WASHINGTON — A Justice Department plan would loosen restrictions on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to allow agents to open a national security or criminal investigation against someone without any clear basis for suspicion, Democratic lawmakers briefed on the details said Wednesday.
. . . .
The senators said the new guidelines would allow the F.B.I. to open an investigation of an American, conduct surveillance, pry into private records and take other investigative steps “without any basis for suspicion.” The plan “might permit an innocent American to be subjected to such intrusive surveillance based in part on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or on protected First Amendment activities,” the letter said. It was signed by Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
As the end of the Bush administration nears, the White House has been seeking to formalize in law and regulation some of the aggressive counterterrorism steps it has already taken in practice since the Sept. 11 attacks.
. . . .
The Democratic senators said the draft plan appeared to allow the F.B.I. to go even further in collecting information on Americans connected to “foreign intelligence” without any factual predicate. They also said there appeared to be few constraints on how the information would be shared with other agencies.
The story speaks for itself, except in one paragraph. That would be the third one excerpted above. It is subtle—I actually missed it the first time I read the story—but it is as powerful and insidious as it is sloppy and wrong.
. . . the White House has been seeking to formalize in law and regulation some of the aggressive counterterrorism steps it has already taken in practice since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Since the story itself will point out toward its end that the Bush-era Justice Department has shown no evidence that these methods work, they are not “aggressive counterterrorism steps”—they are just aggressively intrusive and patently counter to the Constitution.
And, when is the establishment going to give up the canard about the administration’s illegal spying starting after the attacks of 9/11/01. There is evidence, submitted in open court, upheld by a judge (and mentioned in many of my posts, including this one), which confirms that the White House went to the nation’s telecommunications giants within weeks of Bush’s first inauguration. This is not a counterterrorism program implemented as a response to September 11th—this is a premeditated policy by this administration to go around the Constitution in order to collect information on Americans without court order or congressional oversight. This is not an issue of striking a balance between law enforcement and civil rights—there is no law enforcement intended here, and you don’t get to decide how much to abrogate the US Constitution.
Shame on the White House for committing these egregious abuses. Shame on Congress for abdicating their responsibilities to stop it. And, shame on the New York Times for perpetuating the administration-generated myth that this abuse is somehow a counterterrorism tactic.