USA Today has published an editorial by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in which he uses fear, innuendo and legal jargon to argue more privacy cannot keep Americans safe from terrorism. The editorial rationalizes the increased reliance on warrantless surveillance by the United States government. It is especially stunning, given the fact that Gonzales lied to Congress about the warrantless wiretapping program in 2006.
Gonzales was asked on February 6, 2006, whether James Comey, who is now the FBI director, and others at the Justice Department, had expressed concerns about NSA warrantless wiretapping. He claimed in testimony their concerns were related to another program and not the wiretapping program.
In 2007, then-FBI director Robert Mueller gave testimony to the House Judiciary Committee that suggested there was disagreement among high-level officials, including himself, when it came to approving key aspects of the illegal warrantless wiretapping program. Gonzales had told Congress under oath that there was no serious disagreement.
Gonzales’ perjury, which went unpunished, was part of a coverup of the crimes committed by officials involved in the warrantless wiretapping program. Now, nine years later, the USA Today is giving Gonzales a platform to spread more lies and further obfuscate what really happened during President George W. Bush’s administration.
Gonzales ominously insinuates in the final paragraph of his column that the USA Freedom Act may lead to a terrorist attack by a “disciple” of the Islamic State.
…ISIL is on the move around the world. Seemingly every week there is a reported story of a takedown of an ISIL disciple within our borders, chilling reminders of the evolving threat. Without access to the classified threat matrix or an appreciation of the strength of our intelligence capabilities, it is difficult for the American people to judge whether this new law strikes the appropriate balance between security and liberty. What we do know is that because of the USA Freedom Act, it is now more difficult for the government to gather certain kinds of information. If we must win the war for information in order to win the war against extremists, then we have to question whether Congress and the president achieved the right balance. Only time will tell.
Gonzales expresses concern about the fact that the government will be unable to “access bulk collection of metadata from third parties,” or the phone companies. He does not bother to mention that the Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded [PDF], “We are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack. And we believe that in only one instance over the past seven years has the program arguably contributed to the identification of an unknown terrorism suspect.” Or, that the Obama administration’s own NSA review group, staffed by former deputy CIA director Mike Morell, found the collection of phone records was “not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner” using other conventional methods [PDF].
Or, that a study by the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, DC, concluded:
An in-depth analysis of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda or a like-minded group or inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal.
Gonzales writes warrantless searches are not “necessarily illegal.” He cites a federal judge’s ruling in Oakland, which found AT&T customers lacked standing to challenge the government’s surveillance of Internet traffic. What Gonzales omits is that the ruling did not end the “part of the case concerning telephone record collection and other mass surveillance”—which is exactly what Gonzales defends in his column.
The decision to not grant standing did not have much to do with whether it is legal or not to monitor citizens without the warrant as they use the Internet. The judge found they did not have enough information to be granted standing to challenge the government. Essentially, excessive secrecy was the decisive factor in the outcome for AT&T customers.
Gonzales’ argument clings to an outdated ruling in the Supreme Court, which held that “acquisition of personal information like telephone numbers already in the possession of third parties such as telecom carriers does not implicate the Fourth Amendment.”
Since Smith v. Maryland in 1979, the Supreme Court has avoided issuing a ruling on the constitutionality of warrantless surveillance. Also, when the issue of warrantless surveillance was before the Supreme Court in Amnesty v. Clapper, Solicitor General Don Verrilli misled the court to get the case dismissed. He claimed that criminal defendants were being notified when the Justice Department used warrantless surveillance to identify them, which was not true.
Gonzales argues the “measures taken by the Bush administration (many of which have continued under the Obama administration) were necessary against the known threats and they were effective in protecting America.” He is not only defending warrantless wiretapping but also torture.
At one point, Gonzales argues that the Bush administration did not infringe upon anyone’s liberty:
Mindful of the extraordinary power being exercised, the NSA imposed minimization procedures to guard against the inadvertent collection of substantive information of innocent Americans. The general counsel and inspector general at the NSA were charged with providing heightened guidance to operators in order to protect against mistakes and abuse. There were routine training sessions and periodic evaluations and to ensure NSA operations remained within authorized limits. Finally,key congressional members were briefed repeatedly about our collection efforts.
The reality: in 2009, an unclassified report produced by the inspectors general of five agencies found the Bush administration was simply inserting “scary memos” or threat assessments to pressure officials into supporting reauthorization of the program every 45 days. Attorney General Ashcroft apparently had a “misimpression” of NSA activities that were approved. Bush lawyer and torture supporter, John Yoo, tried to circumvent the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Justice Department was not appropriately notifying defendants of information collected against them.
Gonzales did not only lie to Congress about the nature of disagreements among top-level officials. He lied about how the FBI was using its powers on April 27, 2005, when he told senators as the Patriot Act was up for renewal that there had not “been one verified case of civil liberties abuse.”
Days before, according to the Washington Post, the FBI had sent Gonzales a report that indicated “agents had obtained personal information that they were not entitled to have. It was one of at least half a dozen reports of legal or procedural violations that Gonzales received in the three months before he made his statement to the Senate intelligence committee.” Acts included “unauthorized surveillance, an illegal property search and a case in which an Internet firm improperly turned over a compact disc with data that the FBI was not entitled to collect.” Gonzales was copied on each report, which stated rules or laws intended to protect civil liberties and privacy had been violated.
There is absolutely no reason why any media organization should be giving a platform to a disgraced former official like Gonzales, who committed crimes and engaged in coverups while they occupied their positions of power in government. It is shameful that the USA Today actively aided and abetted Gonzales’ spread of national security state propaganda on the phone records surveillance program as well as his role in the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. Yet, it is characteristic of how much of the US press covers national security matters.
If the media organization’s editorial board is not reminding the public that a national security whistleblower still deserves prosecution, then it is giving space to disgraced officials whose careers and reputations depend upon citizens believing the lies they routinely tell.
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