ACLU Urges Senators to Approach 9/11 Commission Report Cautiously

July 30, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As members of a key Senate committee returned to Washington during their summer recess to examine the findings of the 9/11 Commission, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged caution, citing recommendations that could expand the government’s ability to spy on Americans while reducing Congressional oversight power.

“We should not rush to judgment and must not repeat the mistakes we made with the Patriot Act,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. “If we engage in a deliberate process and ensure accountability to the public in protecting civil liberties, we can boost our security and protect our freedoms. But, if we act hastily to appease partisan pressures, we could create a surveillance society with an intelligence czar in the hip pocket of the president.”

Romero pointed to arguably the commission’s most ambitious recommendation, the consolidation of authority over the 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community into one White House official, as a huge pitfall. He strongly urged Congress to make sure that any new intelligence czar is housed outside the White House, does not have operational authority over domestic surveillance, and is Senate-confirmed and subject to strong oversight.

The ACLU’s remarks come in response to a rare Senate hearing, held during what is normally Congress’ summer recess. The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs met this morning with members of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known generally as the 9/11 Commission, to discuss its report.

Notably, the report called for the executive branch to meet the “burden of proof” that the Patriot Act powers ensure safety and are necessary, while adequately protecting civil liberties. The ACLU raised serious concerns, however, about how the National Intelligence Director, as envisioned by the commission, could harm civil liberties. The new NID would have authority over the FBI’s intelligence division.

“The commission wants to put a top spy, rather than a top cop, in charge of snooping on Americans,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “When you put somebody like that in the White House, you really create an environment where sensitive domestic national security investigations can be unduly influenced by politics to the detriment of civil liberties.”

In a report, the ACLU also raised serious questions about the proposed National Counter-Terrorism Center, which would also be housed at the White House and operate under the authority of the NID. The new NCTC would concentrate additional surveillance and operational powers in the hand of the intelligence chief, he said.

The ACLU also provides 14 specific recommendations about how intelligence reform can be accomplished while enhancing civil liberties. “We’re offering real solutions that can aid Congress and the President as they consider these far-reaching suggestions for intelligence reform,” said Timothy Edgar an ACLU legislative counsel.

To read the ACLU’s recommendations on intelligence reform, go to:
/NationalSecurity/NationalSecurity.cfm?ID=16181&c=24

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