A while back, it was reported that the Bush Administration authorized the NSA to engage in warrantless wiretapping. Based on the information released so far, the program was likely illegal. Now, it appears that the warrantless wiretapping program (more innocuously renamed the “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” or “TSP”) is just the tip of a larger iceberg.
From the Washington Post:
The Bush administration’s chief intelligence official said yesterday that President Bush authorized a series of secret surveillance activities under a single executive order in late 2001. The disclosure makes clear that a controversial National Security Agency program was part of a much broader operation than the president previously described.
The disclosure by Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, appears to be the first time that the administration has publicly acknowledged that Bush’s order included undisclosed activities beyond the warrantless surveillance of e-mails and phone calls that Bush confirmed in December 2005.
In a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), McConnell wrote that the executive order following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks included “a number of . . . intelligence activities” and that a name routinely used by the administration — the Terrorist Surveillance Program — applied only to “one particular aspect of these activities, and nothing more.”
“This is the only aspect of the NSA activities that can be discussed publicly, because it is the only aspect of those various activities whose existence has been officially acknowledged,” McConnell said.
What are these other activities? Are they legal? Given the shady legal status (at best) of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, I think it would be time for Congress to do an audit of all surveillance measures that the Bush Administration has undertaken.
Back in the mid-1970s, Congress tasked the Church Committee (so-named because it was led by Senator Frank Church) to investigate government surveillance by the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies. The extensive reports of the committee, called the Church Committee Reports (1975-1976), detailed a litany of significant abuses. According to the report: “Too many people have been spied upon by too many Government agencies and too much information has been collected. . . . Since the early 1930’s, intelligence agencies have frequently wiretapped and bugged American citizens without the benefit of a judicial warrant.”
The Church Committee Reports played a significant role in the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, and they served as a way for Congress to exercise oversight of executive branch power. Airing out the abuses led to significant reforms within various intelligence agencies, including the creation of the Attorney General’s FBI Guidelines which created internal rules to help shape up the agency. These guidelines, however, were weakened by the Bush Administration after 9/11.
Congress should undertake projects such as the Church Committee Reports on regular intervals. Now seems like a very opportune time for such an endeavor.
Originally Posted at Concurring Opinions
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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.