Every debate over expanded government surveillance power is invariably framed as one of "security v. privacy and civil liberties" -- as though it's a given that increasing the Government's surveillance authorities will "make us safer." But it has long been clear that the opposite is true. As numerous experts (such as Rep. Rush Holt) have attempted, with futility, to explain, expanding the scope of raw intelligence data collected by our national security agencies invariably impedes rather than bolsters efforts to detect terrorist plots. This is true for two reasons:(1) eliminating strict content limits on what can be surveilled (along with enforcement safeguards, such as judicial warrants) means that government agents spend substantial time scrutinizing and sorting through communications and other information that have nothing to do with terrorism; and (2) increasing the quantity of what is collected makes it more difficult to find information relevant to actual terrorism plots. As Rep. Holt put it when arguing against the obliteration of FISA safeguards and massive expansion of warrantless eavesdropping power which a bipartisan Congress effectuated last year:
It has been demonstrated that when officials must establish before a court that they have reason to intercept communications -- that is, that they know what they are doing -- we get better intelligence than through indiscriminate collection and fishing expeditions.
Intelligence gathering is a very hard business in any administration, including that of President Obama. Explaining the failure of the Intel community to detect the Christmas Eve attempt to blow up an airplane over Detroit, a new study financed by Congress, according to the New York Times (2/22/10), has found that hurdles stymie the National Counterterrorism Center. To quote:
. . . the study concludes, is a lack of coordination and communication among the agencies that are supposed to take the lead in planning the fight against terrorism, . . The findings come just weeks after the National Counterterrorism Center was criticized for missing clear warning signs that a 23-year-old Nigerian man was said to be plotting to blow up a Detroit-bound commercial airliner on Dec. 25.With all that, the current intelligence community is willing to try such completely unconventional methods as MCClatchy's (3/29/10) headline revealed: "Feds are thinking outside the box to plug intelligence gaps." Congress will be asked to appropriate funds for this project, as well as oversee it on behalf of the citizens they represent.
. . . The report found that the center’s planning arm struggled with “systemic impediments” like overlapping statutes, culture clashes with different agencies and tensions with two formidable players: the State Department’s counterterrorism office and the C.I.A.
. . . The study called on Mr. Obama to issue an executive order to define the nation’s counterterrorism architecture in order to address some of the problems and improve coordination. It also recommended giving the center’s director, currently Michael E. Leiter, a say in the choice of counterterrorism officials at other federal agencies, a step the 9/11 Commission had recommended but was not adopted.
We all should be very grateful that intelligence oversight in Congress is no longer in the hands of former House Intelligence Committee chairman, Peter Hoekstra. Read the following little gem by David C. Morrison from CQ Behind the Lines (3/30/10). To quote:
Yemen, brother: “ ‘I’ll lead a preemptive strike on Yemen,’ Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., vows, publicly stating his plans for the Michigan National Guard if he wins election as governor this fall,” Glossy News notes. ‘I’ve been leading on national security for the last nine years in Congress, trying to drive this administration in a policy direction that keeps America safe,’ Hoekstra said on ABC’s This Week. ‘Obama hasn’t shown interest in my concerns here, so I intend to strike with the reconstituted Michigan National Guard in Yemen. As the leading national expert, it’s certainly appropriate for me to promote this strike in Yemen. The leaders of that little speck of earth need to see what a ball buster a Michigan strike can be. They won’t know what hit them. I think the unemployed people of the fine state of Michigan can be of help to the safety of the citizens of the United States of America . . . Unemployed Michigan folks can come to the rescue of our dire situation here. And so say all of us.’”Representative Hoekstra appears to have been completely serious in his above statement. I note that Michigan is where the FBI recently arrested and charged with sedition a group of militant militia members who were allegedly plotting to kill police. This gubernatorial candidate needs to be much more careful with his proposal to take up arms in his own "war on terror." His is a long history of ignoring the rule of law. For example, torture did not seem to bother him when he learned of it from the CIA. But we'll never know for sure because the CIA failed to keep accurate records of Congressional briefings.
The CIA has no idea what it briefed Congress on torture reported "emptywheel" at Firedoglake (3/16/10). The CIA did not keep adequate records of what was briefed to members of Congress in 2003 and 2004 regarding torture. To quote:
The CIA documents released in the latest FOIA batch prove that all the claims that CIA (and Crazy Pete Hoekstra) have made about briefings Congress received on torture are, at best, reconstructions based on years old memors, if not outright fabrications.
The documents appear to have been a summary of torture briefings CIA Office of Congressional Affairs put together on July 11, 2004 in anticipation of CIA’s Congressional briefing in July 2004.
The summary shows that:
CIA OCA didn’t even write up the briefings it gave Porter Goss and Jane Harman in February 2003 or the Gang of Four in September 2003 by July 2004. . . any claims they make about the content of those briefings cannot be said to be accurate. . .
