Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Friday, December 16, 2005

More Than Just Another Third-Rate Burglary?

Today's New York Times has an article headlined Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts by James Risen and Eric Lightblau. The article reports in 2002, President Bush authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct warrantless, nonconsensual electronic surveillance of "Americans and others inside the United States." The purpose of the surveillances was reportedly to search for evidence of terrorist activity. Later in the article, the Times writers revealed the newspaper had voluntarily withheld publishing the story for a year at the request of the White House.

For a better understanding of the NSA's responsibilities and capabilities, see The National Security Agency Declassified, a web page of the George Washington University, National Security Archive.

To better see how national security nonconsensual electronic surveillances are administered within the US justice system, see the Department of Justice's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review webpage.

It seems to me there are two serious questions that need to be answered to ensure the preservation of our Constitution's 4th, 6th, and 1st Amendments:

  • Was the NSA used illegally by the President to conduct nonconsensual electronic surveillances on US citizens in the US? If the answer is "yes", then it must also be asked what lawful use the government could make of the information obtained from the illegal searches. Certainly the government could not use illegally obtained evidence in any criminal prosecution of US citizens. That leaves taking extrajudicial action against US citizens the government believed was violating the law. I would hate to think our government would even consider extrajudicial action against US citizens.
  • What was the New York Times told that convinced it to withhold this story for a year at the request of the White House? Why did the Times choose to run the story now? What has changed? The Times needs to fully and honestly explain how its decision to withhold the original story should be viewed as anything other than a failure of its 1st Amendment responsibilities to US citizens. The explanation offered by Times Executive Editor Bill Keller and reported in today's Editor & Publisher online is weak at best.
Can we take comfort that the President of the United States has an army of legal advisors telling him his actions were legal? Should we be reassured that current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was Counsel to the President when President Bush authorized the NSA interceptions?

Here's a relevant excerpt from Volume 61, Number 11, December 2004 issue of Bench & Bar of Minnesota: "As the Watergate scandal erupted, Senator Walter Mondale said in July of 1973, 'I am shocked by the number of lawyers involved in the Watergate scandal … . The sad truth is that the legal profession performed miserably in the entire Watergate affair.' John Dean asked: 'How in God’s name could so many lawyers get involved in something like this?' "

How indeed?


Anonymous Gateway said...

Bill --

Your piece is thoughtful, as usual, and right on.

I remember Watergate pretty well. I believe it was closer to a full blown constitutional crisis than many like to think these days.

I fear we are headed that same direction once again.

I'm an attorney by background, a veteran who commanded nuclear weapons, and have been involved in privat sector business activity much of my adult life -- not what would usually be considered a radical left wing kook.

Yet oddly I find myself more and more often lining up with the ACLU on more and more issues.

I would hate to think that the Constitution is in reality just another scrap of paper with no firm meaning, and that many of us have bought into a fairy tale created by the political class.

Keep on truckin with your excellent insights.

12:06 PM, December 17, 2005  
Blogger Bay Views said...

I love those acroyms. Extrajudicial...Is that what we do to terrorists in Iraq that attack us?

Seriosly, great job. I too wonder just how far the president intends to go without stepping back for self-examination.

6:18 PM, December 17, 2005  

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