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Intelligence Reform Bill Imprisons Americans
T.J. Newton

Against the backdrop of the presidential election of 2004, it was difficult for most Americans to focus on the details of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. When it was introduced, it was called the 9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act, which was a title that deceived many Americans into thinking they were getting something they wanted. The only debate most people heard was about whether it should be passed before or after the election. Of course, with America focused on debate about the war in Iraq and gay marriage, many people didn't pay much attention to intelligence reform. Those who did pay attention heard only scare tactics about the impending doom that awaited them if the intelligence reform bill was not passed immediately. During all of the chaos, much of which was staged, the language of the bill was quietly worked on behind the scenes.

The bill finally signed by President Bush appears to be aimed at crushing political resistance against the president and his "community" of spies. Some of the provisions include new ways to track the movements of political dissenters, new attempts to control the politics of working Americans, and a host of new excuses to spy on Americans who've done nothing wrong.

One of the most disappointing sections of the bill began as one of the most promising. I read three different versions of what is now Section 1061 - "Protecting Privacy and Civil Liberties." As it was drafted and redrafted, I watched as provisions for public accountability were added and removed, and as a new form of government, formerly illegal and kept secret, continued its intrusion into American law.

In conducting the war on terrorism, the Federal Government may need additional powers and may need to enhance the use of its existing powers (IRTPA Sec. 1061).

Section 1061 establishes a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board that serves "at the pleasure" of the president. The board is supposed to make reports to Congress regarding the handling of privacy and civil liberties issues within parts of the federal government. Although it is better than nothing, the board could actually serve as a rubber stamp for violations of privacy and civil liberties. Since the board is composed of presidential appointees that can be stacked to favor the administration's policies, and since dissenting opinions are not recorded as they were in earlier versions of the bill, it is more likely that the board will report very little that conflicts with the current administration's goals. Even the reports are not made public except to the extent that they are unclassified as much as "possible." I'm not sure I would call it "an enhanced system of checks and balances."

This potential shift of power and authority to the Federal Government calls for an enhanced system of checks and balances to protect the precious liberties that are vital to our way of life (IRTPA Sec. 1061).

In reality, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act appears to expand the groundwork for social control over information, free expression, and political thought that seems to have been established by the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act. Those Acts seemed to authorize the government to spy on ordinary Americans who disagree with the president in public. They also seemed to permit the government to use personal data as a justification for spying on just about anyone, including any books you check out of a public library that may express ideas contrary to the president's.

"Be very cautious not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions" (Dick Cheney qtd. (1) 5/24/2002).

In an ironic twist, Section 6501 authorizes the sharing of grand jury information for "domestic or international... terrorism," which could be interpreted to include politically incendiary suggestions made by the vice-president himself. The vice-president probably isn't worried, but political dissenters are. The message from the administration is the same. If you disagree with the president's plan to create a society owned by powerful individuals who share his views, the "war on terror" is a war against you.

We will ...wage a war of ideas to win the battle against international terrorism [...] to ensure that the conditions and ideologies that promote terrorism do not find fertile ground in any nation (NSS 6). [These ideologies include opposition to] pro-growth legal and regulatory policies to encourage business investment, innovation, and entrepreneurial activity; tax policies - particularly lower marginal tax rates - that improve incentives for work and investment; [...] [and] sound fiscal policies to support business activity (NSS 17).

Of course, many of the administration's economic reforms and policies involve the use of social capitalism, repress the poor, deny people equal access to education, discourage entrepreneurial activity, and exploit hard working people all over the world. Much of the remainder of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act is aimed at creating the oppressive conditions for just such social control.

There is one potential exception, though it is disappointing in its present form. Unlike the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, the Homeland Security Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Protection Act found in Title VIII, Subtitle C of this legislation is not directly construed as a way to "expand government power." It states that the Inspector General must receive complaints from "any source" (hopefully that means the public) about violations of civil rights or civil liberties made by employees of the Department of Homeland Security. It also provides for an officer within the Department of Homeland Security to "oversee compliance" and "investigate complaints" related to civil rights and civil liberties that may occur between employees. The major disappointment is that ultimately, complaints from the public (if that is what "any source" means) can be ignored by the Inspector General at his or her own discretion, and forwarded to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board described above. Consequently, complaints may result in discrimination against political dissenters.

Section 6403 attempts to control the political views of American workers by enhancing the ability of the FBI to blacklist individuals who disagree with the president and prevent them from working. According to the Homeland Security Act, that could include just about any business from a bank to a gas station. The FBI and the Attorney General are not exactly apolitical saints, so the information they provide could be used to target individuals they simply do not like, particularly someone who does nothing more than question the President of the United States about, for example, the environment or the war in Iraq.

To make matters worse, Title II broadly expands the powers of the FBI to include increased intelligence capabilities. It is "suggested" in the legislation that the FBI direct such intelligence toward a "preventative counter-terrorism posture," although what "terrorism" means is still unclear. An earlier draft of the bill stated that such intelligence must be gathered in a way that respects privacy and the Constitution, but nothing more specific was said. The current version removed any references to the Constitution, since the FBI has a legacy of ignoring the Constitution to harass political activists, civil rights leaders, and even presidents. Would it be so hard to say that the FBI can't spy on someone just because they say something controversial? Even if our government is afraid to define terrorism, couldn't they at least say what terrorism isn't before expanding the intelligence capabilities of an organization that has been used to spy for political purposes in the past? Whatever Title II accomplishes for the FBI internally, it seems dangerous to expand the powers of the FBI without more safeguards against abuse.

