Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Perjury or Incompetence?

The Washington Post:

As he sought to renew the USA Patriot Act two years ago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales assured lawmakers that the FBI had not abused its potent new terrorism-fighting powers. “There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse,” Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.

Six days earlier, the FBI sent Gonzales a copy of a report that said its agents had obtained personal information that they were not entitled to have. It was one of at least half a dozen reports of legal or procedural violations that Gonzales received in the three months before he made his statement to the Senate intelligence committee, according to internal FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.


Justice officials said they could not immediately determine whether Gonzales read any of the FBI reports in 2005 and 2006 because the officials who processed them were not available yesterday. But department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said that when Gonzales testified, he was speaking “in the context” of reports by the department’s inspector general before this year that found no misconduct or specific civil liberties abuses related to the Patriot Act.

“The statements from the attorney general are consistent with statements from other officials at the FBI and the department,” Roehrkasse said. He added that many of the violations the FBI disclosed were not legal violations and instead involved procedural safeguards or even typographical errors.

Each of the violations cited in the reports copied to Gonzales was serious enough to require notification of the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board, which helps police the government’s surveillance activities. The format of each memo was similar, and none minced words.

“This enclosure sets forth details of investigative activity which the FBI has determined was conducted contrary to the attorney general’s guidelines for FBI National Security Investigations and Foreign Intelligence Collection and/or laws, executive orders and presidential directives,” said the April 21, 2005, letter to the Intelligence Oversight Board.

So, the question comes down to this: did Mr. Gonzales knowingly tell Congress a pack of lies when he testified, or doesn’t he pay attention to the reports that his own office is generating?

He’s apparently going with the latter.

Nonetheless, Gonzales reacted with surprise when the Justice Department inspector general reported this March that there were pervasive problems with the FBI’s handling of NSLs and another investigative tool known as an exigent circumstances letter.

“I was upset when I learned this, as was Director Mueller. To say that I am concerned about what has been revealed in this report would be an enormous understatement,” Gonzales said in a speech March 9, referring to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller. The attorney general added that he believed back in 2005, before the Patriot Act was renewed, that there were no problems with NSLs. “I’ve come to learn that I was wrong,” he said, making no mention of the FBI reports sent to him.

And yet President Bush retains the fullest confidence in Mr. Gonzales, praising him to the skies for being the best man for the job.

I don’t know about you, but if I pulled this kind of stuff at my job, I’d be in deep trouble. And if my boss didn’t care about whether or not I lied to the auditors or just said outright that I didn’t read the reports that showed we were violating the rules, I’d be really worried about the people I worked for…assuming I had the scruples to worry about things like that in the first place.

On another level, it really frightens me that a man like Mr. Gonzales is the chief law enforcement officer of the country. Whether he’s an active perjurer or just plain incompetent, it’s not exactly what you want in terms of the person charged with keeping this country safe and our civil rights protected.