Glenn Greenwald was a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York before becoming a writer on political affairs and constitutional law. He is arguably the most perspicacious journalist offering political commentary today. His comments on Obama’s threatened veto of the intelligence authorization bill follow.
One of the principal weapons used by the Bush administration to engage in illegal surveillance activities — from torture to warrantless eavesdropping — was its refusal to brief the full Congressional Intelligence Committees about its activities. Instead, at best, it would confine its briefings to the so-called “Gang of Eight” — comprised of 8 top-ranking members of the House and Senate — who were impeded by law and other constraints from taking any action even if they learned of blatantly criminal acts.
…efforts to ensure transparency and oversight have continuously run into one major roadblock: Barack Obama’s threat to veto the legislation. Almost immediately after leading Democrats on the Intelligence Committee unveiled their legislation last year, the Obama White House issued a veto threat with extremely dubious (and Bush-replicating) rationales: such oversight would jeopardize secrecy and intrude into “executive privilege.”
…Read this October, 2009 article from The Hill — headlined: “Feingold sees similarities between Bush and Obama on intelligence sharing” — in which Senate Intelligence Committee Member Russ Feingold explains “his suspicion that the Obama administration is continuing some of the stonewalling practices of the George W. Bush administration when it comes to providing full intelligence briefings to the relevant committees in Congress.” And indeed, all year long, there’s been a series of disclosures about highly controversial intelligence programs that appear to be “off-the-books” and away from the oversight of the Intelligence Committee. In late January, it was revealed that the President was maintaining a “hit list” of American citizens he had authorized to be assassinated far from any “battlefield,” followed by yesterday’s story describing the use of shadowy private contractors to collect intelligence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
…The refusal of the Bush administration to brief the Intelligence Committees on its most controversial intelligence programs was once one of the most criticized aspects of the Bush/Cheney obsessions with secrecy, executive power abuses, and lawlessness. The Obama administration is now replicating that conduct, repeatedly threatening to veto legislation to restore real oversight.
Marcy Wheeler notes what is probably the worst part of all of this, something I consider truly despicable: the administration is also threatening to veto the bill because it contains funding for a new investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks, on the ground that such an investigation — in the administration’s words — “would undermine public confidence” in the FBI probe of the attacks “and unfairly cast doubt on its conclusions.”
As I’ve documented at length, not only are there enormous, unresolved holes in the FBI’s case, but many of the most establishment-defending mainstream sources — from leading newspaper editorial pages to key politicians in both parties — have expressed extreme doubts about the FBI’s case and called for an independent investigation. For the administration to actively block an independent review of one of the most consequential political crimes of this generation would probably be its worst act yet, and that’s saying quite a bit.
UPDATE: And excerpts from the March 18 The Hill:
House Intelligence Committee Democrats are engaged in a fierce showdown with the White House over lawmakers’ demands for more transparency and oversight of the intelligence community.
President Barack Obama has twice threatened to veto the intelligence authorization bill, first in July of last year, when the committee approved it, and again this week….“Shame on them,” Eshoo, a senior member of the House intelligence committee said in an interview. “The president campaigned on the need for more transparency and accountability and better place [than the CIA], which doesn’t have any eyes and ears on its activity except for us here in Congress.”
Instead, she said, the Gang of Eight notification system should be abolished completely because the intelligence community is not really giving full and complete information to the exclusive group anyway, so any oversight role Congress is obligated to play is thwarted in the process.
Eshoo blasted Orszag’s letter, saying it amounted to the administration wanting to maintain the “status quo” and forget providing any real oversight and accountability to the Intelligence panel.
“They don’t really consult with [Congress] at all,” she said. “This is really a drive-by, drop-off system. The American public deserves better.”