The only MFR that OCA seemed to have completed in July 2004 is the February 4, 2003 briefing, at which Pat Roberts apparently unequivocally approved of destroying the torture tapes (and at which he also agreed to end nascent Congressional attempts at oversight).
In other words, the claims that CIA had detailed records about what Nancy Pelosi or Jane Harman or Jay Rockefeller said about destroying the torture tapes? They appear to be completely fabricated.
There is a related story regarding additional lawmakers'involvement coming out of this month's release of the CIA records, "Ex-Intel Committee Chair Blasts GOP Successor for Killing Torture Probe" is by David Corn from Mother Jones (3/3/10). Former Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee until January of 2003, when he was replaced by Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas. To quote:
. . at the start of the US government's campaign against Al Qaeda [Graham] tells Mother Jones he cannot fathom why his Republican replacement squashed his request for an independent review of the interrogation techniques then being used by the CIA. . . he believes Sen. Roberts neglected his obligations as head of the intel panel by smothering Graham's proposal for a committee assessment of so-called enhanced interrogation practices.
On February 4, 2003, according to a CIA memo released last week, . . . a classified briefing [was presented] . . . to Roberts and an aide to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the senior Democrat on the committee. Over the course of nearly two hours, the briefers covered the CIA's brutal interrogation (or torture)—including waterboarding—of two detained terrorist suspects, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and told Roberts of the agency's plan to destroy videotapes of the Zubaydah sessions. The memo noted that Roberts "posed no objection to what he had heard" and "supported the interrogation effort."
. . . [CIA briefer] Moskowitz told Roberts and the others that the CIA would not allow any additional committee staffers to be briefed on the interrogation program. Nor would the spy service permit any committee staffer to review the interrogations in real time or visit the secret site where these sessions were occurring. Roberts didn't protest. In fact, at that point, according to the CIA memo, Roberts "interjected that he saw no reason for the committee to pursue [Graham's] request and could think of 'ten reasons right off why it is a terrible idea' for the committee to do any such thing as had been proposed." No committee investigation ensued.
That is not the case in 2010. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) held a Judiciary Committee hearing in late February regarding the Justice Department's recently released Office of Professional Responsibility report, which he has condemned. The Hill - 2/22/10 - had the story on the disappointing report that Senator Leahy investigated. To quote:
. . . a report that allowed two Bush administration officials to escape any formal punishment regarding their role in drafting the legal justification for the harsh interrogations of detainees.
Jay Bybee and John Yoo, two former high-level Bush administration officials who drafted the legal basis for the Bush administration’s treatment of overseas terror suspects, escaped any formal punishment . . .
The new report, written by Deputy Associate Attorney General David Margolis, reversed the recommendations of ethics officials within the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which earlier had concluded the state bar committees should decide whether Bybee’s and Yoo’s law licenses should be revoked.
As the previous year has shown, the current administration has not worked to restore privacy and civil liberties, trampled by the Bush administration. The Intel community still has too many elements that cannot analyze and communicate effectively. Few in the previous administration have been held accountable for transgressions of the rule of law. Congress failed to exercise adequate national security oversight, and remains weak in their responsibilities. And many Democrats and Republicans have completely different views of what constitutes adequate national security that operates well within the rule of law.
Additional references from CQ Behind the Lines by David C. Morrison (3/30/10). To quote:
Ways and means: The 2002 death of a suspected Afghan militant in the so-called Salt Pit — the only fatality known to have occurred inside the secret post-9/11 CIA prison network — is a cautionary tale, The Associated Press’s Adam Goldman investigates. “I believe that there is a discrepancy between what most Americans believe is legal and what the government is actually doing under the Patriot Act,” Secrecy News’s Steven Aftergood quotes Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “How does being watched affect the quality of our lives? You can argue that only terrorists and criminals would protest, but the reality is that none of us has the same privacy we had before,” Jay Fidell argues in The Honolulu Advertiser. “If, God forbid, Americans are ever rounded up in large numbers during a natural or man made disaster, where could they be detained?” Mark Anderson asks in The American Free Press, answering that FEMA surely has it figured out.
Trend analysis: is from a current news roundup by David C. Morrison at CQ Behind the Lines (3/30/10):
“The latest wave of jihadists traveling to Pakistan and elsewhere for training may have been motivated by a sense of jihadi cool*,” NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston leads. “A researcher has found that many terrorist organizations, including Hamas, are using their children’s Web sites in order to recruit girls for terrorist activities,” ANI leads.
*Jihadi Cool is from Newsweek Magazine (4/15/2008). Here is the link to the PDF version: newsweek_jihadi_cool_150408.pdf (application/pdf Object