(Maha has graciously also offered me a set of keys to her place while she’s away. It looks like it’ll be a party! So before I go to digest the latest in her Wisdom of Doubt series, below, and the tech support leave town, here’s my post, cross-posted from my regular playpen, Ratiocination. –Paul, aka biggerbox)
The National Weather Service has issued an Excessive Heat Warning for my home city today. But in reading the news, I see there should also be a warning about excessive heat in Washington, DC. Specifically, at the Department of Justice, in the area around the Attorney General’s pants. They are, once again, quite visibly, on fire.
From the Washington Post:
As he sought to renew the USA Patriot Act two years ago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales assured lawmakers that the FBI had not abused its potent new terrorism-fighting powers. “There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse,” Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.
Six days earlier, the FBI sent Gonzales a copy of a report that said its 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, according to internal FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The acts recounted in the FBI reports 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, the documents show. Gonzales was copied on each report that said administrative rules or laws protecting civil liberties and privacy had been violated.
Spinmeisters at the DOJ lept into action, assuring us that perhaps Mr. Gonzales had not read the notification that his pants were flammable, that everybody’s wearing flaming pants these days, and besides, they aren’t really large flames.
Justice officials said they could not immediately determine whether Gonzales read any of the FBI reports in 2005 and 2006 because the officials who processed them were not available yesterday. But department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said that when Gonzales testified, he was speaking “in the context” of reports by the department’s inspector general before this year that found no misconduct or specific civil liberties abuses related to the Patriot Act.
“The statements from the attorney general are consistent with statements from other officials at the FBI and the department,” Roehrkasse said. He added that many of the violations the FBI disclosed were not legal violations and instead involved procedural safeguards or even typographical errors.
Oh, typographical errors? Well then, nothing to be concerned about, eh, Mr. Buttle?
Gonzales received another report of an NSL-related violation a few weeks later. “A national security letter . . . contained an incorrect phone number” that resulted in agents collecting phone information that “belonged to a different U.S. person” than the suspect under investigation, stated a letter copied to the attorney general on May 6, 2005.
At least two other reports of NSL-related violations were sent to Gonzales, according to the new documents. In letters copied to him on Dec. 11, 2006, and Feb. 26, 2007, the FBI reported to the oversight board that agents had requested and obtained phone data on the wrong people.
Now, I realize that I have a reputation for being a mite tetchy about the rights my ancestors fought the British for, but if I were to find out that the FBI had been snooping around my phone records, without a judge’s permission, for no reason other than a ‘typographical error’, I’d be pretty ticked off. It seems like the very definition of an unreasonable search.
You know, the kind of unreasonable search that the Fourth Amendment says I am to be “secure from”, by a right that “shall not be violated”. I don’t know where Mr. Gonzales starts his enumeration of civil liberties, but me, I think the Bill of Rights is a good place to begin.
Now, odds are that it wasn’t my phone records the Feds were snooping through. Though I don’t know. Somebody, or rather several somebodies, had FBI agents prying into their lives for no good reason. It might have been me. It might have been you. That’s the point. We are not ‘secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.’ The safeguards that have been in place to ensure that right shall not be violated have been removed.
In March of this year, the FBI inspector general released a report detailing many abuses. As TPMmuckraker reminds us, at the time, Attorney General Gonzales was quoted as being “incensed”, and order FBI director Robert Mueller to clean it up.
But, as today’s news shows, he’d been receiving reports of such abuses and violations for years by then. And yet, like Louis in Casablanca, he seemed shocked -shocked!- by the news in March.
How could it be that the Attorney General of the United States would tell Congress what he did, and how could he have been surprised by news in the spring of this year that had been being reported to him for years? It seems impossible.
Until one remembers that the legal brains of the Bush administration went to the Lewis Carroll School of Law:
Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”