Saturday, August 16, 2008

It was a nice Constitution we had...pity something happened to it

Last month, with no notice at all, the bu$h administration quietly inserted a domestic spying proposal into a slew of changes to the rules governing domestic intelligence gathering that make it easier to spy on us and harder for us to do anything about it should we find out. The changes include an executive order that shakes up the operation of federal spy agencies and a Justice Department shakeup of FBI procedures for gathering intelligence and conducting terrorism investigations within our borders.

The changes that have been proposed would amount to a complete rewriting of the federal governments rules that police have had to operate under since 1993 and would apply to all of the 18,000 police organizations that receive federal operating grants.

The changes tilt the playing field to favor the agencies over the citizenry by making it easier for local and state police and sheriffs departments to gather intelligence about Americans and then share it with federal agencies where it will be retained for at least a decade.

Taken as a whole, critics and civil libertarians object that the moves are intended to finish the shredding of the Constitution that started on September 12, 2001 and enshrine the bu$h overreaches of executive authority forever more. "This is a continuum that started back on 9/11 to reform law enforcement and the intelligence community to focus on the terrorism threat," said homeland security adviser Kenneth L. Wainstein of the proposed rules.

Right wing authoritarian lunatics insist that the measures are necessary, because after all, "9/11 changed everything" and besides, civil liberties do us no good if we are all dead, killed by terrorists. Besides, they say, the new rules have protections built in to protect our precious civil liberties, and they trust all 18,000 police departments to follow the rules and check themselves. Because if we have learned anything the last eight years its that the foxes make excellent guards for the chicken coop.

If the proposal flies, and lets face it, it probably will, because we elected the "lesser of two evils" to gain back our thin majorities, but we didn't elect very many real Democrats. Instead we elected a bunch of pathetic, feckless, spineless cowards like Claire McCaskill, who promptly give the war-criminal idiot everything he wants including telecom immunity.

The proposal put forth by the Justice Department would allow groups to be targeted as well as individuals, as well as launch expensive investigations based on what amounts to...hunches. They could share the results with a wide array of federal agencies. It would also allow criminal intelligence assessments to be disseminated outside designated channels - when doing so may "avoid danger to life or property" not only when such danger is "imminent," as is now required. (Now they aren't even bothering to shriek about "ticking time bombs.")

As you probably assumed already, the ACLU is not getting rolled by the "we care about civil liberties, too!" rhetoric. Michael German, policy counsel for that fine organization said the proposed changes run the risk of being misunderstood as carte blanche for the police by the police, and that intelligence will be collected even when there is no suspicion of an underlying crime. Giving twenty bucks to a charity could be enough to get a dossier started on you if that charity is later discovered to have supported a group that is later determined to have terrorist ties.

This expansion of the intelligence role of law enforcement, breaking down a wall erected in the post-Watergate era to rein in abuses by law enforcement agencies.

Before he went to work for the ACLU, Michael German was an FBI agent for 16 years. He is afraid that easing the established limits on intelligence-gathering by police will lead to abuses against peaceful political opponents.

He cites the recent infiltration of groups that oppose capital punishment by police in Maryland, the use of undercover cops to penetrate protest groups before the 2004 republican convention and that California state agents eavesdropped on all manor of activists, and the fact that the Denver police spied on Amnesty International and others before being discovered. "If police officers no longer see themselves as engaged in protecting their communities from criminals and instead as domestic intelligence agents working on behalf of the CIA, they will be encouraged to collect more information," German said. "It turns police officers into spies on behalf of the federal government."

Groups that exist to safeguard civil liberties have also warned that the forthcoming Justice Department overhaul of FBI rules might bring the use of "terrorist profiling" that could single out religious or ethnic groups for investigation.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that updating police intelligence rules is a move "in the right direction. However, the vagueness of the provisions giving broad access to criminal intelligence to undefined agencies . . . is very troubling."

That doesn't sound too encouraging for those among us who value the civil liberties this country was founded on.

The damage done by these rabid authoritarian cowards will take decades to undo. The first step will be contacting congress as soon as they return after the conventions and let them know that we are still rather fond of that "god-damned piece of paper" and if they want to continue their cushy gig in D.C. they need to get with the program and rediscover their own dedication to that document.