A politics post – the Intelligence Appropriations Bill


In a meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, a rider to the Intelligence Appropriations Bill was proposed by Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas, chair of the committee) at the behest of the Bush administration. The rider was rejected, but Sen. Roberts has indicated that he wishes to continue its discussion. I’m bringing it up here because it raises a rather important question of politics and about the present administration’s intentions.

(The New York Times story is here)

Apparently – I haven’t yet been able to get a copy of the rider as written – it would have authorized the CIA and the Department of Defense to issue “administrative subpoenas,” a type of warrant which requires credit card companies, ISP’s, and so on to turn over transaction records to the issuing agency. Unlike ordinary (bench) warrants, these may be issued adminstratively by the requesting agency – they do not require judicial approval. Currently only the FBI has the authority to issue such documents, and their use is somewhat limited since it is difficult to enter the results of such warrants into evidence.

The reason I feel this requires a post of its own is this: I understand why the administration may wish to give this power to the CIA. (I don’t necessarily agree with that, mind you; but there is a possible chain of reasoning, since although the charter of the CIA explicitly excludes domestic espionage, the trail of a legitimate intelligence target may run in to the United States as well) However, the military traditionally has no investigative role. What is it doing receiving any warrant-issuing authority?

I’m looking for a reasonable explanation of this, but it’s hard for me not to consider this – especially in conjunction with the much-publicized detention of “enemy combatants” – to be a step towards the establishment of martial law within the country. This is not martial law being imposed in a single decree, but rather the sum of a sequence of incremental acts, each being approved by the Supreme Court as part of the “due deference to the President” required of the other branches of government during a time of war.

But in this case, I can’t help but notice that we’ve been told we’re in an indefinite state of war, against a target sufficiently nebulous – all of terrorism? – that no clear victory condition can be defined, and the state of war is likely to last indefinitely. Any due deference is likely to last not just for a fixed interval, but until some future administration decides to repeal it.

This particular measure was, in fact, stopped, but I can’t help being concerned that such measures are even being proposed. It seems to suggest intentions which cannot reasonably be reconciled with even a very generous constitutional interpretation.

Now, I know some of my friends are quite up on politics and may have a good explanation for what’s happening here – if so, what’s going on? And in general, to all of you, does this seem like a good idea?

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Published in: on May 4, 2003 at 16:25  Comments (1)  
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  1. The National Security Agency is an agency of the Department of Defense. It also has the largest collection of supercomputers and raw computing power in the world. If large amounts of data must be sifted for intelligence, the NSA is best equipped for the task.
    While the Central Intelligence Agency is prohibited from operating domestically (those functions being handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigations), the National Security Agency is authorized to gather intelligence from both inside and outside US borders.
    Intelligence gathered by the National Security Agency is provided to the military intelligence organizations and agencies, the Central Intelligence Agency, and to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.


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