Tuesday, April 29, 2008

National security items need continued scrutiny

By Carol Gee

The Bush administration's "Four Mikes and two Roberts" deservedly draw my regular scrutiny, and that of a number of important "big" bloggers, as well as an award winning NYT reporter. Scrutiny is mostly focused on government secrecy, national security and the rule of law. Today's post is a round-up of a few of the most interesting current news items, beginning with an excellent overview of the way these three issues come together: "Subsidizing Corporate Crime & Rewarding Constitutional Abuse, posted on by "dandelionsalad."

FDL Book Salon on a fine reporter's work regarding the rule of law: "emptywheel" writes on Eric Lichtblau's book, Bush's Law: The Remaking of American Justice. To quote:

Like a lot of people, I first really discovered Eric Lichtblau when he and James Risen exposed Bush's warrantless wiretapping program. . . Lichtblau reveals many new levels of details about the Administration's repeated use of paranoid levels of secrecy to hide the dubious nature of many of its counter-terrorism programs.

The Four Mikes -- Admiral Mike McConnell is the Director of National Intelligence. Former Judge Mike Mukasey is the Attorney General. Former U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff is the Secretary of Homeland Security. General Mike Hayden is the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Two Roberts -- Former U.S. Attorney Robert Mueller was appointed to a 10 year term as FBI Director just a few days after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Former College President Robert Gates is the Secretary of Defense, where Douglas Feith* worked during the earlier years of the administration.

These six men hold tremendous power over us all, for both good and ill.

Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence -- Since the first of last year, the DNI has been leading the charge for Congress to make changes to the laws governing government spying. [Previous DNI posts: DNI also has been known to distort the truth; power to the wrong people; and a McConnell Primer on intelligence]. But not everything has gone the Director's way recently. Legislation is stalled in the House of Representatives. From TPM Muckracker comes the headline "GOP Still Pushing Retroactive Immunity for Telecoms," by Paul Kiel - April 25, 2008. One of the illegal spying cases seems to be going against the government. Wired-Threat Level headlined, "NSA-Spied-On Lawyers Get Day in Court and New Yorker Profile. Another government loss in court is reported in this story: "Court: Government Must Reveal Watch-List Status to Constantly Detained Americans," By Ryan Singel, April 24, 2008.

Mike Mukasey, Attorney General, Dept. of Justice: [Previous AG posts: Mukasey admits lie (1) also lies (2); Mukasey and the Fourth Amendment; Mukasey and wiretapping (1) also (2) also (3)]. A letter to Congress claims that intelligence operatives can still legally use prohibited interrogation methods to thwart terrorist attacks. Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com (4/27/08) discusses how Senator John McCain and the Military Commissions Act make this assertion possible. To quote:

That law pretends to compel compliance with the Conventions, while simultaneously vesting the President with the power to violate them -- precisely the power that the President is invoking here to proclaim that we have the right to use these methods.

. . . McCain supported the MCA knowing that the President retained virtually unfettered discretion to decree that the interrogation methods we were using that are widely considered in the civilized world to be torture could continue. . . despite his media-sustained reputation as a righteous, principled opponent of torture, much of these disgraces are the direct by-product of John McCain's work.

Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security: ". . . a fingerprint is hardly personal data" -- [Previous HSA posts: On surveillance (1); and (2); wrong people for Katrina; On torture]. Canadians seem to have a much more firm regard for civil liberties than what has emerged in the Bush administration. Chertoff wants to "share databases of international air travelers' fingerprints with the Canadians, Brits and Aussies." (Source: WaPo) At Firedoglake -- by Christy Hardin Smith (4/25/08), "Make Civil Liberties Concerns A Priority? Blame Canada!" To quote:

Poor Michael Chertoff, wanton god of safety, debonair trollop of anti-terror, and man with a mission that has no room for a regard for individual liberties and the rule of law, has run into a speed bump of sorts on his quest for power . . . Those wacky Canadians clearly didn't get the memo that staying true to your founding principles or holding fast to the rule of law and ethics are so 1776.

Michael Hayden, CIA Director: "CIA Stonewall: Agency Won’t Release 7,000 Documents Related to Torture Program" (4/27/08). Though General Hayden was the one who revealed the existence of the CIA interrogation videotapes, there is still a fierce battle to keep the torture program's details a secret. Douglas Feith had a hand in setting up the interrogation system. Berkeley is letting him go. Hayden is left with all the mess. TPM Muckracker reports, *"Feith Loses Teaching Gig," by Paul Kiel (4/24/08). (See also Think Progress on Feith's torture stance distortions.)

FBI -- Robert Mueller, Director: TPM Muckracker -- "The FBI's Hands Off Approach to Torture," by Paul Kiel (4/24/08). FBI wants widespread monitoring of "illegal" Internet activity by dandelionsalad's Anne Broache (4/25/08).

National Security does not take care of itself. Protection from attack and protection of constitutional civil liberties needs continued congressional, press and citizen scrutiny. With a concluding perspective with just a bit of helpful humor, Ryan Singel of Wired Threat Level wrote this great little story on 4/25: "Which Gov Agency Should Be Your Computer's Firewall?" To quote (Singel's links):

First the NSA says it needs to examine every search and email on the internet to prevent an e-9/11 attack, then President Bush signs a secret cyber-security Presidential Directive to make that possible, while the Air Force has set up a cyber warfare division where cyber-security is played like a game of Space Invaders.

Not to be left out on the cybarmegeddon! action, the Department of Homeland Security plans to spearhead a "Manhattan Project" attempt to secure the internet. But there's no way FBI chief Robert Mueller is gonna let DHS honcho Michael Chertoff have all the bits, so this week he told a House committee that G-Men need to be living in the tubes, too.

Trends could be improving in the civil liberties protection area. Some in Congress have dug in their heels regarding the laws. There have been some favorable court decisions. More and more secrets have been revealed. Neocons have resigned. And the cold light of day shines increasingly on the breaches and problems thrown up by the current administration. And this is the year that Democrats could get their chance at reform.

References: South by Southwest Label "Civil Liberties or security."

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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