it nonetheless illustrates the potential constraints that can come from writing for an organization like that.
When I first joined Salon, the commitment they made, which for me was non-negotiatiable, was absolute editorial independence. Though that's an unusual commitment for a magazine to make, they did make it, and they never once -- in almost two years of my being here -- even came close to violating it. Even as I've waged quite acrimonious mini-wars with friends and former colleagues of top editors and officers here, and even as I've aggressively advocated views that were, at times, the opposite of the ones top editors here were advocating, there's never been a hint of interference or even pressure, and I couldn't even fathom their doing anything like sticking a note onto my blog of the type Palmieri just inserted onto Matt's blog.
Editorial independence is quite rare and quite valuable. It's still one of the key distinguishing features between blogs/alternative media outlets and establishment media. As Atrios suggests: "contemplate the issue of editorial independence, and the various revenue models which make it possible or not." It's worth supporting the bloggers who practice it and the media venues that allow and encourage it.
UPDATE: As I said, Cheney's time line is unclear, and it's possible, when he references an "additional controversy," he's referring to the DOJ's objections to the NSA program in March, 2004 -- not anything having to do with the New York Times. That would mean the detailed, expanded briefings he's describing would have included then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle, but not Harry Reid (who only became Minority Leader in 2005, once Daschle lost). If Cheney is describing 2005 briefings, they would have included Reid. That's all the more reason why responses from leading Democrats here is required.
That key Democrats were briefed on the NSA program is anything but new. USA Today reported in 2006 that Democratic leaders including Pelosi were repeatedly briefed on the program. There is some marginal dispute about what they were and weren't told, but no dispute about the existence of the briefings and the complete lack of any real efforts by Democrats to stop it or even object.
UPDATE II: Via email, several very knowledgeable bloggers -- including Marcy Wheeler and Christy Hardin Smith -- are arguing, persuasively, that Cheney did not really disclose any specific new facts yesterday about Democratic complicity, that while he may have emphasized more clearly than ever before the approval he claims Democrats gave, all of the facts, in one venue or another, have been previously disclosed. Cheney yesterday was almost certainly talking about the March, 2004 White House briefing (that would have included Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller -- but not Reid), which has been reported.
Re-examining what Cheney said, they're probably right. But none of that, as Spencer Ackerman points out, undermines at all the need for Congressional Democrats finally to give a full accounting of what they knew, what they were told, and what they said about these programs. Particularly given how publicly Cheney is taunting them for having approved of the NSA program, they should respond specifically to Cheney's claims -- confirm the parts that are true and deny the parts, if any, that aren't.
The reason the law requires that Congressional leaders be briefed on intelligence programs is not because it's nice in the abstract for someone to know. It's because Congressional leaders have the right and the obligation to take action to stop illegal intelligence programs -- something all briefed Democrats clearly failed to do. Cheney, on his way out the door, is answering questions about what he knew and approved. It's way past time for Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller, at the very least, to do the same.
UPDATE III: Last week, I was interviewed by Fox News' Jim Angle regarding the John Brennan controversy. For those interested: his story will air tonight on Brit Hume's Fox News broadcast, at 6:00 p.m. EST.
As if they’ll ever be punished for anything.
So you feel that the Bush administration should be punished for wiretaps, waterboarding, coercive interrogations, sleep deprivation and the like against jihadists and other terrorists?
It’s been reported that something similar occured with the implementation of torture - Bush Administration officials developed the rationale and techniques and subsequently briefed key members of Congress, including high ranking Democrats. And either acquiescing or accepting, those Democrats chose to remain silent.
There’s plenty of reasons to doubt Mr. Cheney here. But those high ranking Congressional Democrats who were most likely briefed, including Speaker Pelosi, Rep. Harman, and Sen. Rockefeller, have a responsiblity to set the record straight. Were they complicit in the Bush Administration’s violation of the law?
Was I beamed to DU, Kos or HuffPo?
Bush defends NSA spying program (2006)
Senators back hearings as president explains campaign remarks
WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Bush on Sunday defended his administration’s use of wiretaps on U.S. citizens without a court order, saying comments he made in 2004 that “nothing has changed” in the use of wiretaps were not misleading.
He also said that the recent exposure of the clandestine wiretapping program — which set off a storm of criticism and controversy — harms the country.
Democratic and Republican senators on Sunday expressed support for congressional hearings to review the program, which President Bush secretly authorized shortly after the September 11 attacks.
