In good faith — national security and the law
Almost from the beginning of his administration, George W. Bush has missed the marks of national security lawfulness. He has routinely acted in bad faith. Congress and the mainstream media had been complicit in this bad faith behavior by ignoring or sanctioning the administration’s national security lawlessness.
On the same day — Saturday our current president (OCP) sang to the Gridiron and , “sanctioned future torture by vetoing an intelligence bill that would have restricted the CIA’s interrogation practices to those sanctioned by Congress via the Army Field Manual.” Firedoglake‘s “Scarecrow” posts 3/9/08 about unseemliness of Saturday‘s veto of a law prohibiting waterboarding, combined with the Gridiron the press’ applause for the president. To quote:
. . . understand these things are supposed to be non-political, traditional, and all that, and that some respect is owed the office if not the man. I like good traditions. But is it too much to ask the Washington press corp and their dinner guests that, as we wait impatiently for possibly the most lawless and embarrassing President in our history to run out his term and leave town, they at least retain some dignity and respect for common decency and the rule of law? Is it really necessary to invite this man to entertain you, and then stand to applaud him only hours after he once again disgraced the country? Where is Edward R. Murrow?
Giving credit where it is due – is my good faith attempt to be fair to Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia). Like many of the blogosphere’s civil libertarians, I have been disappointed by his support of the administration’s unlawful domestic surveillance. TPM Muckraker (3/8/08) posted in regard to Bush’s bad faith fear-mongering claim prior to the veto, “Bush: Limiting CIA Interrogations “Could Cost American Lives.” Kiel rightfully points out that this was refuted by Rockefeller: To quote, “But Senate intelligence committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) response is the closest to a direct refutation of Bush’s claims about the success of the CIA’s program. . . “
National Security lawfulness? How often have we heard it said that, “If you haven’t done anything wrong, why should you worry about the government getting information about you?” Glenn Greenwald has written brilliantly recently about the “Surveillance State.” Following the rule of law under the Bill of Rights and the Constitution are why we should worry. This headline illustrates how far and fast “the surveillance state” is progressing: “National Dragnet Is a Click Away – Authorities to Gain Fast and Expansive Access to Records.” It comes from the Washington Post of 3/6/08. To quote the story’s concluding warning:
But even some advocates of information-sharing technology worry that without proper oversight and enforceable restrictions the new networks pose a threat to basic American values by giving police too much power over information. Timothy Sample, a former intelligence official who runs the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, is among those who think computerized information-sharing is critical to national security but fraught with risks.
“As a nation, our laws have not kept up,” said Sample, whose group serves as a professional association of intelligence officials in the government and intelligence contracting executives in the private sector.
Thomas McNamara, chief of the federal Information Sharing Environment office, said a top goal of federal officials is persuading regional systems to adopt most of the federal rules, both for privacy and to build a sense of confidence among law enforcement authorities who might be reluctant to share widely because of security concerns.
“Part of the challenge is to leverage these cutting-edge tools so we can securely and appropriately share that information which supports efforts to protect our communities from future terrorist attacks,” McNamara said. “Equally important is that we do so in a manner that fully protects the information privacy and legal rights of all Americans.”
Miranda, the Tucson police chief, said there’s no overstating the utility of Coplink for his force. But he too acknowledges that such power raises new questions about how to keep it in check and ensure that the trust people place in law enforcement is not misplaced.
“I don’t want the people in my community to feel we’re behind every little tree and surveilling them,” he said. “If there’s any kind of inkling that we’re misusing our power and our technology, that trust will be destroyed.”
Following up on this story – Washington Post intelligence reporter Dana Priest was online Thursday, March 6 at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss the latest developments in national security and intelligence. Her answer is a model example of a good faith answer to the danger of the government’s failing to balance protection from attack and protection of rights.
Dana, what’s the flap about this new info sharing system? From what I read in the article, it only shares existing data. This presumably is collected legally, and I would hope that if something illegal were put into the system others would notice and highlight it. Anyway, this seems to be merely a case of reality catching up to Hollywood … after all, we’ve been watching “CSI” and “NCIS” for years where they make a few keystrokes and a suspect’s entire life comes pouring out. This was supposed to be one of the things put in after Sept. 11, correct?
Dana Priest: Ah ha? But was is “legal” information. Sure, if you get arrested that’s one thing, or even picked up as a suspect in a crime.
Let’s use the example in the story: You have a flat tire near a nuclear power plant. The cop puts that into the database and discovers you’ve had three flat tires outside nuclear power plants in the past year. Now that’s interesting and worth looking into, right? But does that mean something as simple and innocent “had a flat tire” gets added into the database? Would that be legal? Switch out “flat tire” for “defaulted on a loan” or “attended a political rally” or “purchased a gun,” all legal things. Does it bother you that the police could link up your political rally attendance if they had some other reason to query your information? You see where it’s going … lots of questions. It would have to have safeguards to make it acceptable, I’m certain.
Press coverage remains generally lousy, however, when it comes to national security issues. Tomorrow the House will attempt to override the veto of OCP, and the story will probably be about the fight rather than the legal principles. This is also the week that Congressional conflict continues regarding what to do about the nation’s foreign intelligence surveillance law. Few Americans understand the threat to their Fourth Amendment civil liberties, because the mainstream media continues to act in bad faith and incompetently, as investigative journalists. Julian Sanchez wrote an important article 0n 3/8/08 called “Substandard.” (HT to Glenn for this link).
It’s a sign of the amount of raw misinformation floating around the FISA debate that even fundamentally smart and conscientious conservative writers often get the story badly wrong. And by this, I really don’t just mean “come to a normative conclusion I disagree with” or “weigh competing policy values in a non-libertarian way.” I mean “blow the basic facts.”
Sign of the times: TheWall Street Journal restricts the amount of information from an important story to paid subscribers only. Wouldn’t it be a fine good faith effort by the WSJ to allow readers — as do the other big papers — access to this story? “NSA’s Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data” 3/10/07.
The best digest around for national security items, in contrast, is published frequently and cleverly. And you can subscribe absolutely free to an e-mail of The Congressional Quarterly Behind the Lines, from CQ Homeland Security.
Cross posted at The Reaction