Posted by: Randy Allgaier | March 11, 2007

We warned it was a slippery slope- The abuses of The Patriot Act are not surprising

Well- knock me down with a feather!  The FBI has abused the powers granted to it under the Patriot Act!  Those of us who warned about the Patriot Act’s disassembling of the Constitution were dismissed as lunatics who were really doing nothing than protecting the actions of terrorists.  Protecting civil liberties were not a priority in the paranoid landscape of a post 9/11 United States.  Through fear- real and manufactured- the American people allowed an unconscionable bill to be rammed through based purely on emotion.

The FBI underreported its use of the USA Patriot Act to force businesses to turn over customer information in suspected terrorism cases, according to a Justice Department audit.  One government official familiar with the report said shoddy bookkeeping and records management led to the problems. The FBI agents appeared to be overwhelmed by the volume of demands for information over a two-year period, the official said.  “They lost track,” said the official who like others interviewed late Thursday spoke on condition of anonymity because the report was not being released until Friday.

The FBI in 2005 reported to Congress that its agents had delivered a total of 9,254 national security letters seeking e-mail, telephone or financial information on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents over the previous two years.  Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine’s report says that number was under-reported by 20 percent, according to the officials.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) , a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversees the FBI, called the reported findings “a profoundly disturbing breach of public trust.”  YA THINK?????

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, warned that the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation had severely abused their already expansive powers under the Patriot Act by misusing National Security Letters to gain warrants for surveillance, as reported in multiple news sources today.  “Many of us have been saying that the potential for abuse of the Patriot Act’s National Security Letter authority is almost without limit. This report demonstrates how that potential has now become a reality,” the Judiciary chairman said. “The Justice Department’s total lack of internal control and cavalier attitude toward the few legal restrictions that exist in the Act have possibly resulted in the illegal seizure of American citizens’ private information.”

Again- should we be shocked? “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”.   While the authorship of this quote is debatable (either Benjamin Franklin or another 18th century diplomat- Richard Jackson) the sentiment is oddly prophetic. 

On Friday, the ACLU “refuted” FBI claims of “unintentional” Patriot Act abuses in a press release.  “Claims that the FBI’s reported Patriot Act abuses were the ‘unintentional’ result of outmoded computer systems and human error are not credible, the American Civil Liberties Union said today, citing evidence that agents contracted with phone companies to obtain customer records and later sought to cover up the illegal requests,” the ACLU press release stated.

According to the ACLU, “The report also shows that the FBI is issuing hundreds of thousands more National Security Letters than ever imagined, and that tracking of the NSLs is sloppy, resulting in thousands of innocent Americans being entered into databases that are shared with numerous U.S. agencies and foreign governments.”

“It seems that every time the American people entrust the Bush administration with some new power, it not only abuses that power but also seizes additional powers without our knowledge,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in the press release. “It is long past time for Congress to take back the civil liberties of the American people and right these wrongs. The Attorney General and the FBI are part of the problem and cannot be trusted to be the only solution.”

 Well everyone- is this a big surprise-  Legislation that is developed quickly as a knee jerk response to fear is never a model of good public policy development.  But one might be even more cynical and suggest that this slippery slope is EXACTLY the path that the Bush administration intended.    After all their actions with Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame already reeks of Nixonian dirty tricks and enemies lists.  Is it shocking that the Bush administration would be willing to stroll down the oil slick of the dismantling of civil liberties? I think not!

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