It allows the National Security Agency to intercept domestic communications without a warrant, as long as one party is outside the United States.
The president has come under heated criticism from many lawmakers, particularly Democrats, who have questioned the legality of the program.
Critics say that judicial checks and balances are a critical part of government and that the courts have a record of supporting presidential requests for wiretaps important for U.S. security.
Bush on Sunday described his program as “necessary to win this war and to protect the American people,” and added that the program has been reviewed “constantly” by Justice Department officials.
He said Congress has been briefed about it, although some lawmakers have denied being informed of the program.
not only that but Democrats voted for the war in Iraq
I’ll take Dick Cheney’s word over anything I’ve ever seen in Salon. He has more honor and love of country in his lower left incisor than Obama has in his entire wretched body.
Coincidentally. I have been looking again at “The Winds of War.” which depicts FDR acting in plain violation of existing law. It would also not surprise me to learn that the FBI had a wiretap on every American with known connections with Germany. War aint beanbag.
My German-American Grandmother took in boarders during WWII for extra money. One was a young man in his late twenties. After a month or so living there, he came out and told them that he was an FBI agent and that they had passed with flying colors.
if this guy want to prosecute people for not following rules, how about start with Obama and the Democratic party for electing an illegal immigrant to the office of president?
Or is it we are to pick and choose which rules need to be followed and which are not important?
If so, seems a whole lot more important to eavesdrop and protect the US citizens, than it is to allow foreigners to infiltrate our country, to be elected to office, and to give amnesty to any foreigner person on the planet to vote against the US citizens interests, like the democratic party is doing right now!
A warrant is not required to tap the lines of an AQ operative in Afghanistan talking to another AQ operative in Saudi Arabia when the call happens to be switched through an American router.
That's not domestic spying. Neither of those dudes has rights under the constitution.
So you're tapping the phone of said AQ dude in Afghanistan, when suddently he calls his illegal immigrant buddy Achmed in Detroit. Is it legal to tap said phone call?
I sure hope so!
Says who? The writer of this column? He makes this statement without backing it up with any proof. It seems like more of the same from the libs, repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.
a police don’t need a warrent to enter a house if he see someone breaking into a house. Its the same principle. The police can’t just lie and say he saw someone breaking into the house. In that case he is abusing his power thus illegal. Bush can’t just wiretap anyone he wants without cause related to Al Qaeda terrorism. An abused would be like Britian PM who used his country terrorism law by locking out an ireland bank on issues not related to terrorism
I noticed the Rat leaders were all for this illegal activity, so I can assume that they will continue this policy & perhaps expand it.
If I recall, the Rats don't regard Hamas or Hezbollah as terrorists, Mumia Abu Jamal does not deserve jail for killing a cop, & Code Pink & ACORN are patriotic organizations. Oh, & the gitmo slugs are not so much terrorists as just plain ol’ criminals who deserve all the benefits of our judicial system.
On the other hand, they believe US Marines are cold blooded murderers, as is the President, Christians are hatemongers, & Israel is a racist state, as are all white people. The heroes of the left - Castro, Chavez, Carter, Hollywood - have all identified GWB & the USA as being the real terrorists.
Seems to me that now that the Rats have the White House & Congress, the idea of who is or is not a terrorist might very well change. Those we consider patriots might be the next “terrorists”.
So, let us all hope the illegal surveillance continues! Right? The gov’t (especially the Rats) would never use this against political or ideological opponents! Right? It will ONLY be use to catch terrorists! Right?
But, just WHO is a terrorist in the eyes of Obama, Reid, & Pelosi? Hamas or Israel? Al Qaeda or the US Marines? A Christian or a queer?
Coming soon to a communication device near you!
To read the best post on FR of the day, please look above at Mister Da’s comment.
I just have to laugh, though it isnt funny at all. Just think boys and girls, the mighty zero and company, (corrupt Chicago style, knuckle dragging liberal politicians) now have the reigns of ALL the stuff Bush instituted to protect the US from terrorism....not a pretty picture.
“UPDATE II: Via email, several very knowledgeable bloggers — including Marcy Wheeler and Christy Hardin Smith — are arguing, persuasively, that Cheney did not really disclose any specific new facts yesterday about Democratic complicity”
First of all, it's not illegal. Secondly, the author seems to be claiming to be having telephone conversations with Al Qaeda since he refers to "eavesdropping on our conversations."
