As Senate and House members responsible for overseeing U.S. intelligence are shown to have been co-opted into overlooking, rather than overseeing, intrusive eavesdropping programs, a mix of ennui and frustration has set in. Fortunately, there is an antidote.
To Americans and others who see no hope that an experienced politician with demonstrated respect for conscience and Constitution could reverse the trend to a national security state, I bring good news. There is such a person; his name is Rush Holt; and if he wins the Democratic primary on Aug. 13, he stands a good chance of replacing the late Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.
For many years I have watched closely as Rep. Holt of NJ's 12th Congressional district attempted to rein in America's burgeoning surveillance state and other intelligence abuses. To do that, he has had to buck not only the intelligence/security establishment, but also the leaders of his own party, who have been too afraid -- or too compromised -- to do so.
The Lives of Others
Compromised? Those who have seen the 2006 film Das Leben der Anderen about the pervasive eavesdropping by East German intelligence (the Stasi) in East Berlin have an advantage in relating to what life is quickly becoming under what Daniel Ellsberg has branded "The United Stasi of America."
You would not know this from the corporate media, but former National Security Agency officer Russell Tice has confessed publicly to the active role he played in National Security Agency eavesdropping operations against the office, home, and cell phones of senior U.S. officials.
Really! Like who? Like Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, and, yes, even Barack Obama (before he became president).
With eight years of experience as House Intelligence Committee referent for monitoring the activities of NSA. Holt is uniquely qualified to investigate those and other reported abuses in his characteristically tenacious way. I know Holt and have observed him at close remove; I am confident that the NSA, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security will find little grist for blackmail when they reach into the thick file they have on Holt -- as they have on all of us.
Absent that kind of worry, how much tolerance do you think Holt will show hapless perjurers like National Intelligence Director James Clapper who, as Director of National Intelligence still sits over the entire U. S. intelligence community? Nor would Rush Holt likely stop at Clapper among those at high reaches in Washington with intriguingly remote relationships with the truth.
Prevarication Is Us
Most Americans have only recently been treated to a rich string of prevarications (in Washington, we don't say "lies") from NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander-the-Not-So-Great. But that is not the case for Congressman Holt. No doubt he remembers only too well that Alexander lied to his face on Dec. 6, 2005, when Holt made a parish call to NSA to honor the responsibilities that came with his overseer portfolio.
At the risk of sounding quaint and obsolete, lying to Congress is a felony, but that seemed to bother Gen. Alexander not a whit. "No sir!" answered Alexander when he was asked straight-out by Holt if NSA was strictly adhering to what, at the time, was known as NSA's First Commandment -- "Thou Shall't Not Eavesdrop on Americans Without a Court Order."
Sadly for Alexander, just ten days later the New York Times' James Risen and Eric Lichtblau broke a major story showing that Alexander and his predecessor, Gen. Michael Hayden had consigned NSA's First Commandment to the dustbin. We are only now learning the true dimensions of that trashing, but Teflon continues to stick to Hayden, Clapper, and Alexander.
None is in jail, yet. And that the latter two are still in office points to how intimidated Official Washington is. The most senior officials to whom they report appear beset by nagging fear that the files of Very Important People have been available to NSA officials and contractors for years. Adding insult to injury, Alexander the Not-So Great not only remains in his post as the longest serving director at NSA, but three years ago was made also head of the Pentagon's Cyber Command.
All this is why, for my first time ever, my conscience dictates public endorsement of a candidate for the Senate. I feel I owe it to all Americans - but especially to the people of New Jersey, whom my wife and were sad to leave behind when we moved to Washington 50 years ago. The times require a Senator serious about protecting rights guaranteed us by the Fourth Amendment (and the rest of the Bill of Rights, as well), and the nation, as well as New Jersey, would have such a senator in Rush Holt.
It appears less of a surprise that Gen. Alexander would lie to Rush Holt in Dec. 2005, when we recall that Holt showed his true (Constitutional) colors a few months earlier. As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Holt in July 2005 strongly opposed a key part of the PATRIOT Act, pointing out that:
"...Section 215, allows investigators broad access to any record without probable cause of a crime... In other words, most of the records searched are of innocent people, but because ... a terrorist's records might be somewhere in the batch, they [all] get swept up in the search..."
I sensed Rep. Holt was correct at the time. Nevertheless, the widespread scope and intrusive nature of the abuses he was able to sense at the time - which are now revealed in an undeniable way -- came as something of a shock to veteran intelligence officials like me. The documents recently disclosed show violations of our Constitution on a scale rivaling, if not exceeding, those that came to light in the Seventies during my early tenure at the Central Intelligence Agency -- and that's saying something!
More Warnings From Holt
Three years after his first warning, Holt issued another as the Congress debated the now-infamous Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act, noting, "It permits massive warrantless surveillance [and] a fishing-expedition approach to intelligence collection..."
Now that recent revelations have shown Holt's warnings and premonitions to be well founded, some of his normally somnolent Congressional colleagues have been jarred into action. Two weeks ago a bipartisan coalition led by Representatives John Conyers and Jared Polis joined with Tea Party favorite Rep. Justin Amash in offering an amendment to the annual Pentagon spending bill that would have stopped NSA from the kind of data harvesting enabled by the White House's interpretation of the PATRIOT Act. The Republican and Democratic House leadership, joining the White House in a shamefully obvious display of support for the surveillance state, rallied members to narrowly defeat the amendment.
Let that sink in. Congressional leaders responsible for defending the Bill of Rights voted to continue spying on Americans in a way that is clearly unconstitutional. They claim it is legal. That is not true. PLEASE, just read the one-sentence Fourth Amendment below; compare its strictures with what NSA has been doing; and see what you think:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Holt not only supported the Amash amendment, he has done what many Americans have been demanding. He offered legislation to kill both the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Moreover, Holt's "Surveillance State Repeal Act" (HR 2818) is the kind of remedy America needs, not only to end surveillance abuses, but also to break out of the "perpetual war" mentality.
Ray McGovern served as a CIA analyst from the administration of John F. Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush, and prepared the President's Daily Brief for Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan.