On the heels of the American people discovering that the President of the United States had been complicit in a politically motivated burglary the Congress opened up an investigation known as The Church Committee. This committee was investigating reports of domestic spying and intimidation being carried out against leaders of the peace and civil rights movements. Their committee uncovered the NSAâ€™s Project Shamrock and Project Minaret, the CIAâ€™s Operation CHAOS, and the FBIâ€™s COINTELPRO program. All of these programs engaged in extralegal activities against dissenters in a very chaotic time in our nationâ€™s history.
But this was not a new phenomenon in the history of intelligence agencies. In 1947 President Truman specifically barred the CIA in their charter from engaging in any form of domestic spying. The reason for this was that the Office of Strategic Services, the CIAâ€™s predecessor, was known for their skillful use of blackmail, extortion and other legally dubious activity to obtain intelligence during WWII. Trumanâ€™s fear was the implications of such activities within US borders during peacetime could be damaging to America’s basic democratic institutions.
It was the suggestion of the Church Committee that Congress should create rules that placed congressional and judicial oversight on the nationâ€™s intelligence services. From that suggestion was born the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The act does not specifically ban the use of intelligence services for domestic surveillance; it does though place an oversight on that surveillance requiring a special secret warrant granted by the FISA court. The only thing that the Attorney General has to show to the FISA court is probable cause that the target of the surveillance is an agent of a foreign power, not that the target is engaging in any form of criminality.
The President though decided after 9/11 that the oversight, which was meant to keep the power of the Executive Branch in check, needed no longer apply. The President has even confessed on TV and radio that he has circumvented the judicial oversight of the FISA court on thirty different occasions by directly ordering the NSA to conduct surveillance within the United States on American Citizens. In essence the President has ignored Article II Section 3 of the Constitution in which it states, â€œHe shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executedâ€.
The justification that the President has given for his actions was that going through the FISA court would have taken too long. This is a spurious argument though because there is always at least one judge of the FISA court in Washington according to the Counsel for Intelligence Policy in a 1983 House Committee hearing. And there are no specifics in the law limiting when or how often the court should meet; with current technology it would be possible to convene the FISA court in a matter of minutes. If Bush had simply worked with them, I am sure that they would have worked with him to return warrants to him as quickly as technologically possible.
Bush has even said that he had made Congress aware of the circumventing of the FISA court. But considering that Nancy Pelosi (D-California) reports that she was told on a couple of occasions that â€œBush had authorized unspecified activities by the National Security Agency.â€ Considering also that Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has confirmed that a Senate investigation into the Presidentâ€™s actions will be carried out when the Judiciary Committee next convenes. It does not sound like the President supplied sufficient notification or justification to the Congress.
The President is recklessly taking this nation into a Constitutional Crisis. He has circumvented a legal oversight of the Executive Branch, and by doing so he has contravened the description of the responsibilities of the President. Bushâ€™s defense of his actions are absurd, he is not a king, he is not above the law, and he is not given the power to do as he pleases because he is elected every four years. We are a nation of laws not men, we place trust in people to enforce those lawsâ€¦ but we also put laws in place to limit the power of the people we place in that trust. Because it has been proven before that we the people can never fully trust the people we place in power.
Now I know that I am a very vocal critic of the President, but I would not accept any leader of this nation acting in the way that our President currently is. No single person should possess the level of unchecked power that the President is claiming for himself. Ask yourself this; would you want Bill Clinton, or Howard Dean to be able to wield the unchecked power that Bush is claiming for the President? Because if he is allowed to set this precedent then there will be a leader in the future who you might not want to have this power, using it too.