USA Today has published an editorial by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in which he uses fear, innuendo and legal jargon to argue more privacy cannot keep Americans safe from terrorism. The editorial rationalizes the increased reliance on warrantless surveillance by the United States government. It is especially stunning, given the fact that Gonzales lied to Congress about the warrantless wiretapping program in 2006.
Gonzales was asked on February 6, 2006, whether James Comey, who is now the FBI director, and others at the Justice Department, had expressed concerns about NSA warrantless wiretapping. He claimed in testimony their concerns were related to another program and not the wiretapping program.
In 2007, then-FBI director Robert Mueller gave testimony to the House Judiciary Committee that suggested there was disagreement among high-level officials, including himself, when it came to approving key aspects of the illegal warrantless wiretapping program. Gonzales had told Congress under oath that there was no serious disagreement.
Gonzales’ perjury, which went unpunished, was part of a coverup of the crimes committed by officials involved in the warrantless wiretapping program. Now, nine years later, the USA Today is giving Gonzales a platform to spread more lies and further obfuscate what really happened during President George W. Bush’s administration.
Gonzales ominously insinuates in the final paragraph of his column that the USA Freedom Act may lead to a terrorist attack by a “disciple” of the Islamic State.
…ISIL is on the move around the world. Seemingly every week there is a reported story of a takedown of an ISIL disciple within our borders, chilling reminders of the evolving threat. Without access to the classified threat matrix or an appreciation of the strength of our intelligence capabilities, it is difficult for the American people to judge whether this new law strikes the appropriate balance between security and liberty. What we do know is that because of the USA Freedom Act, it is now more difficult for the government to gather certain kinds of information. If we must win the war for information in order to win the war against extremists, then we have to question whether Congress and the president achieved the right balance. Only time will tell.
Gonzales expresses concern about the fact that the government will be unable to “access bulk collection of metadata from third parties,” or the phone companies. He does not bother to mention that the Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded [PDF], “We are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack. And we believe that in only one instance over the past seven years has the program arguably contributed to the identification of an unknown terrorism suspect.” Or, that the Obama administration’s own NSA review group, staffed by former deputy CIA director Mike Morell, found the collection of phone records was “not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner” using other conventional methods [PDF].
Or, that a study by the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, DC, concluded:
An in-depth analysis of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda or a like-minded group or inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal.
Gonzales writes warrantless searches are not “necessarily illegal.” He cites a federal judge’s ruling in Oakland, which found AT&T customers lacked standing to challenge the government’s surveillance of Internet traffic. What Gonzales omits is that the ruling did not end the “part of the case concerning telephone record collection and other mass surveillance”—which is exactly what Gonzales defends in his column. (more…)