ACLU Advises House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Says History Shows Need For Protection of American Freedoms

August 4, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence today began a series of public hearings on the findings of the 9/11 Commission, inviting experts and former lawmakers to provide their input on the report. The American Civil Liberties Union testified before the Committee and while it welcomed many of the Commission’s conclusions, called upon lawmakers to enact measure that preserve civil liberties.

“”The Commission’s report is a foundation but not the end-game,”” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “”Congress must erect meaningful safeguards to ensure that intelligence reorganization does not lead to the use of CIA-like tactics against Americans. And most importantly, we should not create the unintended consequence of building a surveillance society.””

Timothy H. Edgar, Legislative Counsel with the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, testified before the Committee, and outlined several concerns with the 9/11 Commission’s findings. In his testimony, Edgar highlighted the recommendation for the creation of a national intelligence director, to be based in the White House. The NID would consolidate authority over the 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community into a person serving at the pleasure of the president – raising the potential for politics, and not security, to guide American intelligence programs.

Edgar noted that misuse of foreign and domestic intelligence powers for political ends could occur under any administration. For example, under the Nixon administration, White House staff with intelligence backgrounds led efforts to spy on political and ideological opponents; including the Watergate break-in. During the Clinton administration, White House political staff obtained hundreds of confidential FBI files on prominent Republicans created from extensive background checks designed to protect national security — the so-called “filegate” scandal.

Both of these examples, Edgar noted, demonstrated the potential for abuse of any political position that has domestic surveillance powers. The ACLU has recommended that any national intelligence director position be tenured, and subject to Congressional confirmation, and pointed to the chair of the Federal Reserve Board as an example of the need for the independence of such a high level and far reaching position.

Edgar also noted that erasing the historical differences between domestic and foreign intelligence gathering could lead to the FBI using covert tactics reserved for foreign intelligence in domestic surveillance operations. Unconstitutional searches, infiltration of political and religious groups, and other controversial measures, the ACLU said, might not raise concerns with a “top spy” who is used to foreign intelligence methods.

“History has shown that politics and domestic surveillance create a dangerous mix,” said Edgar. “The Commission itself, the White House and many former intelligence officials have called for civil liberties to be protected as Congress acts on the recommendations.”

The ACLU’s testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence can be read at:

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