Far Will They Go?
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