The surveillance of foreign commnicatons from suspected enemy sources overseas is not illegal. Every President throughout history has done it. This is not warrantless surviellance of US citizens but instead warrantless surveillance of foreign entities.
If the demorats suspend the ability of the Commander in Chief (usurp his Consitutinal power) in this fashion due to the misconception that you and others have and then we are attacked again there is going to be hell to pay -— and those who caused this with thier misconceptions are going to have to pay it.
Next time it may not be 3000 of us but 300,000 or 3 million. You people who do not understand that the Commander in Chief has the Constitutional power to intercept enemy communications coming in to this country are dangerous nuts, imo. Do you honestly believe that you have a Constitutional right to privacy in regards to your conversation with someone in a cave in Pakistan?
How long because the intelligence/military community has been doing this for decades upon decades through hard, soft, and transmitter taps on unsuspecting American citizens. Watch your gossip because some people out there are trained to pick up key words :)
Can you show me some evidence of US citizens being spyed upon without a warrant?
The MSM continually lies in this issue by characterizing this as surviellance of US citizens. It is not.
There has to be a foreign entity involved. If a US citizen becomes a target in the surveillance then a warrant is pursued but the Commander in Chief has the Constitutional duty to defend this nation from foreign entities and does not need a warrant to intercept foreign communications.
W may have been working to protect us, but with Gang Obama and the Demoncrats in control of Congress this power is “DANGEROUS”.
The loopholes within the PATRIOT ACT can lead to total “OPPRESSION” under an administration who wishes to push their ideas whether we like them or not...and let's understand that very PERSON has been elected.
God Help US - We're going to need HIS PROTECTION.
In regards to picking up ‘keywords’ on programs such as Eschalon they are not listening unless certain ‘keywords or phrases’ get flagged and then they still pursue a warrant to target US citizens for surveillance (which was supposed to be the reason for the FISA court)in due time.
But in the case of foreign entities then no warrant is needed. Nor should one be needed.
No it is not dangerous to American citizens for the Commandr in Chief to have th power to intercept foreign ‘enemy’ communications. Do you really believe that you have a right to privacy in a conversation with someone in a cave in Pakistan?
What is dangerous is what will happen if people usurp this power from the Commander in Chief.
Hey Glenn Greenwald.....Cheney IS the MOST HONEST politician....you just can;t handle the TRUTH!!!
Now that they are in power enjoy the power given to them to “USURP” the People's Constitutional Rights.
BTW, MERRY CHRISTMAS !
If anybody has any doubts about what a war-time President can and can’t do, look no further than Abraham Lincoln; a) instituted a draft, b) created a state from counties that had SECEEDED - from Virginia; c) suspended the writ of habeus corpus;, etc.
Before 9/11, a friend of mine who worked at communications in the military and would listen/check for key words that come across. He could not dilly dally and listen to conversations that long in his “area” but if the right set of key words came across his superiors would start listening.
This “super secret organization” (Which I guess some people are still naive about) were listening for signs of terrorism as well as working with the DEA and the “War on Drugs”.
Wiretapping now is a lot easier to do since 9/11 because “restrictions” have been wiped out but that has not changed the fact that our government never did sweep the phone lines before 9/11. Again are you kidding me? Of course they could NOT USE these taps in a court of law but “knowledge” is power if you want to cheat a little to get some legal probable cause/or in terrorism case protect the country.
What goes out into the air/lines could possibly be “accidentally” picked up and this is somehow a new revelation to you. My you are one trusting individual, government has never fudged on the "law" or bent it, keep living the dream.
You haven’t in anyway illustrated how the power of the Commander in Chief to intercept foreign “enemy” communications is a threat to our Constitutional rights.
If you have a problem with the ‘Patriot Act’ then please be more specific as to what you have a problem with in regards to it.
Every President in history has had the power to intercept foreign (suspected enemy) communicatons. How is that a threat to US citizens? If there is a known case of a President spying on US citizens (not involving foreign entities) then I will be against it but there isn’t in regard to ths issue.
Let me try this - Who is to say with this new administration they don't like you having Conservative meetings because the local people like your ideas. The whole idea is to take back your district and elect more Conservative minded people. But, in the mind of a Socialism, this can't be allowed to take place. They see these meetings as dangerous and decide this is a form of usurpation on the part of the group. With all the general loopholes of the Patriot Act, the group is placed on the possible terrorist list. Insane? They did this to a handful of white guys in Alabama who had a few guns last year. So please don't talk to me about the President's powers. I am well aware of the Presidential Powers and as long as W has been in office I have supported him. This new administration is a totally different animal and a dangerous one at that....
