May 11, 2006

Probe into NSA spying stopped dead in its tracks.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last few months, you've heard about the National Security Agency's program of wiretapping against people in the US. Although that wiretapping is clearly illegal, Justice Department lawyers under former attorney general (likely including current AG Antonio Gonzales) put their stamp of approval on the program shortly after 9/11.

Since the NSA's wiretapping became public earlier this year, the a team from the Justice Department's ethics office has been investigating the conduct of the lawyers who decided that the wiretapping was legal. As of Wednesday, however, that investigation came to an abrupt halt:

The head of the department's Office of Professional Responsibility, H. Marshall Jarrett, wrote in the letter to Representative Maurice D. Hinchey, Democrat of New York, that "we have been unable to make meaningful progress in our investigation because O.P.R. has been denied security clearances for access to information about the N.S.A. program."

Mr. Jarrett said his office had requested clearances since January, when it began an investigation, and was told on Tuesday that they had been denied. "Without these clearances, we cannot investigate this matter and therefore have closed our investigation," the letter said.

Mr. Hinchey said the denial of clearances was "hard to believe" and compounded what he called a violation of the law by the program itself, which eavesdrops without court warrants on people in the United States suspected of ties to Al Qaeda.

That's right: The investigation into the illegal wiretapping has been stopped because the people who did the illegal wiretapping won't give security clearances to the investigators. That's better than having a permanent 'Get out of jail free' card when you're playing Monopoly.

Representative Hinchey says that House Democrats intend to find out who was responsible for denying the security clearances.

"This administration thinks they can just violate any law they want, and they've created a culture of fear to try to get away with that. It's up to us to stand up to them," Hinchey said.

While Dubya has not acted publicly to obstruct the OPR's investigation into how Justice Department lawyers approved the NSA's wiretapping, I have no doubt that the decision to deny security clearances to investigators is aimed at protecting the White House &$151; and that the denials would not have happened without approval from very high in Dubya's administations. Likewise, I have no doubt that, if this obstruction of the investigation is allowed to stand, that the constitutional stakes are just as high as they were when Richard Nixon tried to block Watergate investigators three decades ago.

Posted by Magpie at May 11, 2006 12:39 PM | War on Terrorism | TrackBack(0) | Technorati links |