Monday, December 19, 2005

The Rockefeller Letter

This is what it has come to:

On July 17, 2003, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, participated in a discussion about "sensitive intelligence issues" with Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), also on the Intelligence Committee, their (two?) counterparts in the House of Representatives, Vice President Cheney, then-CIA director George Tenant (DCI), and then-director Michael V. Hayden of the National Security Agency (DIRNSA).

Under ground rules doubtless established by the Administration, no one else was allowed to know. Not another member of Congress, not another member of the Intelligence Committee, not a member of his staff, not even a typist.

So, upon returning to his office, Senator Rockefeller wrote out by hand a letter to Cheney. This is what it says:
"I am writing to reiterate my concerns regarding the sensitive intelligence issues we discussed today... .

Clearly, the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues. As you know, I am neither a technician nor an attorney. Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to evaluate, much less endorse, these activities.

As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Pointdexter's TIA Total Information Awareness] project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance.

Without more information and the ability to draw on any independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.

I am retaining a copy of this letter in a sealed envelope in the secure spaces of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ensure the fact that I have a record of this communication.

I appreciate your consideration of my views.

Most respecfully,
/s/ Jay Rockefeller"
The "TIA project" Rockefeller mentions was an arm of the Defense Department, headed by Adm. John Poindexter, better known for multiple felony convictions arising out of the Iran-Contra affair (later reversed on a technicality). "TIA" was purportedly an experimental "data mining" project which, among other things, was designed to spy on American citizens.

A bi-partisan majority in Congress totally de-funded TIA in 2004. (We all know how often that happens. )

Does this sound to anybody like congressional 'authorization' for the Executive Branch to spy on Americans without review by any other branch of government? Or, does it look more like an Executive Department coup against Congress and the Constitution?

Before you answer, contemplate the words of New Hampshire Senator John Sununu today on National Public Radio's afternoon news program. The "All Things Considered" interview can be heard here .

Sununu is well know as a rock-ribbed conservative Republican and son of the former chief of staff for President Reagan. He has joined with Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold in opposing reauthorization of the Patriot Act without reforms, as well as the newly-confessed behavior of George Bush in spying on American citizens.

Asked how Congress can ensure that the Executive Branch doesn't violate the Constitution or the freedoms of the people, he replied that the only tool Congress really has available is the power of the appropriations purse.

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