ACLU Calls On Bush To Resist Creation of Secret Police; Group Echoes Clinton, Bush Justice Department Officials

April 13, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – In rare agreement, the American Civil Liberties Union today joined with Justice Department officials and FBI directors from both the Clinton and Bush administrations in urging the White House to resist the creation of a domestic intelligence agency, which could easily employ the same kind of dirty tricks the CIA uses overseas here in the United States against American citizens.

“Even during the most frigid days of the Cold War, we never saw the need to create a secret police force that would work outside of the constraints of the Constitution,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director.

“As the 9/11 commission has already shown, much of the government’s failure before 9/11 was related to a lack of skilled analysts, the enormous amount of threat intelligence that had to be analyzed and a culture of only telling people about things on a need-to-know basis,” Romero added.

At issue are reports that the president might endorse a series of recommendations that call for the transfer of the FBI’s traditional counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism functions, generally run by agents trained to protect essential constitutional civil liberties, to a more secretive domestic intelligence agency that would gather, analyze and disseminate information about Americans without any sort of law enforcement role.

Not only have the Justice Department and FBI Director Robert Mueller strongly argued in the past against the creation of such an agency, their criticism was joined today by Clinton-era officials, Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh. In testimony before the commission created to examine why the government failed to stop 9/11, Reno said that while many people have said that information sharing is a big problem, no one has pointed to a law that prohibited the CIA from telling domestic law enforcement agencies that two al-Qaeda operatives who participated in the bombings were in the United States.

In practice, the ACLU and other critics have charged, the agency could devolve into a domestic CIA or secret police, which could use questionable methods – like blackmail, covert action and undercover surveillance — to extract information and exploit sources on American soil.

The last time the CIA, which was created with an explicit ban on any “internal security” function for exactly these reasons, operated on American soil, the result was a disaster. During the 1960s and ’70s, the CIA diverted resources to stifle dissent, and it sent agents to spy and collect dossiers on more than 7,000 civil rights and anti-war activists in a top-secret program called Operation CHAOS.

“The American people will not abide secret agents on our soil who do not have to answer to a judge,” Romero said. “President Bush should give the FBI the money, manpower and mandate it needs to do the job, coupled, of course, with appropriate checks on abuse.”

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