Domestic Spying Hurts Our National Security

According to numerous reports and audits released by entities such as the inspectors general (IGs) of agencies that deal with national security and various presidential commissions, today, more than four years after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, almost all our national security related agencies are in disarray, riddled with incompetence, corruption, and in some cases criminal activities. While most of the real problems facing our national security today stem from gross mismanagement, inefficiency, incompetence, and a lack of sensible policies and vigorous oversight, the Bush administration insists upon blaming these deficiencies on a regrettable and dangerous lack of power in the executive branch. But the kind of power the administration pursues is the kind of power that would vault the presidency to monarchical status and nullify the Bill of Rights.

Consider the following:

  • According to the Department of Justice IG’s report on the FBI’s foreign language program that was released in October 2004, “more than 89,000 hours of audio and 30,000 hours of audio in other counterterrorism languages have not been reviewed. Additionally, over 370,000 hours of audio in languages associated with counterintelligence activities have not been reviewed.
  • According to a report by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding WMD (the Robb-Silberman report), released in March 2005, in just the past 20 years the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency (NSA), Defense Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, and the Departments of Defense, State, and Energy have all been penetrated by espionage. Secrets stolen include nuclear weapons data, U.S. cryptographic codes and procedures, identification of U.S. intelligence sources and methods (human and technical), and war plans. Indeed, it would be difficult to exaggerate the damage that foreign intelligence penetrations have caused.
  • According to the final report by the 9/11 Discourse Project released in December 2005, the commissioners gave the federal government mediocre and failing grades for its response to its 41 recommendations, and characterized some failures as “shocking.” The commission cited huge remaining loopholes in aviation security, a politicized system of doling out billions of Homeland Security dollars, and a failure to give firefighters and other responders the radio spectrum they need to communicate during crises.
  • According to an audit released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in December 2005, nearly three years after it was formed, the immense DHS remains hampered by severe management and financial problems, problems that contributed to the flawed response to Hurricane Katrina.
  • In December 2005, a group of House Democrats issued a report alleging that the Department of Homeland Security had failed to follow through on 33 promised improvements to border security, infrastructure protection, and other physical security projects.
  • According to a Jan. 18, 2006, AP article by Ted Bridis, the FBI missed neon-bright signs of espionage in the case of Bureau Intelligence Analyst Leandro Aragoncillo. He was arrested a few months ago. Despite several IG reports, congressional inquiries, and media reports on several other recent cases of alleged espionage activities, the bureau’s inability to secure even its own offices continues today. Here is an agency that is in charge of defending our national security and protecting our safety, but it has yet to prove it is capable of securing itself.

What do the various reports mentioned above have in common? These reports and audits, whether conducted by the inspectors general of our federal agencies, Congress, or the presidential commissions, indicate that the weak state of our nation’s security today is a result of inefficient, incompetent, and mismanaged government. How can any of the failures established by these reports be attributed to the lack of power to engage in massive communications intercepts of Americans? Based on these reports, how can one go about fixing our nation’s security problems by unlawfully gathering millions of discrete pieces of information from the citizens of our country, inundating our intelligence agencies with huge amounts of raw intelligence, and causing an insurmountable backlog?

The NSA has overwhelmed the FBI with raw intelligence gathered at the price of our liberty, privacy, and due process. Information culled from electronic eavesdropping and intercepted Internet traffic resulting from Bush’s illegal authorization of domestic surveillance turned into a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips each month. A New York Times story says that FBI officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators. The Times also reported that almost all of the tips led to dead ends, and one former FBI official said: “We’d chase a number, find it’s a schoolteacher with no indication they’ve ever been involved in international terrorism – case closed.” He added: “After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration.”

Mr. President, please stop. You are damaging our national security and simultaneously destroying what makes us American in mind and soul: our Bill of Rights. Remember what you told us just a few days after 9/11: “The terrorists hate our way of life, and they want to take it away from us.” Mr. President, they haven’t – you beat them to that result. Do you really want to fix our security problems? Do you really want to address and fix our vulnerabilities? Then here is a start for you: government accountability, government oversight, and government integrity.