We’re glad to see Republicans gear up to fight the Obama administration’s unprecedented insertion of federal authority into areas of life that had traditionally and appropriately been reserved to the private sector.
The nation, indeed, is heading down a dangerous road from which it might be hard to ever return.
But we’re not nearly ready to believe the Republican Party is in any way the party of limited government, especially as more details emerge about the lengths to which the Bush administration went to allow the federal government to spy on people.
A new report by federal inspectors general, although secretive in its details, argued the administration engaged in an “extraordinary and inappropriate” scheme to circumvent legal controls on such spying.
“The Bush administration built an unprecedented surveillance operation to pull in mountains of information far beyond the warrantless wiretapping previously acknowledged, a team of federal inspectors general reported (July 10), questioning the legal basis for the effort but shielding almost all details on grounds they’re still too secret to reveal,” according to an Associated Press report.
Basically, the Bush White House misled the public about the extent of its surveillance program. That program was probably illegal. The vast expansion of spying powers was authorized, according to the report, by a single presidential approval and justified by the dubious legal opinions of one young Justice Department attorney, John Yoo.
The report, produced at the behest of Congress, found that Yoo’s opinion “at a minimum was factually flawed.”
It is clear from the report that Yoo, and by extension his superiors in the Bush administration, were creating interpretations of the law that allowed the government the utmost leeway and the greatest expansion of federal powers.
Yoo argued that federal law allowed the president to conduct warrantless electronic searches. As the report explained, “Yoo further opined that electronic surveillance in ‘direct support of military operations’ did not trigger constitutional rights against illegal searches and seizures, in part because the Fourth Amendment is primarily aimed at curbing law enforcement abuses.”
Yoo and other administration officials refused to be interviewed by the Justice Department as part of the preparation of the report.
Furthermore, the president kept only the smallest group of officials informed about what was going on. Bottom line: It appears as if the administration twisted to law to justify what it wanted to do rather than seeking out honest legal opinions about whether these police-state-like activities were constitutional.
The Bush administration justified this approach because of the threats following the 9/11 attacks but, as The Associated Press put it: “Most of the intelligence leads generated under what was known as the ‘President’s Surveillance Program’ did not have any connection to terrorism. … . But FBI agents told the authors that the ‘mere possibility of the leads producing useful information made investigating the leads worthwhile.’”
This is how big government works, as top federal officials were able to use the fear of terrorist attacks to do pretty much anything they wanted to do.
The way the Bush administration used 9/11 to vastly expand government power and secrecy reminds us of how the Obama administration is using the current economic crisis to vastly expand the government’s involvement in private businesses.
This is a reminder of how corrupting power can become and how desperately Americans need to carefully monitor the activities of every administration, regardless of their party affiliation and political ideology.