Intel. Reform - The Enemy Within

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It is difficult to tell if the enemy within being discussed in the Senate’s intelligence community overhaul bill is terrorists or the Committee itself. There is no question from a reading of the 9/11 Commission’s report that intelligence overhaul is necessary. But a key component of the Commission’s report is dangerously absent from the Senate’s overhaul legislation coming to a vote on the Senate floor: checks and balances.

In the Senate today, Sen.'s Collins (R) and Lieberman (D), co-chairs of the 9/11 recommendations implementation in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, announced the completion of the Committee's work and put forth a bill to reorganize our intelligence communities toward the end of making our intelligence community capable of both protecting the U.S. against further terrorist attacks at home as well as fighting and diminishing or eradicating terrorist threats from abroad. The bill reflects many of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. The task of crafting such a bill was immense. As was reported on the Senate floor, however, the job was completed in the markup process of the bi-partisan Committee without any down the middle partisan votes. For this work and effort, the Senators of the intelligence restructuring Committee are to be commended, for it is clear, their primary focus was security, not partisan politics.

Sen. Collins however, attempted to counter charges that we must not be hasty in implementing such a vast and comprehensive overhaul and structuring of potentially the most powerful arms of government on the face of the earth. She stated that the threat of terrorism against us is current and real, and therefore, there should be no delays in passing and implementing the bill being proposed. What she did not say is that even if the Bill passes, implementation will take a long time. So, why is there such great haste to pass and implement this Bill just weeks before the election? Since Sen. Lieberman concurs with Collins, partisan politics does not appear to be the motive. Yet, haste is what these Senators advocate. Why?

The scope and ramifications of such a huge and critical reformation of an extremely complex multi-agency and departmental wing of our government is difficult to assess or appreciate. On purely philosophical grounds, total security and total freedom are diametrically opposed. It is conceivable that a billionaire could build a bunker below the earth complete with all the necessities to support biological life. And such a habitat could be totally secure. But, such security also becomes a prison eradicating its inhabitant’s freedom to live and act freely in the rest of the world. On the other hand, the very definition of total freedom is anarchy with no rules, disciplines, or guides for behavior. Such total freedom can undermine one's own safety, security, and even life. Somewhere along this continuum are compromises between security and freedom which our nation will choose from in response to 9/11 and its aftermath.

However, command and control lies at the heart of the question as to where that compromise should fall between freedom and security. A common misperception is being promulgated in the media, specifically that this legislation addresses Intelligence Community reorganization. This is a very deceptive characterization. It implies that all our government is doing is reorganizing how information is collected, analyzed, and communicated among intelligence agencies. Far, far more is occurring with this legislation and Americans should be paying very close attention.

What is in fact being reorganized is nothing less than the entire power of government to command and control the life of any American citizen, foreign national, or immigrant occupying space within the borders of the United States of America. Moreover, this power is being concentrated into the Executive Branch of our government. And specifically, this power shall ultimately rest in the hands of the oval office occupant and his/her appointee as National Intelligence Director (NID). In and of itself, this should be sending alarm bells off in the minds of all freedom loving Americans. Yet, in and of itself, the choice to concentrate such power in the hands of two persons, is not necessarily an apocalyptic restructuring of government. That depends on what, if any, checks and balances, oversight and Congressional review, transparency and accountability is also attendant in the legislation.

And here we arrive at the answer to why Sen.'s Collins and Lieberman are insisting that this legislation be pushed forward toward passage as quickly as possible. Scrutiny and public deliberation are certain to be the most formidable threats to this legislation passing in its present form. The reason is simple. The subject is secret information gathering, and the modus operandi is covert actions by the government. George W. Bush's presidency marks the zenith of a long history since the J.F. Kennedy years, of executive's efforts to cloak their actions and decisions behind ever thicker veils of secrecy. The legislation being proposed does not install structural insulation from public oversight and accountability. It does however open the doors wide for the executive branch and NID to slam the door of accountability and transparency on the public.

It would take a book to itemize and elucidate on the potentials for horrendous abuses of the Intelligence Reorganization legislation, (which would be more aptly named Secrecy and Covert Action Power Enhancement in the Executive Office legislation). But, here is just one example.

In 2008, the President (whomever that may be) is championing an invasion of France to overthrow a government the President says the NID has determined is supporting terrorist organizations in Iran. Two 2nd generation Muslim American students lead growing demonstrations on campuses against the President and his proposal. A few months later, the NSA determines from secret phone taps that plans are underway by the demonstration leaders to organize a massive peaceful march on Washington D.C. to protest the President's proposed invasion of France. The President announces that he has intelligence just revealed that an organized insurrection has just been discovered led by the Muslim American student leaders and in addition, new intelligence indicates these leaders have ties to terrorist organizations in the Middle East. Thus, the FBI is ordered to arrest all members of the student protest organization and the NSA, FBI and CIA are ordered to disrupt, disband, and prevent the march on Washington planned for one month before the election.

Now, how is Congress or the American people to determine whether the action taken by the President was in fact an anti-terrorist act, or a political act? Did the President ask the NID to get information on these protesters, or did the NID, appointed by the President, gather this information independently of the oval office and present it to the President? Under the current legislation the American people could not know the answer to that question. Did the NID in following relationships between terrorists stumble upon the fact that one of the Muslim student leader's cousin twice removed was born in Afghanistan and has ties with Hamas but has no record of ever communicating with the student leader, or did the President ask the NID to follow the genealogy of the student leaders to find a link to terrorists? Under the current legislation, the Congress and the American people would not be privy to ongoing intelligence gathering and anti-terror activities due to protection of national security reasons. The link between the student leader and the cousin twice removed is by genealogy. But what is to prevent the President from simply stating that the student is linked to terrorists without divulging the nature of that link? Nothing in this legislation.

Within an excellent history of Proposals for Intelligence Reorganization (PDF) lies the following statement, "Proposals specifically relating to congressional oversight of the Intelligence Community are not included in this report." Such an overt statement regarding the interest of the American people in their freedom from oppressive government is not found in the current legislation. In its place is the following statement issued to CNN on Sept. 15,

The committee plan does not deal with reorganizing Congress' oversight responsibilities, another concern of the September 11 committee.
I highly recommend a reading of this CNN article regarding the activities of the Committee under discussion in this article.

It takes but a few weeks to design legislation that concentrates power and affords swift and covert government activity. What takes time, and what the public has a right to, and should demand of their representatives, is that the time be taken to create the checks and balances, the people's oversight and accountability measures necessary to insure that such awesome concentration of secrecy in government and covert action power never be wrongly turned upon the American citizens, or Congress for that matter, for the personal or political reasons of the President or the NID. To propose legislation that concentrates and grows Executive power over citizen's lives without concurrent legislation that provides checks and balances on that power is the height of irresponsibility and constitutes a deception aimed at the citizenry of the gravest nature.

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on September 28, 2004 1:23 AM.

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