Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Rockefeller's Concerns over Warrantless Surveillance

As many of you heard in yesterday's news, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) wrote a secret letter to V.P. Dick Cheney in 2003 expressing concerns about the program by the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept communications without a court warrant. This morning, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disputes Rockefeller's claim of deep concerns.

"In his letter ... Senator Rockefeller asserts that he had lingering concerns about the program designed to protect the American people from another attack, but was prohibited from doing anything about it," Mr. Roberts said in a statement yesterday. "A United States Senator has significant tools with which to wield power and influence over the executive branch. Feigning helplessness is not one of those tools."


If Mr. Rockefeller had these concerns, Mr. Roberts said, he could have raised them with him or other members of Congress who had been briefed on the program.

"I have no recollection of Senator Rockefeller objecting to the program at the many briefings he and I attended together," Mr. Roberts said. "In fact, it is my recollection that on many occasions Senator Rockefeller expressed to the vice president his vocal support for the program," most recently, "two weeks ago."


Mr. Roberts accused Mr. Rockefeller of political opportunism.

"Now, when it appears to be politically advantageous, Senator Rockefeller has chosen to release his two and a half year old letter," he said. "Forgive me if I find this to be ... a bit disingenuous."

Sen. Rockefeller does not deny Sen. Roberts's account. Instead, Rockefeller attempts to change the issue.

"The real question is whether the Administration lived up to its statutory requirement to fully inform Congress and allow for adequate oversight and debate," Mr. Rockefeller said.

It is quite obvious from what Rockefeller has revealed of his secret letter that he had been informed sufficiently to have concerns within his own mind. Rockefeller had the opportunity to raise questions but did not. He had the opportunity to request additional oversight hearings by the Intelligence Committee but did not. He could have debated the surveillance program in Intelligence Committee meetings but did not. In fact, Rockefeller "expressed to the vice president his vocal support for the program" as recently as "two weeks ago". So much for genuine concerns.

Rockefeller's secret letter is nothing more than a CYA. (For the uninitiated, CYA stands for Cover Your Ass; CYA letters are all too common in business and government.) Rockefeller revealed his secret letter solely for partisan political purposes. Democrats further reveal the partisan nature of their position on the NSA's surveillance program by asking for public hearings on this clearly confidential intelligence matter. If they were serious about overseeing the program rather than political posturing, they would seek private hearings.


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