It's hardly surprising to discover that the FBI has been abusing its authority under the Patriot Act. What gets my attention is that the person who blew the lid on the scandal was a Justice Department inspector general (IG). For the past six years, the Justice Department's primary function has been to make sure the law does not apply to Mr. Bush.
According to a Washington Post report, the IG audit…
… detailed widespread abuse of the FBI's authority to seize personal details about tens of thousands of people without court oversight through the use of national security letters.
It also found that the FBI had hatched an agreement with telephone companies allowing the agency to ask for information on more than 3,000 phone numbers -- often without a subpoena, without an emergency or even without an investigative case. In 2006, the FBI then issued blanket letters authorizing many of the requests retroactively, according to agency officials and congressional aides briefed on the effort.
On release of the IG audit, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III promptly apologized and promised swift corrective action. At a press conference in Uruguay, Mr. Bush said he was "pleased" that his FBI chief "took responsibility as he should have."
Holy heinous hypocrisy.
Yeah, I'm sure Bush was "pleased" to see yet another of his liegemen take a bullet for him. Meuller should have been canned immediately. What will happen instead, I suspect, is that Bush will keep him around and see how the radioactive dust settles. If the problem gets buried in the hoopla of all the administration's other dirty bombs, Mueller will probably stay in place for the rest of Bush's tenure. If it turns into another Libby-gate, Mueller will take the heat from Congress until he reaches critical mass, and Bush will reluctantly accept his resignation. If things get really, really bad, Mueller might not get his Medal of Freedom.
As with so many of the Bush administration's shenanigans, it takes a Vulcan mind meld to figure out exactly what happened in the Patriot Act abuse affair. To begin with, there can't be much more than a fistful of lawyers who know what the Patriot Act says. It's a compendium of line item changes to other sections of U.S. code. The original version was passed on October 24, 2001, a mere month and a half after the 9/11 attacks. One's mind boggles that such a labyrinth piece of legislation could have been cobbled together in that short a period. A conspiracy aficionado might conclude that the Act was in development well before 9/11.
Senators from both sides of the aisle expressed outrage at the recent IG report. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, "This goes above and beyond almost everything they've done already. It shows just how this administration has no respect for checks and balances."
Dick Durbin (D-IL) said the report "confirms the American people's worst fears about the Patriot Act."
Arlen Specter told media reps that Congress may "impose statutory requirements and perhaps take away some of the authority which we've already given to the FBI, since they appear not to be able to know how to use it."
The Patriot Act authority the FBI doesn't know how to use is something called a national security letter, which the Times describes as…
…a type of administrative subpoena that allows the FBI to demand records from banks, credit-reporting agencies and other companies without the supervision of a judge.
The IG report found that the FBI had abused the privilege by underreporting to Congress the number of times they used it. But wait a minute--the privilege itself sounds like a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution which guarantees…
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Who knows? The concept of constitutional checks and balances is so scrambled at this point, we may never be able to put the egg back together again. The legislative branch gave the executive branch authority to conduct searches and seizures without warrants from the judicial branch as long as it let the legislative branch know what it was up to. Now, the legislative branch that cut the judicial branch out of the picture is throwing a tantrum because the executive branch cut the legislative branch out of the picture.
The distinction between the executive branch's Justice Department, the legislative branch's judiciary committees, and the judicial branch is blurred to the point where the only way the Constitution makes sense is if you read it while you're so drunk you're seeing triple.
The Patriot Act is so full of snakes that Congress will never figure out how to fix it. They need to just repeal the damn thing. Then they need to impeach--or threaten to impeach--FBI director Mueller. Then they need to do the same with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see Larisa Alexandrovna's take on 'Berto's culpability in this fandango). And then they need to go after Dick Cheney, the kingpin who had played the largest role in turning the office of the president into an imperial throne.
As to whether we can breathe easy now that the Justice Department IG is on the job: the IG report released on Friday was required by Congress as part of the dope deal they made when the reauthorized the Patriot Act last year, back when the GOP still had control of Congress.
How did Dick Cheney ever let that happen? He must have been distracted: Iraq, Afghanistan, Plame-gate, NSA-gate, shooter-gate…
Everybody has their favorite parts of the Bush administration's innumerable scandals. Here's my favorite part about Patriot-gate:
The findings by inspector general [Glenn] Fine were so at odds with previous assertions by the Bush administration that Capitol Hill was peppered yesterday with retraction letters from the Justice Department attempting to correct statements in earlier testimony and briefings. Gonzales and other officials had repeatedly portrayed national security letters as a well-regulated tool necessary for the prevention of terrorist attacks.
One such retraction letter, sent to Specter by Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard A. Hertling, sought to correct a 2005 letter that attacked a Washington Post story about national security letters. "We have determined that certain statements in our November 23 letter need clarification," Hertling wrote.
Yeah. They weren't lying. They just weren't clear enough about the truth.
That's understandable, I suppose. It's hard to be clear about the truth when you don't tell it.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.