Democratic Underground  

How Far Will They Go?
June 3, 2003
By David Fitts

Over the years, Congress has held a number of hearings on the conduct of the FBI, as well as other law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The latest hearing, held last year on the intelligence failures of 9/11, is now being subjected to "Presidential authority" in an effort to keep our nation secure from the truth.

The expansion of police and intelligence agency powers through the USA Patriot Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security has defenders of civil liberties on both the left and right up in arms. More than 100 cities and municipalities, as well as two states (Hawaii and New Mexico) have passed measures in opposition to provisions of the Patriot Act, some to the extent of instructing local law enforcement to ignore any provision that encroaches on civil liberties.

John Ashcroft seems to be ignoring the turning tide, as he has the Justice Department cooking up "enhancements" to the Patriot Act that will continue to impugn civil liberties, many of which are being pushed through this congressional session as riders to other bills.

But, as Supreme Court Justice Scalia said, in effect, recently, Americans have far more rights than they need. The Patriot Act seems to be taking care of this problem.

The fear that 9/11 evoked in this country seems to have scared us stupid. Neither the Patriot Act nor the bill to establish the Department of Homeland Security were thoroughly scrutinized by Congress. The climate of fear dictated that any and all measures that seem to enhance security be embraced with a patriotic fervor reminiscent of "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

The Patriot Act was passed before any investigation of 9/11 had been completed. After initially rejecting calls for a thorough investigation, and asking congress not to investigate, the Bush administration acquiesced. Now, however, funds are being withheld, as is the information obtained in Congressional hearings into the intelligence failures. Such actions beg the question: "what are they hiding?" Senator Graham of Florida answers this question bluntly: "They're hiding their failures." The administration, while at first saying there had been no warnings, subsequently admitted the failure to "connect the dots."

Will charges of failure fair better than those of complicity? Ex-FBI Deputy Director, John O’Neill resigned his position with the Counter Terrorism unit and the Bureau after bitterly complaining that oil interests, in cahoots with the administration, were blocking his investigations of the bin Laden family. He would be an intriguing person to call before the 9/11 Panel for questioning. Unfortunately, Mr. O’Neill was one of the victims of 9/11, having taken the job as head of security at the World Trade Center.

The Congressional hearings did reveal some startling facts. CIA Agents had tracked two of the hijackers for months, including a meeting held in Southeast Asia in 2000 with top operatives of Al Qaeda. They tracked the pair until they came to the U.S. but didn't inform the FBI, so they could begin tailing the suspected terrorists. Much was made of the Agency-Bureau rivalry and numerous failures to communicate. Solution? Create another huge Federal Agency - DHS - so they have a new competitor for both the Agency and the Bureau.

Of course, there were problems within the Bureau itself. But the problems do not seem to have been with rank and file agents, who had identified several of the hijackers, including Zacarias Moussaui whom they kept from participating on 9/11 by having him arrested on immigration charges in August of 2001. The famous "Phoenix Memo" clearly indicates the superb work done by agents who sounded the alarm about flights lessons being taken and possible terrorist attacks in the works. FBI attorney, Coleen Rowley, in her testimony before Congress, relayed that agents in their Minnesota office conjectured that "there must be a 'mole' in the Bureau," after they were denied a FISA warrant to search Zacarias Moussaui’s lap top. Such FISA warrants had been routinely granted under the Clinton administration. Apparently these agents didn't need the expanded powers granted by the Patriot Act to smell out a few rats! The failures here were attributed to the bureaucratic nature of the Bureau, an attribute most Americans, including members of the Federal Government, readily accept as reality.

Congressional hearings in the past have revealed tendencies of the Bureau to abuse powers, a tendency not unknown to other elements of the Federal Bureaucracy. The U.S. Senate's Church Committee was aghast at the actions of the FBI through COINTELPRO, infiltrating dissident anti-war and civil rights groups. They also ran successful smear campaigns that ruined reputations and lives of many people who had committed no crimes. Martin Luther King Jr. was subjected to the same games. The chilling effect on dissidents’ self-expression was palpable.

The veil of bureaucracy and the guise of "national security" have frequently served as cover for less than honorable intentions of many sorts - for example, the CIA's forays into illicit drugs and money laundering (BCCI). One aspect of the Patriot Act that Congress, in their patriotic haste, overlooked was that they had given up numerous oversight functions of federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. An error that they are just beginning to fully recognize and hopefully will remedy (let them hear from you!). If the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security in tracking down those dangerous Democrats in Texas is any indication, Congress cannot act too soon to correct the mistakes they made in their patriotic zeal. They did, after all, take that oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.

Printer-friendly version
Tell a friend about this article Tell a friend about this article
Discuss this article
Democratic Underground Homepage