Little Alex in Wonderland
September 18, 2009
The Washington Post reports the Justice Department “recommended that Congress move swiftly with legislation that would protect the government’s ability to collect a variety of business and credit card records and to monitor terrorism suspects with roving wiretaps” set to expire 31 December 09.
Carrie Johnson and Ellen Nakashima report:
The three provisions set to expire Dec. 31 allow investigators to monitor through roving wiretaps suspects who may be trying to escape detection by switching cellphone numbers, obtain business records of national security targets, and track “lone wolves” who may be acting alone on behalf of foreign powers or terrorist groups. The government has not employed the lone wolf provision, but department officials want to ensure they can do so in the future.
Obama’s approach to electronic surveillance has been closely watched since he shifted positions during the presidential campaign last year, casting a vote to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act over the objections of liberals in his party. That law granted telecommunication companies immunity from lawsuits by Americans who argued that their privacy had been violated in an electronic data collection program….
The Justice Department inspector general issued blistering audits in 2007 and 2008, finding, for instance, that FBI agents had used demands for information known as national security letters in many cases where they were not authorized and had employed other tools called exigent letters to quickly obtain data without proper follow-up.
“As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said he would take a close look at the law, based on his past expertise in constitutional law,” Devlin Barrett reported at the Associated Press. “Back in May, President Obama said legal institutions must be updated to deal with the threat of terrorism, but in a way that preserves the rule of law and accountability,” adding:
The lone wolf provision was created to conduct surveillance on suspects with no known link to foreign governments or terrorist groups. It has never been used, but the administration says it should still be available for future investigations.
“It should come as no surprise that President Barack Obama supports renewing the provisions, which were part of the Patriot Act approved six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks,” David Kravets writes at Wired. “As an Illinois senator in 2008, he voted to allow the warrantless monitoring of Americans’ electronic communications if they are communicating overseas with somebody the government believes is linked to terrorism. That legislative package, which President George W. Bush signed, also immunized the nation’s telecommunication companies from lawsuits charging them with being complicit with the Bush administration’s warrantless, wiretapping program. That program was also adopted in the wake of Sept. 11.”
It has disclosed the amount spent by the 16 intelligence agencies — $47.5 billion in 2008 alone — but those figures did not incorporate the military’s intelligence activities, officials said.
Blair, in a conference call with reporters, explained that his four-year strategy was not set up on the “traditional fault line … between military intelligence and national intelligence.”
“This whole distinction between military and non-military intelligence is no longer relevant,” Blair said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on the U.S.A. Patriot Act [sic] next week.