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This past Thursday, the New York Times exposed the most significant violation of federal surveillance law in the post-Watergate era. President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to engage in domestic spying, wiretapping thousands of Americans and bypassing the legal procedures regulating this activity.
I would argue that the failure to connect the dots prior to 9/11 was caused by massive incompetence on the part of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, by excessive secrecy born of government power struggles and arrogance, and finally by a massive failure on the part of either the Clinton or Bush administrations to really make counter-terrorism a priority.
In the minds of the Bush administration, the law prevented the CIA from speaking to the FBI, the law stopped NSA from eavesdropping on targets that might have saved the day, the law created a wall between intelligence and law enforcement, laws made the CIA "risk averse," laws stood in the way of assassinations, renditions, interrogations, etc.
This is an elaborate self-justification that dis-obligates anyone in office on 9/11 from actually taking any responsibility for failure. Shackles on the government are blamed for the event; the poor CIA and FBI were prevented from doing their work. No wonder then that the President as commander-in-chief is made perfectly justified ordering the secret agencies to PROTECT AMERICA archaic laws and procedures be damned.
"A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the
high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The
laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country
when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country
by a scrupulous adherence to written law would be to lose the law
itself, with life, liberty, property, and all those who are
enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the
means." --Thomas Jefferson to John Colvin, 1810.
The scope of this hearing is to examine the law on the subject. And the ground rules are that we will not inquire into the factual underpinnings of what is being undertaken here. That is for another committee and for another day. That is for the Intelligence Committee, and that is for a closed session.
And the administration has not only the right, but the duty, in my opinion, to pursue fifth column movements.
And let me tell folks who are watching what a fifth column movement is. It is a movement known to every war where American citizens will sympathize with the enemy and collaborate with the enemy. And it's happened in every war.
And President Roosevelt talked about, "We need to know about fifth column movements."
So my friends on the other side, I stand by this president's ability, inherent to being commander in chief, to find out about fifth column movements, and I don't think you need a warrant to do that.
GRAHAM: But here's my challenge to you, Mr. Attorney General. There will come a point in time where the information leads to us believe that citizen A may be involved in a fifth column movement. At that point in time where we will need to know more about citizen A's activity on an ongoing basis, here is where I part.
I think that's where the courts really come in. I would like you and the next attorney general and next president, if you have that serious information that you need to monitor this American's citizen's conduct in the future, that they may be part of a fifth column movement to collaborate with the enemy, I want a check and a balance.
...it would be very easy in this war for an American citizen to be called up by the enemy and labeled as something they are not. It would be very easy, in my opinion, if you're a business person dealing in the Mideast who happens to be an American citizen, the business deal goes bad, that bad things could happen to you.
And I would just like the administration to entertain the idea of sitting down with Senator DeWine and others to see if we can find a way at some point in the process of monitoring fifth column movements to have a check and balance system that not only would strengthen the commander in chief's role, it will give guidance to the people fighting the war. You'll have Congress on board. You'll be stronger in courts. And the enemy will be weaker.
How does that proposition sit with you?