Section 1021 proposes a counter-terrorism center that may turn out to be a "headquarters" for abuses of freedom. Because "terrorism" is not adequately defined in the Patriot Act, Homeland Security Act, or in this legislation, and because the "definition" provided refers to anyone who disagrees with the administration as a "terrorist," the counter-terrorism center proposed in Section 1021 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act is compromised. It is hard to rationalize the "primary missions" of a counter-terrorism center when there is no real definition of "terrorism" beyond the political enemies of the president.

One mission of the counter-terrorism center may be the creation of a travel blacklist that the administration is imposing to keep "terrorists" out, which can be used to track individuals it does not like (for political or other reasons). Since the administration has already barred rock stars it doesn't like from entering the US, the new system will likely enhance the administration's power to harass travelers because of their political views. Most of the system is described in Title IV (as well as Section 7215), but it may work in conjunction with the biometric data system described in Section 7208.

Although Section 7208 attempts to protect against potential abuse, once biometric data is stored it could be a tempting source for spies seeking the most private sort of information. The data could be "shared" with spies (see Section 1016) so that anyone who disagrees with the president and exercises their freedom to travel can be tracked – and potentially harassed – using a variety of systems. A biometric wall, built from slabs of electronic data and used to cut off the freedom of political dissenters, is a bad idea today, just as the Berlin wall, made from slabs of concrete to cut off the freedom of East Berliners from the West, was a bad idea in the 20th century. And there is no telling what will become of our biometric data when the opportunity arises during some future election year to force-feed bad legislation through the biometric lips of the American people.

Section 7209 creates a new excuse to interrogate ordinary Americans traveling abroad by requiring documents such as a birth certificate, apparently even if the travelers are not informed that they need to have such documents with them. There is no sign posted when you leave the U.S. reminding you to bring your birth certificate or stating that you will be interrogated if you fail to do so.

Despite the obstacles, people continue to struggle toward freedom and liberty in America. But Title V places more stringent requirements on persecuted individuals seeking asylum, and seeks to aggressively remove those entering the country in search of America's values and ideals.

Section 7108 is intended to spread the "values and ideals" of America abroad, particularly in response to a selected portion of foreign media. While it is certainly not a bad idea to respond, I do wonder what kinds of "values and ideals" will be spread. In the president's National Security Strategy, the administration asserted that we are "united by common values" (Bush qtd. NSS v), but these turned out to be the values of the administration. The way the document was written, people who considered global warming a serious threat could potentially be mislabeled as "terrorists," which certainly does not fit with the "values and ideals" of most Americans. I sincerely hope that the destruction of civil liberties are not the "values and ideals" the administration intends to spread in its foreign media campaign.

One issue related to civil liberties that continues to come up is the ways in which "aiding a terrorist" has been misused to target individuals holding political views opposed to the administration. One form of this abuse has resulted in the targeting of individuals who have given money to charities that the administration views as somehow "aiding terrorists." Unfortunately, the links are often weak and used as an excuse for political discrimination. Because the terms "terrorist" and "aiding a terrorist" are not defined, Subtitles B, C, and G of Title VI and Subtitle G of Title VII, along with other sections of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, appear overly broad and open to political abuse and misuse.

The so-called "definition" of "national intelligence" used in Section 1012 is also overly broad. The idea that national intelligence includes "any... matter bearing on United States national or homeland security" seems especially ridiculous, particularly when the term "national security" is already abused to the point of absurdity. And the term "homeland security" can already be used to mislabel anyone who disagrees with the administration as a "terrorist." That would mean that this new "definition" of national intelligence could refer to "intelligence" gathered by tapping the phone of someone who says something negative about the administration while drinking in a bar or shopping at the mall (assuming the president thinks it pertains to more than one government agency – whatever that means). By "defining" national intelligence in such an overly broad manner, the political warfare started by the Patriot Act and Homeland Security Act is only expanded.

With so much in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act that threatens freedom and democracy, it is no wonder that Section 1103 was included. Section 1103 is a "severability clause" which invites Americans to speak up and change things for the better. All Americans are urged to make sure freedom is not defeated by the totalitarian ideals of the administration, and to challenge the government to do more to protect American democracy. So, if you care about freedom and democracy, don't let America down! Speak up!


(1) http://www.cnn.com/ 2002/LAW/05/columns/fl.dean.cheney.5.24/index.html


IRTPA: United States (2004). Cong. Senate. Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. 108th Congress, S. 2845. Washington: http://thomas.loc.gov.

NSS: United States (2002). White House. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. Washington: http://www.whitehouse.gov.

Selected Works Cited:

United States. (2004). Cong. House of Representatives. 9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004. 108th Congress, H.R. 10. Washington: http://thomas.loc.gov.

--- (2004). Cong. Senate. National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004. 108th Congress, S. 2845 PP. Washington: http://thomas.loc.gov.

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