Friday, October 24, 2008

Public Warrantless Wiretapping Report Marked "Classified"

We probably all know the backdrop for this rather predictable turn of events. When Congress updated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) last summer, lawmakers largely caved to the Bush administration's demands. One of the few areas where Congress actually demanded accountability on the part of the Bush administration was the inclusion of a "key-provision" requiring "the inspectors general of U.S. intelligence agencies to produce the first-ever public report" on the administration's wiretapping program.

But wait, you will be shocked, shocked I tell you, to find out that the report has been hidden from public view...precisely the opposite of what was promised! In fact, "the brief document, written by CIA inspector general John Helgerson, was marked classified." House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), responded to Helgerson with a letter asking him to "please explain why you're not following the law." Further, Reyes asked that Helgerson issue a "preservation order" to ensure that the Bush administration doesn't destroy records pertaining to the wiretapping program "before they walk out the door" in January 2009.

It seems as of now, we still don't know why the report was deemed secret. Perhaps more interestingly, is how this directly relates to Senator Obama's decision to support the FISA legislation in question. Apparently, it was this very provision that flipped him.

Newsweek reports:

The dispute might not seem entirely unexpected. A veil of super secrecy has surrounded the program since President Bush, in the weeks after 9/11, directed the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct surveillance of phone calls and e-mails of terror suspects inside the United States without judicial warrants. The little-noticed provision for a public inspectors-general report was crucial to gaining the support of some liberal Democrats—including Sen. Barack Obama—for last summer's bill, which allowed a modified version of the program to continue.

At the time, Obama was attacked by liberal bloggers for reversing his position on one of the most controversial provisions in the bill: a section, strongly backed by the White House, that granted blanket immunity to telecommunications companies facing lawsuits for participating in what critics charged was an illegal program. But Obama pointed to the mandate for a public report as a reason he was finally prepared to back the measure—even though it would squash lawsuits that could have led to a public airing of the extent of warrantless spying conduct by the administration.

"The Inspectors General report provides a real mechanism for accountability and should not be discounted," Obama wrote in a statement posted on his Web site on July 3. "It will allow a close look at past misconduct without hurdles that would exist in federal court because of classification issues."

Asked for comment, Michael Ortiz, a spokesman for Obama, said: "Senator Obama continues to believe that the public deserves to know that there is accountability and oversight of the surveillance program and urges that a nonclassified report from the IG be made available to Congress."

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