Last year (April 20, 1998) I wrote a column called Big Brother's watching. I introduced readers to "Echelon," a top-secret U.S. global electronic surveillance program, which is kind of the bastard child of UKUSA treaty. The 1948 treaty was an intelligence finesse signed by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I call it a finesse because, although "technically legal" in its application, it is designed (and functions) so as to circumvent established law to protect citizen privacy. In fact, I opened that column with the claim that "Privacy has become an anachronism. ..."
I was delighted to see WorldNetDaily run Patrick Poole's excellent piece Friday. Poole's headline "U.S. spy agency rejects oversight" revealed the hubris of a one-worlder dominatrix.
Echelon, in some form or flavor, is older than I am. Under its current incarnation, it allows signatory governments to accomplish what their laws forbid. Here's the deal: the governments of the U.S., UK, Australia and New Zealand are not "supposed" to spy on their citizens. However, under UKUSA, the participants spy on citizens of the other countries. In other words, England spies on Australia, and Australia on New Zealand, and New Zealand on the U.S., and U.S. intelligence spies on citizens of those countries, and then. ... Well, they "share" data.
Form over substance. Honor the "letter" of the law but violate the "spirit" of the law.
Since I first wrote about this last year in WorldNetDaily, I have been seeing more and more attention focused on Echelon. Recently, the European Union started asking pointed questions about the doings at Menwith Hill in England and the reciprocity with Fort Mead, Maryland. The London Telegraph has done a good job of following the subtleties of the story, and reported the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament was not only digging around the edges, but had confirmed the existence and purpose of Echelon. "A global electronic spy network that can eavesdrop on every telephone, e-mail and telex communication around the world. ..." However, unlike most electronic spy systems, "ECHELON is designed primarily for non-military targets: governments, organizations and businesses in virtually every country."
It took a while, but the U.S. Congress is finally actually doing their job (or trying to do their job) of oversight. Congressman Bob Barr has introduced an amendment to the fiscal 2000 Intelligence Authorization Act that has the National Security Agency's panties in a bunch. Barr wants the director of the CIA, the director of the NSA and Attorney General Janet Reno to submit a written report within 60 days of the bill becoming law that outlines the legal standards being employed to safeguard the privacy of American citizens against Project Echelon.
That kind of congressional oversight seems reasonable. Poole noted, "The National Security Act of 1947 grants broad oversight powers of the intelligence community to Congress, requiring that all spy agencies must turn over 'any information or material concerning intelligence activities that is requested by either of the (House or Senate) intelligence committees to carry out its authorization responsibilities." That is the very essence of congressional oversight. It is reasonable, necessary, and required. Well, not to the supersecret, humongous National Security Agency. For the first time in the history of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, guess what? The NSA is refusing to turn over documents on Echelon to congress. ... They claim "attorney-client" privilege. Deja vu all over again.
Bob Barr (who by the way is a former CIA analyst) says Congress "is concerned about the privacy rights of American citizens and whether or not there are constitutional safeguards being circumvented by the manner in which the intelligence agencies are intercepting and/or receiving international communications ... from foreign nations that would otherwise be prohibited." Hell Bob, THAT is the precise objective of Echelon.
Barr, in taking on the NSA monster (which is bigger and more secretive than the CIA) may be taking a knife to a gunfight. However, the right knife in the right hand can overcome superior firepower. Barr says his amendment is "straightforward." It "will help guarantee the privacy rights of American citizens and will protect the oversight responsibilities of the Congress which are now under assault."
I am sure Bob realizes that the intelligence community doesn't give a rat's derriere about "privacy rights." As for protecting the oversight responsibilities of Congress ... from an intelligence perspective that concept is counter-intuitive.
The general counsel for the NSA, in a disingenuous, duplicitous, and myopic grasp at straws claims there is a common law privilege that supercedes any law. He claims that despite a similar argument that was just last year rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals regarding Ken Starr's subpoena of White House lawyer and Clinton crony Bruce Lindsey.
However, Congressman Peter Goss turned a bunt into a home run when he said the NSA argument is "unpersuasive and dubious." He's being politic and kind. Remember, the essence of this battle is over congressional oversight. Goss said if spooks can deny access to documents and intelligence programs, it could "seriously hobble the legislative oversight process" (which is provided for and required by the Constitution), and would "result in the envelopment of the executive branch in a cloak of secrecy." Bingo!
There is a general agreement about the necessity of some kind of government, which tends to include an agreement about the two basic elements of government: authority and power. Government cannot exist if men do not obey the directions or regulations of that government. You may recall having read about some difficulties our forefathers had with the government of King George and what resulted. Authority normally elicits voluntary compliance. Power, either coerces, or threatens to coerce to compel obedience. Authority and power are said to be the might and right of government. Rousseau observed that when right is lacking, government is illegitimate. Alexander Hamilton noted when might is lacking, it is ineffective.
which has been rolling along in various flavors for fifty years, is intrinsically
wrong. Congress (and Parliament) have legitimate power and authority to
function in their oversight capacity. The NSA, by its precedent setting
refusal to comply with Congress, is, according to Rousseau, illegitimate.
However, unless or until Congress compels the NSA to comply, it will again
demonstrate their inability to use their might, and (according to Hamilton)
will be ineffective -- again.