Civil liberties organizations are demanding a federal investigation into a newly disclosed, far-reaching secret domestic spying program created and controlled by top Bush administration, as revealed last week by new federal report on the country’s major spy agencies. According to that report, which was authored jointly by the inspectors general of several federal departments, the Bush administration politicized terrorist threat assessments and used leads unrelated to terrorist threats to justify the continuation of the program.
On top of revelations that the Bush administration abused its power in its administration of the program, the federal report also found that top Bush administration officials, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, misled Congress about the activities of the NSA under the administration’s so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program.
Other top administration lawyers at the Department of Justice responsible for providing a legal basis for the secret spying program used faulty legal thinking and provided factually inaccurate information about the program in order to justify it legally, the inspectors general report advised.
The report also pointed to former Vice President Cheney as playing a role in keeping the expanded spying program secret. In addition, when some Department of Justice lawyers challenged the opinion of lawyers who sided with the Bush administration, Vice President Cheney attempted to pressure the dissenting lawyers into signing off on the secret spying program.
Vice President Cheney also ordered the CIA to keep from Congress full details about a separate ‘counter-terrorism’ program that included the use of torture as part of the interrogation of terrorist suspects, CIA Director Leon Panetta told Congress last week. The former Vice President’s actions appear to violate national security laws that require the Executive branch to keep Congress informed about ‘intelligence activity.’
The inspectors general report also revealed that the warrantless wiretapping program, which the Bush administration refused to confine to terrorist threats, gathered no meaningful or useful information. According to the report, top law enforcement and spy agencies could not link information gathered by the warrantless spying program to real terrorist plots.
The ‘Presidential Surveillance Program’ vastly expanded the power of federal agencies, like the National Security Agency (NSA), ‘to conduct dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international communications,’ including the collection of ‘telephone calls and emails without obtaining a warrant, without demonstrating probable cause, and without even informing a court,’ a recent ACLU statement indicated.
Michelle Richardson, ACLU legislative counsel, said, “We already know that the NSA has overstepped the overbroad bounds of the FISA Amendments Act, and it’s time for Congress to take a thorough look at the surveillance powers it’s handed our government.”
According to a recent story at Newsweek.com, Attorney General Eric Holder is considering appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s use of torture.