ACLU Says Specter’s NSA Legislation Would Pardon President’s Illegal Actions; Group Calls for Inspector General Investigation
WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today strongly condemned a new proposal drafted by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) that embraces the president’s claims of inherent power to secretly wiretap Americans without meaningful checks. Also today, the organization renewed its request to the Justice Department’s Inspector General to open an investigation into the involvement of the department in the warrantless spying on Americans by the National Security Agency.
"The Specter bill would essentially whitewash the illegal actions of the Bush administration," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. "Congress should not move forward on any legislation until and unless it has a full understanding of the facts. President Bush has used 9/11 as a blank check to abuse his power to the detriment of the rule of law and the Constitution. What we need now is vigorous congressional oversight and a thorough investigation into the NSA’s illegal spying programs."
Specter’s new draft would replace a bill he had previously introduced, S.2453, the National Security Surveillance Act of 2006. The new version would pardon the president for authorizing the warrantless wiretapping of Americans, in violation of current criminal and intelligence laws. Specifically, the new bill would amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the criminal code by allowing wiretapping at the direction of the president outside of those existing laws. This move would create a retroactive exception to criminal liability when warrantless wiretapping is done at the president’s direction under a claim of inherent authority.
With the revelations in USA Today about the NSA’s data-mining program, the ACLU said Congress should insist the president follow legal rules requiring a court order for information about whom Americans call, domestically and internationally, and how long they talk to their family, friends or business associates. The ACLU noted that now is not the time to embrace a theory of unilateral power to spy on Americans.
The draft bill would also eliminate some other protections of FISA. For example, Specter’s bill would permit the president to claim a right to conduct secret searches of American homes and businesses if war is ever declared and permit eavesdropping on calls and monitoring of phone records without following FISA’s rules. The ACLU noted that FISA was enacted after Watergate to restrict the ability of presidents to unilaterally spy on Americans under the guise of national security
Also today, the ACLU renewed its call to Inspector General Fine at the Justice Department to investigate that department’s involvement in illegal NSA spying program. The ACLU noted that the IG must initiate an investigation because the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility has been denied the required security clearances to conduct its own investigation into the warrantless eavesdropping program. The attorney general has rejected repeated calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the program.
"The administration’s stonewalling must not be rewarded; it must be investigated," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Federal law requires that the inspector general investigate abuses of civil liberties by officials and employees of the Justice Department. The American public and the rule of law deserve nothing less. If the administration is so confident in the program’s legality, then it should welcome an independent investigation."