Science & Technology

Permanent Secrecy

The spy who wouldn't leave


Civil libertarians have anxiously awaited an accounting of George W. Bush's encroachments on American privacy. On July 10 a new report wrapped up some loose ends.

The inspectors general of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Defense granted that Bush's domestic warrantless wiretaps "may have" assisted in successful counter-terrorism operations. But the bureaucrats were decidedly critical of the president's actions, arguing that the program's "extraordinary and inappropriate secrecy" crippled its effectiveness. 

Bush critics quickly hailed the report as both a vindication and a victory. "I am glad the American people can finally see for themselves what happens when a handful of senior officials—who think they know better than the courts, the U.S. Justice Department and Congress—decide to rewrite the law in secret," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement. But such celebrations are premature. In April, Barack Obama's Justice Department adopted the Bush position that the federal courts should not hear challenges to the surveillance program because it would require the government to reveal state secrets. "Presidents by their nature like to have power because they feel they need it to keep the country safe," Yale legal scholar Jack Balkin argued on his blog Balkinization. "Obama is no exception to this rule….The Obama Administration is continuing a long term bipartisan project of constructing our National Surveillance State."