Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bushies Again Show Contempt For The Law, On Intelligence Oversight

The Bush administration's attitude toward U.S. law has run sort of a gamut, from passive-aggressive disdain to brazen trampling of it. This weekend The Washington Post reported on the "record" of the President's Intelligence Oversight Board. It seems to strike some middle ground that could be best described as contemptuous negligence.

The Post reported: "An independent oversight board created to identify intelligence abuses after the CIA scandals of the 1970s did not send any reports to the attorney general of legal violations during the first 5 1/2 years of the Bush administration's counterterrorism effort, the Justice Department has told Congress.

"Although the FBI told the board of a few hundred legal or rules violations by its agents after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the board did not identify which of them were indeed legal violations. This spring, it forwarded reports of violations in 2006, officials said.

"The President's Intelligence Oversight Board -- the principal civilian watchdog of the intelligence community -- is obligated under a 26-year-old executive order to tell the attorney general and the president about any intelligence activities it believes "may be unlawful." The board was vacant for the first two years of the Bush administration.

"The FBI sent copies of its violation reports directly to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. But the board's mandate is to provide independent oversight, so the absence of such communications has prompted critics to question whether the board was doing its job."

Ya think? It's pretty hard for a board with no members to report to the AG on possible illegal activities. The story says the administration finally started appointing members in 2003. And then, even after they apparently got sitting members, they went another 3 and 1/2 years before they started forwarding reports. This was all after "controversy over interrogation tactics at secret prisons, the transfer of prisoners to countries that use torture, and domestic wiretapping not reviewed by federal courts."

And just now, we're finding out about it from a rancid administration that is pretty much down to running out the clock.

More from The Post: " 'It's now apparent that the IOB was not actively employed in the early part of the administration. And it was a crucial period when its counsel would seem to have been needed the most,' said Anthony Harrington, who served as the board's chairman for most of the Clinton administration.

" 'The White House counsel's office and the attorney general should have known and been concerned if they did not detect an active and effective IOB,' Harrington said.

"Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) added: 'It is deeply disturbing that this administration seems to spend so much of its energy and resources trying to find ways to ignore any check and balance on its authority and avoid accountability to Congress and the American public.' "

But wait, there's more. The administration's official response to this was vintage Bush hogwash. They seem to have lines pre-written, and the underlings just fill in the blanks about any controversy that's in front of them:

"White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Friday that 'the president expects every single person working in counterterrorism and intelligence strictly to follow the law -- and if there are instances where that has not occurred, either intentionally or non-intentionally, he expects it promptly to be corrected.' She said the White House relies on the presidentially appointed director of national intelligence to monitor problems."

That sounds so much like Bush's one-time declaration that he would fire anybody who in his administration who leaked crucial intelligence information -- like outing an undercover CIA agent, for instance.

Being unschooled in constitutional law, I cannot say how much smoke a gun has to emit before it can be considered a "smoking gun." But this board was made permanent by no less than Ronald Reagan, by 1981 executive order, and put in charge of identifying legal violations by intelligence agencies.

I guess we can just add this to the ever-swelling list of Bush administration "legal" outrages. This is merely the outrage du jour.