Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Story That Just Won't Die

As much as the White House would like for the story on the warrantless spying on Americans to just go away, to fade from the notably short-attention span of the American public, it just hasn't been successful. People may have forgotten about Katrina and the Sago mine disaster and about the Plame affair, but this story continues to generate editorials and stories, thereby keeping Americans focussed on the issue. The Emperor in Chief and his staff cannot be happy about this.

The latest offering comes in an article in the Washington Post.

The Bush administration appears to have violated the National Security Act by limiting its briefings about a warrantless domestic eavesdropping program to congressional leaders, according to a memo from Congress's research arm released yesterday.

The Congressional Research Service opinion said that the amended 1947 law requires President Bush to keep all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees "fully and currently informed" of such intelligence activities as the domestic surveillance effort.

"We believe that Congress was appropriately briefed," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement last night.

...Cumming's analysis found that both intelligence committees should have been briefed because the program involved intelligence collection activities.

The only exception in the law applies to covert actions, Cumming found, and those programs must be reported to the "Gang of Eight," which includes House and Senate leaders in addition to heads of the intelligence panels. The administration can also withhold some operational details in rare circumstances, but that does not apply to the existence of entire programs, he wrote.
[Emphasis added]

The Congressional Research Service is a neutral (not bipartisan) service which aids all of Congress. Any report from this service is accorded great respect, as it should because it has no political axe to grind. As a result, this second report on the legality of the of the NSA's warrantless spying on people in America hits the issue hard.

Members of the House and Senate intelligence committees have been charged with oversight over the various intelligence agencies, including those operating on US soil. Committee members can hardly do their job if they have no idea that a particular program exists and is operational. The White House claims it told a few of those members, thereby satisfying the law. However, what actually happened is that the White House told only a handful of members in circumstances which amounted to little more than "this is what we're doing and it is so double super secret that you can't even tell other members of the committees anything about it." That makes genuine oversight impossible, which, of course, is the whole point. Emperors don't need oversight.

While I believe that part of the reason this story won't die is that canny Democrats have requested the two Congress Research Agency reports on the issue, I also believe that the very act of illegally spying on Americans is repugnant to most of the public. No amount of "a real American has nothing to hide" spin can offset the fact that thousands of innocent Americans have had their privacy invaded without even the most minimal of judicial review.

Here is where the role of the press is crucial. I only hope it is up to it, especially given the media's lackluster track record of late.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do believe that out here in the hinterlands people are waking up to the fact that there's another criminal in the WH. And that again, it's rethuglican. That no writ of impeachment is being filed because the thugs hold the reins of power. But they don't know quite what to do about it. 2008 is pretty far away. But that gives the public time enough to get really annoyed.


4:56 AM  

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