From TechDirt‘s “feel safer” department. Link follows comment.
We’re still at a loss to explain why there’s been so little outrage over the fact that the FBI got a total free pass for its massive abuse in getting phone records. As you may recall, reports came out about how the FBI regularly abused the official process for obtaining phone records, avoiding any of the required oversight, but right before that info came out the White House issued a ruling saying that it was okay for the FBI to break the law. That’s not how things are supposed to work.
And, it appears that since there was no outrage over all of this, the White House keeps pushing further. Three new articles highlight what a travesty this has become. First, the White House wants to quietly make it easier for the FBI to demand internet log file information without a judge’s approval.” Just as I finished reading that, I saw Julian Sanchez’s new writeup about how the White House blocked and killed a proposal to give the GAO power to review US intelligence agencies. The GAO is the one government operation that seems to actually focus on doing what’s right, rather than what’s politically expedient. Sanchez notes that, beyond the sterling reputation of the GAO, it’s also ready, willing and able to handle this kind of oversight:
The GAO has the capacity Congress lacks: as of last year, the office had 199 staffers cleared at the top-secret level, with 96 holding still more rarefied “sensitive compartmented information” clearances. And those cleared staff have a proven record of working to oversee highly classified Defense Department programs without generating leaks. Gen. Clapper, the prospective DNI, has testified that the GAO “held our feet to the fire” at the Pentagon with thorough analysis and constructive criticism.
Unlike the inspectors general at the various agencies–which also do vital oversight work–the GAO is directly answerable to Congress, not to the executive branch. And while it’s in a position to take a broad, pangovernmental view, the GAO also hosts analysts with highly specialized economic and management expertise the IG offices lack. Unleashing GAO would be the first step in discovering what the Post couldn’t: whether the billions we’re pouring into building a surveillance and national security state are really making us safer.
Oh, and just to make this all more comically depressing, just as I finished reading both of these stories, I saw a story about a new investigation into reports that FBI agents were caught cheating on an exam, which was designed to get them to stop abusing surveillance tools. Yes, you read that right. After all the reports of abuse of surveillance tools, the FBI set up a series of tests to train FBI agents how to properly go about surveillance without breaking the law… and a bunch of FBI agents allegedly cheated on the test that’s supposed to stop them from “cheating” on the law. And, not just a few. From the quotes, it sounds like this cheating was “widespread.” But, of course, it might not matter, since the requirements for surveillance are being lowered, oversight is being blocked, and apparently the White House is willing to retroactively “legalize” any illegal surveillance anyway.