Civil Liberties

Seedy Gonzales

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Today's Washington Post asserts that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales knew about numerous FBI surveillance violations prior to Inspector General Glenn Fine's report on FBI abuses to Congress in March. Coincidentally, Gonzales decided not to tell Congress about them when the PATRIOT Act was up for renewal:

As he sought to renew the USA Patriot Act two years ago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales assured lawmakers that the FBI had not abused its potent new terrorism-fighting powers. "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse," Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.

Yet in his first weeks on the job, Gonzales' office was made aware of several instances that did not jive with that pesky document known as the Constitution:

Two of the earliest reports sent to Gonzales, during his first month on the job, in February 2005, involved the FBI's surveillance and search powers. In one case, the bureau reported a violation involving an "unconsented physical search" in a counterintelligence case. The details were redacted in the released memo, but it cited violations of safeguards "that shall protect constitutional and other legal rights." The second violation involved electronic surveillance on phone lines that was reinitiated after the expiration deadline set by a court in a counterterrorism case.

The report sent to Gonzales on April 21, 2005, concerned a violation of the rules governing NSLs, which allow agents in counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations to secretly gather Americans' phone, bank and Internet records without a court order or a grand jury subpoena. In the report—also heavily redacted before being released—the FBI said its agents had received a compact disc containing information they did not request. It was viewed before being sealed in an envelope.

Gonzales received another report of an NSL-related violation a few weeks later. "A national security letter . . . contained an incorrect phone number" that resulted in agents collecting phone information that "belonged to a different U.S. person" than the suspect under investigation, stated a letter copied to the attorney general on May 6, 2005.

Well, the FBI can't be held accountable if businesses are too cooperative and give up too much information, can they? You know they'd at least report the oversight:

Some of the reports describe rules violations that the FBI decided not to report to the intelligence board. In February 2006, for example, FBI officials wrote that agents sent a person's phone records, which they had obtained from a provider under a national security letter, to an outside party. The mistake was blamed on "an error in the mail handling." When the third party sent the material back, the bureau decided not to report the mistake as a violation.

Ok, but the FBI would completely discard the information they didn't request, right?:

The memos also detail instances in which the FBI wrote out new NSLs to cover evidence that had been mistakenly collected. In a June 30, 2006, e-mail, for instance, an FBI supervisor asked an agent who had "overcollected" evidence under a national security letter to forward his original request to lawyers. "We would like to check the specific language to see if there is anything in the body that would cover the extra material they gave," the supervisor wrote.

But Gonzales had no idea this stuff was going on:

At least two other reports of NSL-related violations were sent to Gonzales, according to the new documents. In letters copied to him on Dec. 11, 2006, and Feb. 26, 2007, the FBI reported to the oversight board that agents had requested and obtained phone data on the wrong people.

Nonetheless, Gonzales reacted with surprise when the Justice Department inspector general reported this March that there were pervasive problems with the FBI's handling of NSLs and another investigative tool known as an exigent circumstances letter.

Either Gonzales lied to Congress or he is the most incompetent department head in Washington, and that's saying a lot.

More from reason on National Security Letters here and here. More on Gonzo here.

NEXT: "Willard Meets Like Water for Chocolate"

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  1. Either Gonzales lied to Congress or he is the most incompetent department head in Washington, and that’s saying a lot.

    Why does it have to be either or? I say it’s both. This guy was a judicial lightweight when he was confirmed. He’s also a big fat liar to boot.

  2. “There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse,” Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.

    There is no evidence that these cases of abuse were verified at that time.

  3. Also, there wasn’t one case of abuse, there were several. So, Gonzalez’ statement was true anyway.

    Think like a politician, people. And please spare me the lectures about how the attorney general isn’t supposed to be a politician.

  4. “There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse,” Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.

    The key word here is verified – if no follow-up investigation is initiated, these reports could remain unsubstantiated indefinitely.

    p.s. – I see avocado diaboli (the Devil’s Avocado?) has beaten me to the punch while I was previewing my comment…

  5. “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” – George Costanza

    Alberto Gonzales was able to believe that hanging people up by their thumbs and whipping the soles of their feet is not torture, because the pain is less than that of having your liver fail while you are fully conscious.

    He’s really good at the Costanza Method.

  6. If I became Attorney General, would I, too, suck? It seems to either attract or create the worst type of person. I don’t think we’ve had a decent one since the Nixon administration.

  7. Everything changed after 911. The constitution is a great document, but it doesn’t fit todays world, when it was written, they didn’t have a war on __________ that needed to be fought.

  8. It was in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib that I got my first inkling that the Bush Administration might be incompetent. When they elevated Gonzales to Attorney General, I realized it was willfully so.

