Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The NSA and the Bush Administration

I'm troubled by a number of issues related to the NSA spying scandal. First, we still don't know exactly what programs are in place and what exactly their purpose is. Second, any number of legal issues can't be resolved unless those legal issues are specific to each program being run by the NSA. Third, the Bush Administration is doing its best to keep Americans from finding out what its doing and its stonewalling, obfuscations, bizarre legal theories and so on have the feel of politics and not the feel of absolute necessity. Fourth, the argument that terrorists can find out what's going on by having some general aspects of these programs described is bogus; the terrorists already know they're being watched. Fifth, we have a president who has designated himself as empowered to rewrite contitutional law for that is clearly one of the things going on here and it is not restricted to NSA spying.

There's a UPI story about testimony that Russell Tice has given Congress that suggests we still are not privy to all the games that the Bush Administration is playing:
WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- A former NSA employee said Tuesday there is another ongoing top-secret surveillance program that might have violated millions of Americans' Constitutional rights.

Russell D. Tice told the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations he has concerns about a "special access" electronic surveillance program that he characterized as far more wide-ranging than the warrentless wiretapping recently exposed by the New York Times but he is forbidden from discussing the program with Congress.

Tice said he believes it violates the Constitution's protection against unlawful search and seizures but has no way of sharing the information without breaking classification laws. He is not even allowed to tell the congressional intelligence committees - members or their staff - because they lack high enough clearance.

Neither could he brief the inspector general of the NSA because that office is not cleared to hear the information, he said.
Pay attention to what Tice is saying. Even the inspector general of the NSA is not cleared to discuss the program. If, as a government official, you take your oath to the constitution seriously and you have doubts about the legality of a program, who does someone like Tice go to? The answer is problematic, to say the least: he would go to those who are cleared to know about and discuss the program. Who is cleared then? If I read it right, probably no more than a half a dozen people, perhaps a full dozen at the most. Certainly Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld would know what these programs are. See the problem for Tice?

So what are some of the issues here? Let me list a few:

1. No oversight. The people in the know are entirely within the highest level of the executive branch and are polticians. There are no checks and balances.

2. The smaller the number of people who fully understand and have access to an intelligence program and the more access a particular group of politicians have to that program, the more easily abused that program can be. A study of any number of intelligence programs around the world in the twentieth century would show any number of abuses. The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover and the Soviet Union would show classic examples of how intelligence can be abused. The system of government is irrelevant if there is no oversight.

3. There are a series of problems with this particular administration. Let me list a few:
a. This administration is in love with secrecy. The love of secrecy began before 9/11.

b. We have an administration that has repeatedly demonstrated that it is incompetent.

c. Bush and his advisers have repeatedly misled Americans.

d. Although most Americans are by temperament inclined to trust a president, Bush has steadily been losing that trust.

e. This is an administration that has sought to justify torture, special rendition, the breaking of treaties and other additional executive powers.
4. There are already news stories circulating that NSA surveillance has been abused by the administration for political purposes. In some stories, people like John Bolton and Cheney are said to have spied on other people within the administration. If these stories are true, and the fact that the Bush Administration refused to provide Congress with documents related to the charges when John Bolton was before Congress during his nomination for the UN post certainly raises questions, then it would be a stretch in credibility that abuses are restricted only to the administration.

5. And something to keep in mind is that the technology for these programs is only likely to get better. And the potential for abuse will only become greater. We need intelligence about terrorists but there is a limit to what makes sense. Just because we can build an elaborate system for spying on potential threats within the United States doesn't mean that the system can't become a threat itself to our way of life. Already people are being arrested not because they were a genuine threat or had a real plan, but because they were idiots who talked stupidly about what they might do. It doesn't take much to start arresting people who are nonviolent and believe in democracy simply because they have a negative attitude towards those currently in charge of our government. Congress needs to understand exactly what is going on, clarify by law what can be done or not done, and check the abuses.


Anonymous catnapping said...

For years now, I've wondered at some of the dems' votes in congress. Can it be that Bush is blackmailing congressmen and Senators? ...and maybe a governor or two?

5:17 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home