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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

If You Build It

by digby

I've always thought that one of the perverse consequences of a libertarian utopian government that does nothing but national defense, policing and dispute resolution would be that this government would naturally seek to expand its powers in those areas. If a state's only function is policing, it functions as a ... police state.

We've watched the fake small government conservatives spend huge sums of money on war profiteering, oily pork and tax breaks for their rich contributors. But where they have really made their mark is with these ridiculously expanded executive and police powers. And they continue to suck up more of them every day:

Amid intense debate over how far the government can go to keep its secrets secret, Congress is taking up an expansive intelligence measure that proposes tougher steps in cracking down on leaks of classified information and authorizes broad arrest powers for security officers at intelligence agencies.

Provisions tucked into the legislation, which the House is expected to vote on as early as tomorrow, represent a major departure from traditional intelligence agency roles in plugging leaks and conducting domestic law enforcement, according to government watchdog groups and intelligence professionals.

If the measure is approved by Congress, the nation's spy chief would be ordered to consider a plan for revoking the pensions of intelligence agency employees who make unauthorized disclosures. It also would permit security forces at the National Security Agency and the CIA to make warrantless arrests outside the gates of their top-secret campuses.

The new proposals, which have received little public attention, dovetail with an ongoing Bush administration crackdown on unauthorized leaks.


Critics described the potential penalties outlined in the measure as "draconian."

"In a moment when the intelligence community should be looking forward toward what it does best, the arrest powers represent a step back toward the Nixon-era abuses," said Jason Vest, an investigator with the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group.

The plan by Congress to target the pensions of intelligence agency employees would harm the overall spy effort, according to critics. Some, including former senior intelligence officials, warned that it would create an overly repressive environment within the agencies that could inhibit officers from speaking up, even internally, and discourage risk-taking.

The proposal to penalize leakers with loss of pension will do nothing "but keep good people from going to work in the [intelligence community] agencies," according to a senior intelligence official, who was quoted anonymously yesterday in a letter to the House Intelligence Committee from the Project on Government Oversight.


The measure also directs Congress to conduct a study of possible new sanctions against those who receive leaks of classified information, including journalists.

Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert with the Federation of American Scientists, said that such sanctions would represent a significant departure by the government, which usually targets only the person who leaks information, not the recipient.

"That is not the prevailing understanding under the law," he said. "If it were, [Washington Post reporter] Bob Woodward would not be a wealthy, best-selling author. He would be serving a life sentence."

At the request of National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte, the legislation would allow agency security forces at the NSA and CIA to make arrests outside the grounds of those agencies. Ware said the measure is "just clarifying the authority" of agency security officers "to arrest individuals."

It would apparently overrule a written opinion by the Maryland attorney general's office, which stated that the NSA's police powers are limited to the agency's grounds and to streets within a 500-foot perimeter of its Fort Meade campus.

The June 2005 opinion concluded that, under Maryland law, NSA officers "may make a citizen's arrest" and would have no immunity from liability for their actions if they are outside their jurisdiction. It notes that NSA officers can only carry firearms within that jurisdiction. The bill would allow them to carry guns.


Loch Johnson, a top Senate aide on the Church Committee, which investigated CIA abuses in the 1970s, called it a "worrisome" expansion of power.

"That's why we have the FBI and other law enforcement officials," he said. "I don't know that this needs to be an intelligence officer's function. I wouldn't think it should be."

Aftergood termed the proposal "shocking" and said "it raises the specter of a secret police force that is unaccountable and operates outside of the normal law enforcement parameters."

I know I feel safer already, don't you?

This is the kind of stuff that's going on right now in the Congress, even as the president's approval rating sits in the low 30's and the Republicans appear to be poised to lose their majority in the fall. They are like sharks, mercilessly pursuing their agenda no matter what is going on around them. They know that it is much more difficult to reverse this kind of thing than it is to enact it. Their gargantuan, national security bureaucracy replete with gun-toting NSA "security" authorized to arrest anyone they choose will be institutionalized and anyone who tries to end it will be tarred as a Democratic sissy for the next generation. If they can sneak this one through, they will.

This letter from the Project On Government Oversight to Rep. Peter Hoekstra and Jane Harmon outlines the various issues of concern. It's hard to believe that these people would have the gall to use this leak controversy as an excuse to create two new secret police forces in the CIA and NSA, but that's what they're doing (among other heinous things.)

I will look forward to another sanctimonious lecture from intelligence chairman Pat Roberts on the horrors of unauthorized leaking when this legislation gets to the Senate. He knows wehat he's talking about. After all, he committed one of the most egregious leaks in recent memory.