home

Clinton and Warrantless Electronic Surveillance

There's a big debate going on over whether former President Bill Clinton believed he had the inherent power to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance outside of FISA. Byron York says yes. Think Progress says no. Atrios explains.

For the record, I don't think Clinton broke the law while I think Bush probably did.

That said, let me also add that Bill Clinton was no friend on privacy issues (or on criminal justice issues for that matter.) Remember when the Clinton Administration acknowledged in June, 1996 that it improperly obtained more than 400 private and restricted FBI files of employees of previous administrations? (There are 882 articles on Lexis mentioning this between June 1 and June 30, 1996.)

I just re-read an article I wrote in 1996 (originally published in The Champion at 20 Champion 33, available on Lexis.com) titled Partisan Politics vs. the Bill of Rights. It was about a host of privacy-intrusive surveillance measures then being proposed by Clinton and the Democrats in the name of the war on terror. With a few word substitutions, like "9/11" for "TWA Flight 800" and Bush for Clinton, there's not much difference between then and now. Except that then, conservatives in Congress came to the rescue. Where are they now? It begins:

Congress has once again placed itself on a collision course with the Bill of Rights. With the presidential and congressional elections just two months away, our politicians are once more trying to demonstrate their tough stance on crime and concern for our security by introducing and promising swift passage of legislation that diminishes our privacy rights and provides even greater powers to federal law enforcement agencies.

Using the tragedies of TWA Flight 800 and the Olympic bombing in Atlanta to instill fear of terrorism in the heart of every American, our politicians are promising to make us safe and secure by giving the FBI the power to wiretap more of us with less judicial scrutiny, to access our personal and financial records with no judicial oversight, and to seize our assets by classifying us as "terrorists" based upon our personal and political beliefs.

President Clinton and the Democrats are behind this latest assault on our privacy rights.......

I then describe some of the pertinent laws and proposals, like the Digital Telephony Act (the "Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act," PL 103- 414, commonly known as the "National Wiretap Plan") passed in 1995; the "Aviation Security and Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996"; and the Anti-Terrorism Law Enforcement Enhancement Act of 1996."

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Still, if there's proof Clinton intentionally broke the existing law on electronic surveillance, I haven't seen it yet.

< ACLU Files FOIA Request Over Warrantless Surveillance and Searches | Britain Legalizes Same Sex Unions >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft


  • Talk Left said, "That said, let me also add that Bill Clinton was no friend on privacy issues (or on criminal justice issues for that matter.)" Just think five words: Ricky Ray Rector/Mark Rich. Forget Tookie. If ever there were someone who deserved compassion, it was Ricky Ray, "I'll save some of my last desert for later," Rector. If ever there were someone who did not deserve a pardon, short of George Steinbrenner, it was Marc Rich. Jimbo

    Re: Clinton and Warrantless Electronic Surveillanc (none / 0) (#2)
    by ltgesq on Wed Dec 21, 2005 at 08:53:23 PM EST
    Clinton's position on criminal law, fourth amendment issues, and the attempts to expand the use of federal power in criminal proceedings, clearly show he is no "liberal" If you add in his worker's rights history, right to organize issues, trade issues, and the signing into law of the helms/burton act codifying the cuban embargoe are just a few more examples of why clinton was only a liberal on a few issues (gay rights, affirmative action).

    Re: Clinton and Warrantless Electronic Surveillanc (none / 0) (#3)
    by space on Wed Dec 21, 2005 at 08:59:06 PM EST
    If ever there were someone who did not deserve a pardon, short of George Steinbrenner, it was Marc Rich. I think the Marc Rich issue is more complicated than that. First, it was widely alleged that Rich had connections to Israeli intelligence and that the pardon was a reward for his service in that regard. If true, that may make him either more or less deserving of a pardon. I am not in a position to judge, since I have absolutely no idea what such service entailed. But it complicates matters. The second reason that the Rich issue is complicated is that Rich faced civil claims in addition to the criminal charges. So long as Rich faced criminal prosecution, he was never going to return to the United States. Pardoning Rich was not like pardoning someone in prison or on trial; he was never going to see the inside of a U.S. prison. However, granting the pardon opened the posibility that Rich might return to the U.S. and allow his civil charges to be resolved. In that convoluted manner, justice was actually more likely to be served. I'm not saying that Rich should have been pardoned, just that there was more to it than Clinton doing a favor for a buddy (or the husband of a buddy).

    Re: Clinton and Warrantless Electronic Surveillanc (none / 0) (#4)
    by Slado on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 07:16:50 AM EST
    What about Carter? It's reported that he also used these types of taps as well. This issue needs to be reported evenly so all the facts are known.

    Re: Clinton and Warrantless Electronic Surveillanc (none / 0) (#5)
    by MikeDitto on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 07:42:31 AM EST
    Slado, Carter authorized wiretaps only for foreign nationals, and only on foreign soil. No "United States person" (defined as a US-born or naturalized citizen or permanent resident) was included in either Carter or Clinton's authorizations.

    For the record, I don't think Clinton broke the law while I think Bush probably did.
    Thats a real shocker.
    The more things change, the more they remain the same. Still, if there's proof Clinton intentionally broke the existing law on electronic surveillance, I haven't seen it yet.
    While your waiting, why don't you offer some proof that Bush broke the law.........In fact, why don't you offer some proof that a law has been broken?

    Clinton exploited the Oklahoma City attack the same way Bush exploited 9/11. In both cases they were attempts to seize more power for the executive branch at the expense of personal civil liberties. Rather than getting in a partisan mudslinging contest, I would hope that the entire political spectrum represented here will instead focus on the continued and accelerated erosion of civil liberties in this country over the last 10 years.

    There's no comparison between Clinton (Democratic Administration), and Bush (Republican Administration). Any time that right-wingers talk publicly about their spying, they are doing so with the _deliberate_ purpose of terrorizing us. That's the purpose of these surveillance and counter-intelligence programs after all. Keep everyone so terrified that they can't see through Republican lies. Yes, Clinton, as the President, inherited a whole worldwide apparatus of spying and subterfuge. That whole apparatus is filthy, and looking at the post-9/11 ramp up by the spy/military community, you can see the kind of scum he was fighting off. The decisive point, however, if that Clinton's overall purpose is helping people to the extent that he can; as all Democrats and liberals. The overall purpose of Republican spying, lying, and power is to harm people and take from them whatever you can (especially maps of long term security). That's the difference. All this legal chit-chat is moot. The Republicans don't obey the law anyway. Silly Democrats. Once 911 truth comes out, the Republicans will go down, and then we can actually sort out what is best for everyone. Until then, it's just one terror hit after another from Bush Co.