Most of all, who is going to tell Obama to play nice with these powers?
Now, I'm tired of discussing THE PEOPLE’s CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS. Without a doubt, YOU do not “GET IT”.
That is freaking hilarious, so hilarious that Congress back in the late 1990’s wanted to look more closely at the NSA due to “instances” of abuses. Of course the NSA gave them a bunch of flack. Why the flack if they were so pure? Hell, Congress had no idea what they were doing, how comforting.
bump for later reading
I know the softies claim that torture does not work and you're more likely to get false information using toruture. Maybe so. I don't know but I'll leave that decision to those who really care about the safety of the American people--and it isn't liberals.
If I've misinterpreted your post, I'm sorry.
To my knowledge there has never been an instance where this was improperly applied. It's just another case of lying Democrats.
This is not very reassuring. They certainly missed the biggest terrorist attack on our country, didn't they?
Tell ya what BigIF.... read these concerns from intelligent Conservatives writers, leaders, lawyers, who understand the ramifications of the Patriot Act and the legislation that has been attached to the Patriot Act. Hey, I’m a plain ole southern gal who has studied the Constitution a bit along with the Founding Fathers, and Madison in Federalist #58 would “NOT” agree with you on this matter.
...they are not listening unless certain keywords or phrases...
That is freaking hilarious, so hilarious that Congress back in the late 1990s wanted to look more closely at the NSA due to instances of abuses. Of course the NSA gave them a bunch of flack. Why the flack if they were so pure? Hell, Congress had no idea what they were doing, how comforting. “
There is virtually no aspect of government power that can not be abused. So then maybe the whole idea of government is ‘freaking hilarious’ to you?
Programs like the eschalon program create a sort of ‘random’ surviellance for National Security purposes. If there is to be “specific” targeting of US citizens for surviellance then a warrant is pursued. In other words it then becomes no longer solely the power of the Commander in Chief but is subject to ‘due process’ involving all three branches.
To just say that a power ‘can’ be abused does not make it illegal or un-Constitutional.
Who is to say this broad questionable power is used against those who do not agree with the Obama Administration?
What broad questionable power? Please tell me specifically what it is you think that is such a broad power. Please be specific.
You also said:
Let me try this - Who is to say with this new administration they don’t like you having Conservative meetings because the local people like your ideas. The whole idea is to take back your district and elect more Conservative minded people. But, in the mind of a Socialism, this can’t be allowed to take place. They see these meetings as dangerous and decide this is a form of usurpation on the part of the group.
The Patriot Act does not allow what you claim it does. You can make up a million what if scenarios where all different types of government power can be abused but that is why we have checks and balances.
You also said:
With all the general loopholes of the Patriot Act, the group is placed on the possible terrorist list. Insane? They did this to a handful of white guys in Alabama who had a few guns last year.
What loopholes? Again please be more specific. If you have a link to the specific case you mention here then please provide a link if you can.
Are these people being denied their right to due process??? I doubt it.
“Tell ya what BigIF.... read these concerns from intelligent Conservatives writers, leaders, lawyers, who understand the ramifications of the Patriot Act and the legislation that has been attached to the Patriot Act. Hey, Im a plain ole southern gal who has studied the Constitution a bit along with the Founding Fathers, and Madison in Federalist #58 would NOT agree with you on this matter.
I have no problem with an examination of the Patriot Act. It a legislative act and not a part of the Constitution so it should be examined by the People, the Courts, etc .
But I am asking for you to be specific as to what it is that you find so troubling about in regard to Constitutional rights.
I think Old Sarge was referring to the democrats in his comment, not the Bush administration.
My problem is with the VIOLATION of our 4th Amendment rights. You know that little ole thing like “AFTER THE FACT”? Most of all, this power does not go only to the President, this goes to other Law Enforcement agencies. And this new law that gives the agencies the right to hold a person (not just suspected Terrorist) for 48 hours is balderdash!
H.R. 3179 is the latest attempt to expand the scope of the PATRIOT Act even before it is clear that all the current PATRIOT Act powers are necessary and being used appropriately. Despite the unanswered concern, key Congressional leaders resorted to stealth tactics late last year to attach a measure to the 2004 Intelligence Authorization bill that drastically increased the power of the FBI by allowing the agency to demand records from car dealers, pawnbrokers, travel agents, and other businesses without the approval of a judge or grand jury. Neither the House nor the Senate debated this measure; the real action happened behind closed doors.
