Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Washington Post: John Doe: My National Security Letter Gag Order

One of the questions raised by the story below regarding government intrusion into the private lives of its citizens is: why would the FBI occupy so much of its resources on sending out 140,000 National Security Letters (NSLs). Is it a question of terrorism? Do they actually think they are working to prevent (Islamic) terrorism. Common sense would suggest that they know perfectly well that 99.9% of their NSLs have nothing to do with preventing terrorism.
In that case, what are they doing? Is it something simple and crude like laying the groundwork for the police state? What do we think was motivating the administrators at the Justice Dept and FBI?
In the case of the torture of prisoners known to have no intelligence information -- we now know ordered and closely monitored by Donald Rumsfeld -- we can see the sadism and his desire for power and control for its own sake.
The other important point to make is that the purpose of torture is to extract confessions where there is no guilt, as in the case of KSM which seems to have backfired big time -- in part no doubt, due to the timing, which was meant to take the edge off the Justice Dept firings scandal.
Why is there no guilt for the government to find in its thousands? tens of thousands? of torture victims? Perhaps because there is no terrorism to speak of -- outside of the State? With 9/11, Oklahoma City, WTC '93 as prime examples.
Returning to the 140,00 National Security letters. Back in the 70s we learned that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI was keeping files on Congresspeople. Is there any reason to think this has ever stopped -- more than temporarily?
Thus what we see today is simply the FBI, the CIA, NSA, and others unharnessed. Now they're doing it under the cover of fighting terrorism. The difference now is that we're somewhat less shocked.

from Laura Rozen's warandpiece.com
March 23, 2007
John Doe in the Post: My National Security Letter Gag Order:

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

Read the whole thing. Kafkaesque and un-American. As John Doe writes:
I recognize that there may sometimes be a need for secrecy in certain national security investigations. But I've now been under a broad gag order for three years, and other NSL recipients have been silenced for even longer. At some point -- a point we passed long ago -- the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy. In the wake of the recent revelations, I believe more strongly than ever that the secrecy surrounding the government's use of the national security letters power is unwarranted and dangerous. I hope that Congress will at last recognize the same thing.

Laura Rozen writes:
There've been 140,000 such gag orders in this country with almost no terrorism prosecutions to show for the abuses, and no probable cause established. That is just over one for every 30,000 Americans, man woman and child. Is the gag order so the FBI can avoid accountability? So the public is not the wiser for the abuses taking place? Where are the folks with honor inside the FBI raising concerns about the abuses? Is Congress going to mandate DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine to establish whether such abuses were committed intentionally or not in the next round? [emphasis added]
Update: It's against the law for the FBI to misuse NSLs and exigent circumstance letters as the DOJ IG has established it has, but a law to date violated by the law enforcers and therefore with no enforcement. What would be the result for "John Doe" to violate his seemingly unlawful gag order and appear say on 60 Minutes and blow this out of the water? For the ACLU to line up all of the recipients of NSLs it has been asked to represent? What would that be? A dozen? Twenty? A hundred? Five hundred? Or perhaps, that a TV news investigation program show them anonymously, in accordance with their gag orders, as various tools (voice disguise, etc.) would allow? Officials would be resigning and fired faster than you can say "Walter Reed," one can imagine. And let's just imagine that at some point in the next two years, not just the recipients of the unlawful NLSs, e.g. the Internet service providers, banks and telephone companies, but the targets of the illegal information requests, are identified? What will be their recourse to hold their government accountable? Most of all, how much of this will be determined to have been about issues unrelated to terrorism at all? How much of this was an excuse to spy on lots of people for whom it couldn't get warrants? 140,000 NSLs is a lot; is every one in 30,000 Americans really a legitimate subject in a terrorism investigation? That's kind of hard to believe.

Posted by Laura at 08:21 PM

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