Wednesday, January 4, 2006

On Its Own

The NSA took off on their own, eavesdropping and tapping without permission long before the president even decided to authorize his own rogue operations. From the New York Times:

The National Security Agency acted on its own authority, without a formal directive from President Bush, to expand its domestic surveillance operations in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to declassified documents released Tuesday.

The N.S.A. operation prompted questions from a leading Democrat, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, who said in an Oct. 11, 2001, letter to a top intelligence official that she was concerned about the agency’s legal authority to expand its domestic operations, the documents showed.

Ms. Pelosi’s letter, which was declassified at her request, showed much earlier concerns among lawmakers about the agency’s domestic surveillance operations than had been previously known. Similar objections were expressed by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, in a secret letter to Vice President Dick Cheney nearly two years later.

[…]

The way the N.S.A.’s role has expanded has prompted concern even from some of its former leaders, like Bobby R. Inman, a retired admiral who was N.S.A. director from 1977 to 1981. Admiral Inman said that while he supported the decision to step up eavesdropping against potential terrorists immediately after the 2001 attacks, the Bush administration should have tried to change the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to provide explicit legal authorization for what N.S.A. was doing.

“What I don’t understand is why when you’re proposing the Patriot Act, you don’t set up an oversight mechanism for this?” Admiral Inman said in an interview. “I would have preferred an approach to try to gain legislation to try to operate with new technology and with an audit of how this technology was used.”

Why did we even bother to pass something like the PATRIOT Act — and what’s all the hoo-ha about renewing it — if we know that the administration is going to ignore the laws that are already on the books, not to mention agencies that are going to ignore its own authority?