On NSA secret program, Sensenbrenner's "no one could have predicted" moment | WisCommunity

On NSA secret program, Sensenbrenner's "no one could have predicted" moment

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis) is righteously upset over revelations regarding the National Security Agency's domestic information-gathering program that has collected data on phone calls made by tens of milliions of Americans. Here's the problem:

Sensenbrenner voted for the law enabling this activity. Oh, and he also authored it. He says now Congress never meant for the law to allow such sweeping intelligence agency actions. But:

1. George W. Bush used that power, like Obama but without criticism on Capitol Hill, despite continuing vocal concerns from progressive forces, not to mention Justice Department audits that revealed problems years ago. You wouldn't know it to read the mainstream media so far, but as The Atlantic magazine and other media have pointed out how, several times before (twice during the Bush administration in 2006 an d'07, and once during Obama's first term, in 2010), troubling indications surfaced that the Patriot Act's relaxed surveillance standards had resulted in the FBI running amok. Sensenbrenner insisted before the first of those revelations that the act had sufficient safeguards in it. So this is our third go-around, and Sensenbrenner is still expressing shock at the law he proclaimed had those safeguards.

2. Congress not only authorized the law, but oversees it! Hmmm. Is Sensenbrenner now saying that he and his fellow lawmakers who approved this law only paid lip service to oversight, or agreed to ineffectual oversight rules? To whom should either of those "our lack of oversight was an oversight" screw-ups be assigned? This latest Sensenbrenner reaction, arguably, is his own version of the famous comment by Bush's secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice, regarding the 9/11 attacks. "No one could have predicted" it, to borrow her words. Except, as you'll see below, someone did predict it.

To all this the Atlantic magazine says:

But it is awfully suspect for Sensenbrenner [to] claim that the Patriot Act struck an appropriate balance; that it had a worrisome potential for abuse; and that it has in fact been abused by Obama -- especially when the abuse in question is exactly the sort of thing critics warned against!

Criticism of the program is now bipartisan, thanks mainly to Sensenbrenner. Far more Democrats, though, have expressed their upset than have Republicans. So kudos to Sensenbrenner for speaking out. But here's one more big difference.

Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis) spoke out yesterday against the program and its intrusiveness, but unlike Sensenbrenner, Feingold didn't vote for it, much less author the Patriot Act bill that enabled it. Instead, Feingold criticized the bill before its passage and its reauthorization. He warned at the very outset against the very kinds of abuses the country has been debating, again and again.

There in a nutshell is your politically twin-brained Wisconsin. One of the state's congressmen writes the Patriot Act; one of the state's senators criticizes it. But the senator is later defeated by a Republican who thinks like the author of the act.

In the months after 9/11, the public became aware of a Bush administration initiative in the intelligence community to create a secret intelligence gathering program called "Total Information Awareness." News of that was decried at the time and the Bush administration made a public retreat; but it's clear now that, if you will, Nearly Total Information Awareness has been the norm in gathering intelligence on suspected terrorists. In the process many innocent Americans apparently have had their privacy violated. In short, we've got a serious Fourth Amendment issue on our hands. And the blood of that outcome is in part on Sensenbrenner's hands.


June 7, 2013 - 10:27am