The same thing appears to be happening to H.R. 3179 — the Anti-Terrorism Intelligence Tools Improvement Act of 2003. House leaders planned to rush the bill to the House floor for approval without any real debate until a coalition of groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Free Congress Foundation and the American Conservative Union raised a ruckus. At that point, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, whose name appears on the bill with that of Porter Goss, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, decided that perhaps it deserved a hearing in subcommittee before being voted on.
EVEN THE MOST CURSORY of examinations reveals that H.R. 3179 would expand PATRIOT powers without including any built-in measures to provide accountability and oversight. One of its most troubling provisions involves new powers for searches ordered by National Security Letters. These can be used to demand access to individual or business records even where there is no showing of individual suspicion. There is no way for either the target of the investigation nor those on whom the letters are served can challenge them as overbroad. The statute, in fact, makes it a crime for a recipient from raising alarms in the press, or even with the Inspector General of the Department of Justice or the relevant congressional committees that should be exercising oversight of this provision.
Another provision of H.R. 3179 restricts the power of a judge to decide whether the admission of classified information in criminal cases is warranted. The government request that such evidence be allowed would be made without opposing counsel present and doesn’t even have to be in writing. In his testimony at the House hearing, former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, who served on the Judiciary Committee while in Congress and is both a former U.S. Attorney and CIA official, said this provision “represents an incremental shift of power away from the court and towards the prosecutor. Congress should hear much more from both prosecutors and defense lawyers with experience in this area before making such a change, in order to determine whether the effect may be much larger than intended.”
These are only two of the changes sought by H.R. 3179. Neither of them by themselves is going to make many Americans lose much sleep, but when combined with the other “tools” being acquired by law enforcement they should. The hearings on this legislation were never completed. They were suspended early to allow its members to participate in roll call votes on the House floor and have yet to be reconvened. If history repeats itself, they may never be resumed, as many observers believe that H.R. 3179 will be slipped into the 2005 Intelligence Authorization bill where it can be expected to receive little scrutiny or debate.
Conservatives should be concerned about all this. The fact that key Congressional leaders are maneuvering to enhance the power of the Executive Branch without providing for adequate debate over appropriate measures for oversight and accountability is disturbing enough. It was James Madison in Federalist 58 who stated that we did not fight for an “elective despotism” but one in which the powers of government were divided between the different branches of government so that “no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectively checked and restrained by the others.” However, by Congress’s granting great power — without checks and balances — to the Executive Branch, it is abdicating its own responsibility and encouraging future abuses by Federal law enforcement agencies.
CONSERVATIVES WELL KNOW that a government bureaucracy’s appetite for power is never sated. Left unchecked, it will push the limits, mindless of the cost to our freedom. Already, there is an effort underway in Congress to remove the existing sunset provisions to the PATRIOT Act even though the Government Accounting Office in a 2003 report raised questions about whether the Act’s powers were being misused to fight not terrorism, but run of the mill crime.
While most Americans are unlikely to find themselves part of an investigation involving terrorism, they should know that these new “tools” are already being creatively used by U.S. attorneys from one end of the country to investigate very ordinary criminal acts and citizens who don’t realize that the privacy and constitutional safeguards they once took for granted are already being eroded.
There are those who perhaps overstate the threat, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. That’s why Congress should draw the line between the “tools” law enforcement really needs and those the law enforcement bureaucracy would simply like to have. At the very least, Congress should resist the temptation to approve law enforcement’s newest requests without at least ascertaining that the “tools” it already has are needed for the job and are being used as Congress believed they would when they were approved.
I guess Paul Weyrich and David Keene are wrong too... along with many of us who know this is dangerous...
Some of our European friends picked up on it as well as static about potential hijackings of US aircraft from our own sources.
Of course with a government our size, twisted beyond redemption, it took a while to connect the dots and act. But hey, it’s not like we don’t have excellent oversight on our immigration laws and crack down on expired visas. No, we must resort to laws which might be abused by the wrong civil/public servants in order to not rock the illegal immigration gravy train (Just one of several instances that could have slowed down/hindered 9/11).
The Founders created a Constitution that also included Separation of Powers with the President being the Commander in Chief and not a committee of commanders as you would have it.
“Checks and Balances” does not mean that they all share in the same powers it simply means that there is a way to keep eachother powers checked and that they are balanced in power.
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