Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer continue the Post’s investigation into decisions by the Bush administration, especially Vice President Cheney, to employ illegal methods of surveillance.
In his four-year campaign against al Qaeda, President Bush has turned the U.S. national security apparatus inward to secretly collect information on American citizens on a scale unmatched since the intelligence reforms of the 1970s.
Indeed. Another example of the similarities between Bush and Nixon. It’s not as if these blatant violations of law are a new thing for the Imperial Presidency. Nixon and Kissinger were trying to appropriate to the office of the President all the power they could find, bypassing Congress by ignoring it.
Bush said yesterday that the lawfulness of his directives was affirmed by the attorney general and White House counsel, a list that omitted the legislative and judicial branches of government. On occasion the Bush administration has explicitly rejected the authority of courts and Congress to impose boundaries on the power of the commander in chief, describing the president’s war-making powers in legal briefs as “plenary” — a term defined as “full,” “complete,” and “absolute.”
As Tim Weiner of the New York Times wrote in his book Blank Check:
The NSA has also spent a great deal of time and money spying on American citizens. For twenty-one years after its inception it tracked every telegram and telex in and out of the United States, and monitored the telephone conversations of the politically suspect.
Nixon tried to implement plans similar in style, and illegality, to the one recently outed by the Times.
The Huston Plan, formally known as “Domestic Intelligence Gathering Plan: Analysis and Strategy,” was submitted in July 1970 to President Nixon. The goal of the plan was to relax some restrictions on intelligence gathering, apparently those of NSCID No.6.
Some parts of the intelligence community felt that these relaxations would assist their efforts. The proposals included:
- allowing NSA to monitor “communications of U.S. citizens using international facilities” (presumably facilities located in the U.S., since NSA already had authority to monitor such communications if at least one terminal was outside U.S. territory)
- intensifying “coverage of individuals and groups in the United States who pose a major threat to the internal security”
- modifying restrictions “to permit selective use of [surreptitious entry] against other urgent and high priority internal security targets” as well as to procure “vitally needed foreign cryptographic material,” which would have required the FBI to accept warrantless requests for such entries from other agencies (“Rationale: Use of this technique is clearly illegal: it amounts to burglary. It is also highly risky and could result in great embarrassment if exposed. However, it is also the most fruitful tool and can produce the type of intelligence which cannot be obtained in any other fashion.”)
President Nixon approved this plan over the objection of J. Edgar Hoover and without the knowledge of Attorney General Mitchell.
The President can say what he likes:
No president before Bush mounted a frontal challenge to Congress’s authority to limit espionage against Americans. In a Sept. 25, 2002, brief signed by then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, the Justice Department asserted “the Constitution vests in the President inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance (electronic or otherwise) of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority.”
But that doesn’t make it true. In fact, the Founders, so revered by the right-wing judges who call themselves Originalists, were clearly worried about the gathering of power into the hands of an executive, which is why they included checks and balances in the Constitution.
Fortunately, there are still some citizens uncowed by threats from the Rove machine, and willing to speak the truth, if only to reporters:
By law, according to University of Chicago scholar Geoffrey Stone, the differences are fundamental: Americans have constitutional protections that are enforceable in court whether their conversations are domestic or international.
Bush’s assertion that eavesdropping takes place only on U.S. calls to overseas phones, Stone said, “is no different, as far as the law is concerned, from saying we only do it on Tuesdays.”