Justice Department Reviews Own Role in NSA Wiretapping
(APN) ATLANTA — The US Department of Justice’s (USDOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) opened a review of the USDOJ’s role in the National Security Agency’s (NSA) warrantless wiretapping program on November 27, 2006, according to a letter from the OIG to US Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.
APN first reported on the apparent game of “hot potato” several federal agencies appeared to be playing after the call for an investigation by Congressional Democrats in January 2006.
US Reps. Lofgren, Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), and 36 other lawmakers wrote a letter to the USDOJ’s Inspector General Glenn A. Fine in January requesting his office open an investigation into the NSA wiretapping program. Lofgren and others had requested other agencies investigate as well.
Readers may recall news of the program’s existence broke in December 2005.
Fine responded at the time that the matter fell outside the jurisdiction of his office and referred the lawmakers to the USDOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).
Then, Hinchey and three colleagues wrote a letter to the OPR requesting an investigation.
OPR Counsel H. Marshall Jarrett informed US Rep. Hinchey in February an investigation into USDOJ lawyers’ involvement in the NSA program was underway.
However, in May, Jarrett informed US Reps. Hinchey and Lofgren the OPR had to close the investigation because they were unable to obtain proper security clearances.
US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales revealed July 18, 2006, before a US Senate hearing that President Bush was the one to deny the clearances.
US Reps. Hinchey and Lofgren wrote another letter September 14, 2006, asking Fine to open a detailed investigation into how the NSA program came about and how it has been carried out.
According to the letter, here is what Hinchey and Lofgren want answered as a detailed investigation proceeds:
-Whether the President, the Attorney General, and the Director of the NSA violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by establishing and carrying out the program.
-Who within the USDOJ first authorized the domestic surveillance program and what that official’s justification was for doing so?
-If the Bush Administration had already enacted the program before getting original USDOJ approval.
-What the reauthorization process for the surveillance initiative entails.
-Why, according to news reports, did the then-Acting Attorney General refuse to reauthorize the program and why the Attorney General expressed strong reservations about the program and may have rejected it as well?
On October 20, 2006, 18 days before Congressional Elections, Fine sent a formal request to the Attorney General seeking additional security clearances for the OIG staff to conduct a “program review.”
The Attorney General forwarded the request to the White House and Fine received approval two weeks after the Elections.
Fine sent a letter to US Rep. Lofgren on November 27, 2006, informing her of the approved request and the start of the review.
The program review will examine the USDOJ’s controls and use of information related to the surveillance program and the agency’s compliance with legal requirements governing the surveillance program. In other words, the USDOJ will be investigating its own involvement in the NSA program.
An official from Fine’s office, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The New York Times, November 28, 2006, that this program review will not examine the legality or constitutionality of the program because “it was beyond our jurisdiction [in January], and it is still beyond our jurisdiction.”
US Reps. Lofgren and Hinchey released a statement November 27, 2006, confirming the information Fine had given them.
US Rep. Hinchey was pleased to see the start of an investigation “we were made to believe would never happen” but was “skeptical about the timing.”
“I wonder whether this reversal is only coming now after the election as an attempt to appease Democrats in Congress who have been critical of the NSA program and will soon be in control and armed with subpoena power,” Hinchey said.
He added, “While it is important to learn how DOJ officials have handled the NSA program and determine whether any information gathered from the program such as phone numbers has been used inappropriately, we need Inspector General Fine to expand his probe to examine how the warrantless spy program was born, how it evolved, and what laws may have been violated by administration officials as they implemented the program.”
US Rep. Lofgren said she is anxious to learn the results of the review.
“Congress needs to craft legislation so that terrorists can be the subject of surveillance while the Constitution of the United States is honored. To do that, a full investigation into the program as a whole, not just the DOJ’s involvement, will be necessary,” she added.
A spokesperson for the OIG, speaking on the condition of anonymity, tells Atlanta Progressive News the program review is indeed underway but could not get into further specifics about the investigation.
Atlanta Progressive News has requested additional information from US Rep. Lofgren’s Office and will share it with our readers as soon as it becomes available.
About the author:
Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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