Tuesday, October 25, 2005

"But...but we're still learning..."

File this under the "Inexcusable Behavior" category.

Under the Patriot Act and its progeny, the intelligence gathering mechanisms of the federal government have been given broad powers to spy on people residing in the US. Those of us who screamed about the violation of Constitutional guarantees were told to chill out, the government would never abuse these new powers.

Yeah, right!

Yesterday's Washington Post and today's NY Times report on just such problems.

Civil rights advocates called on Monday for Congress to increase its oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's surveillance of suspects in intelligence investigations, in light of newly disclosed records indicating that the F.B.I. had violated the law.

But the bureau defended its record, saying it had been diligent in policing itself and in correcting lapses that it considered to be largely technical and procedural.

The debate was prompted by a set of internal F.B.I. documents made public on Monday that disclosed at least a dozen violations of federal law or bureau policy from 2002 to 2004 in the handling of surveillance and investigative matters. ...

While most of the cases appeared to be related to intelligence and national security investigations in field offices around the country, the bureau blacked out virtually all details about the exact nature of the investigations. The documents were obtained through a public records act request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a group that lobbies for greater privacy rights and civil liberties, and were first reported on Monday in The Washington Post.

Officials at the privacy center said the documents suggested abuses of authority by the F.B.I. under the expanded powers granted under the USA Patriot Act, the antiterrorism law that Congress is to consider extending in coming weeks. The privacy group said Congressional oversight committees had never been properly informed of the possible violations, and it called on Congress to exercise greater oversight.
[Emphasis added]

Of course, the FBI had a wonderful excuse just lying around waiting to be used.

It said the lapses cited in the internal reports reflected not an abuse of power, but rather an unfamiliarity by some agents with new protocols on intelligence investigations after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"You have a very steep learning curve," said John Miller, a spokesman for the F.B.I. "The rules changed in midstream, and agents have had to learn how to report these things out and where the lines are. This is probably something that will get better with experience and time, but right now, we're in a period of transition and people are learning."
[Emphasis added]

Sorry, boys, that ain't gonna get it. September 11 did not change the Constitution, last I checked.

And, yes, it's hard work getting trained in new procedures, but it's required when civil rights are involved. Besides, if these cases just involved a few rookie mistakes, then why the heavy-handed editing of the report?

No, the excuses don't fly, nor should a renewal of the Patriot Act. This kind of behavior is inexcusable.


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