Political spying

From SourceWatch
Jump to: navigation, search

"This country has a long tradition of responding to fear by stifling dissent, punishing association, launching widespread political spying and seeking shortcuts around the Constitution."

"The government already has adequate powers to combat terrorism. It has authority to wiretap any person suspected of working for a foreign government or organization, without any criminal predicate whatsoever. It can prosecute and freeze the assets of those who provide aid to terrorist organizations. It can bar entry to members of terrorist organizations, and it can detain and deport any alien who has engaged in or supported a terrorist act.

"When, in less turbulent times, a bipartisan National Commission on Terrorism appointed by Congress recommended steps to improve our response to terrorism, it advocated none of the measures now advanced by Attorney General John Ashcroft. Its advice was to streamline and coordinate existing authority, but that entails hard work and substantial turf battles; it's far easier, but far less effective, to give the FBI still more power to spy on the American people." -- David Cole, The Nation, September 20, 2001.


In the January 22, 2004, article"Infiltration of files seen as extensive . Senate panel's GOP staff pried on Democrats" for the Boston Globe, Charlie Savage wrote that, according to Senate members, "Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Commitee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media. ... From the spring of 2002 until at least April 2003, members of the GOP committee staff exploited a computer glitch that allowed them to access restricted Democratic communications without a password. Trolling through hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking points and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight -- and with what tactics.

"The office of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle has already launched an investigation into how excerpts from 15 Democratic memos showed up in the pages of the conservative-leaning newspapers and were posted to a website last November. ... With the help of forensic computer experts from General Dynamics and the US Secret Service, his office has interviewed about 120 people to date and seized more than half a dozen computers -- including four Judiciary servers, one server from the office of Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, and several desktop hard drives. ... But the scope of both the intrusions and the likely disclosures is now known to have been far more extensive than the November incident, staffers and others familiar with the investigation say."

"Democrats now claim their private memos formed the basis for a February 2003 column by conservative pundit Robert Novak that revealed plans pushed by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, to filibuster certain judicial nominees. Novak is also at the center of an investigation into who leaked the identity of a CIA agent whose husband contradicted a Bush administration claim about Iraqi nuclear programs. ... Citing 'internal Senate sources,' Novak's column described closed-door Democratic meetings about how to handle nominees. ... Its details and direct quotes from Democrats -- characterizing former nominee Miguel Estrada as a 'stealth right-wing zealot' and describing the GOP agenda as an 'assembly line' for right-wing nominees -- are contained in talking points and meeting accounts from the Democratic files now known to have been compromised."

"Novak declined to confirm or deny whether his column was based on these files. ... 'They're welcome to think anything they want,' he said. 'As has been demonstrated, I don't reveal my sources.'"

"Against that backdrop, both sides have something to gain and lose from the investigation into the computer files. For Democrats, the scandal highlights GOP dirty tricks that could result in ethics complaints to the Senate and the Washington Bar -- or even criminal charges under computer intrusion laws. ... But for Republicans, the scandal also keeps attention on the memo contents, which demonstrate the influence of liberal interest groups in choosing which nominees Democratic senators would filibuster."

"Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch ... also said that a 'former member of the Judiciary staff may have been involved.' Many news reports have subsequently identified that person as Manuel Miranda, who formerly worked in the Judiciary Committee office and now is the chief judicial nominee adviser in the Senate majority leader's office. His computer hard drive name was stamped on an e-mail from the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League that was posted along with the Democratic Senate staff communications.

"Reached at home, Miranda said he is on paternity leave; Frist's office said he is on leave 'pending the results of the investigation' -- he denied that any of the handwritten comments on the memos were by his hand and said he did not distribute the memos to the media. He also argued that the only wrongdoing was on the part of the Democrats -- both for the content of their memos, and for their negligence in placing them where they could be seen.

"'There appears to have been no hacking, no stealing, and no violation of any Senate rule,' Miranda said. 'Stealing assumes a property right and there is no property right to a government document. . . . These documents are not covered under the Senate disclosure rule because they are not official business and, to the extent they were disclosed, they were disclosed inadvertently by negligent [Democratic] staff.'

"Whether the memos are ultimately deemed to be official business will be a central issue in any criminal case that could result. Unauthorized access of such material could be punishable by up to a year in prison -- or, at the least, sanction under a Senate non-disclosure rule.

"The computer glitch dates to 2001, when Democrats took control of the Senate after the defection from the GOP of Senator Jim Jeffords, Independent of Vermont.

"A technician hired by the new judiciary chairman, Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, apparently made a mistake that allowed anyone to access newly created accounts on a Judiciary Committee server shared by both parties -- even though the accounts were supposed to restrict access only to those with the right password."

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company

SourceWatch Resources

External links