  9. It’s really dissapointing that many Republicans still support this guy. At least to the point they don’t want him removed.

  10. ProL,
    Too true that

  11. ProLib,

    Right about now, Janet Reno is starting to look good to me.

  12. TrickyVic,

    I’m assuming Bush has a pardon form for Gonzo all typed up and signed already, with a blank for the date.

    It’s not about agreeing with his actions — it’s about hanging together so as not to hang separately.

  13. “Right about now, Janet Reno is starting to look good to me.”

    Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

  14. “”””There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse,” Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.””””

    I believe it’s more like they were “honest mistakes” not abuse. I think abuse, not verified is the key word here. It’s never abuse if it was done in good faith. So they believe.

  15. Yup, this one needs a noose too.

  16. “”””It’s not about agreeing with his actions — it’s about hanging together so as not to hang separately.””””

    Yes, on the hang together. I think it’s more about not letting the Dems get the win on the issue.

    I don’t know about the pardon, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

  17. I think it’s more about not letting the Dems get the win on the issue.

    That sounds reasonable, but remember that they threw General Pace, a seasoned military officer who had the misfortune of having to implement an insane Iraq policy, under the bus because they didn’t want another Iraq debate at his reconfirmation hearing. They could do the same with Gonzales to shut the Dems up on those topics too…but they won’t. Gonzo is one of their boys; Pace wasn’t.

  18. I can say they threw Pace under the bus. They didn’t remove him. They just didn’t give him another term. But like you say, Pace wasn’t their boy.

  19. The above should say “I can’t say they threw Pace under the bus.

  20. Yeah, I still don’t think I can prove the guy’s a liar, and even if I could, I don’t think I could prove he did it out of malice.

    What I can show, at least I can make a pretty persuasive case, is that Gonzales is woefully incompetent. If he was workin’ for me, he wouldn’t be workin’ for me. …and there’s just too much at stake in that office to risk those responsibilities to a blunder magnet.

    The President got rid of Rumsfeld, who also made way too many big mistakes, why is he hangin’ on to this clown? It’s not like he has to worry about his poll numbers–put some adults in charge Mr. President! What are you waitin’ for?

  21. Right about now, Janet Reno is starting to look good to me.

    I wish they let me do shooters at work.

  22. Right about now, Janet Reno is starting to look good to me.

    “Nurse, quick! We need to remind the patient of hysterical prosecution/witch hunts pursuing satanic child abuse rings!

    Janet Reno is an evil, evil woman.

  23. Q-Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?

    A-Because Janet Reno is her real dad.

    If the Bush league jettisons Gonzales they’d have to appoint someone who could pass muster on Capital Hill.

    A worst case scenario (for the Bush league, anyhow) is appointing someone who takes the rule of law thing seriously. This administration is so dirty, they could well end up with an AG who wants bunches of them in jail for defrauding the nation into a war of aggression, or breaking the FISA law, or using the DoJ for tawdry partisan political advantages, or even something we have yet to hear about.

    Corrupt Gonzales is all that’s keeping team Bush from paying the piper for the nasty jig they’ve been dancing.

  24. First, how many searches like this do the FBI conduct every year? Hundreds? Thousands? None of the examples seem to anything beyond ordinary bureaucratic incompetance. Maybe there is more there, I don’t know but I am can’t help but get the feeling “this is the best you got on Gonzalez?”

    The problem is that you only have so much credibility, Gonalez has certainly used his, but so has Reason. The more they scream about Mikey Mouse shit like this, the less likly people are going to pay attention to them when they have a legitimate beef. But since the DNC apparently has bought the Reason Foundation, I guess future credibility doesn’t matter much.

  25. “Either Gonzales lied to Congress or he is the most incompetent department head in Washington, and that’s saying a lot.”

    Both sound correct to me.

  26. Crimethink, even John freaking Ashcroft seems like an improvement. John freaking Ashcroft.

  27. “The more they scream about Mikey Mouse shit like this, the less likly people are going to pay attention to them when they have a legitimate beef.”

    If Congress renewed Patriot under false pretenses, then I’m not sure that’s so mickey mouse.

  28. I’m not sure how bitching about the highest federal law enforcement officer misleading the American citizenry via their elected officials under oath is Mickey Mouse. Unless you don’t believe in being honest when you raise your hand.

  29. If Congress renewed Patriot under false pretenses, then I’m not sure that’s so mickey mouse.

    Yeah, but you’re not a Bush-licker like John. Congressional oversight is totally “Mikey” Mouse when your guy is the one being checked up on.

  30. “If Congress renewed Patriot under false pretenses, then I’m not sure that’s so mickey mouse.”

    Congress passed and renewed the USA PATRIOT Act under false pretenses, but it wasn’t because they were tricked into doing it by the White House.

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