ACLU Says Bush Executive Order Could Put CIA Back in Business of Spying on Americans

August 27, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – In many ways, the American Civil Liberties Union today said, the president’s executive order granting greater community-wide responsibilities to the director of central intelligence, or DCI, is even worse than the 9/11 Commission’s call for a national intelligence director quartered in the White House.

Though the president’s order is meant to give the DCI greater power on an interim basis until Congress authorizes a national intelligence director, the ACLU said it was disconcerting that the newly nominated DCI proposed a similar approach, though his would have made the additional powers granted to the DCI permanent.

“”One has to worry that the new executive order will put the CIA back in the business of spying on Americans,”” said Charlie Mitchell, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”The president needs to make sure that this is truly a temporary measure, as we ought not to have, even for a day, the CIA as a domestic spying force.””

President Bush’s executive orders, announced this morning, will grant additional budgetary and managerial authority to the DCI over the 15-member intelligence community. The orders will also create a National Counter-Terrorism Center under the director of central intelligence with authority over, among other things, domestic law enforcement.

The president’s decision tracks a legislative proposal, introduced by Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL), his nominee for director of central intelligence. The Goss bill, titled the “”Directing Community Integration Act,”” rejects the idea of a national intelligence director in favor of a more-powerful DCI with control over domestic intelligence gathering.

The Goss bill would go so far as to qualify the 60-year-old prohibition on any “”internal security”” function for the CIA, the proscription that was violated during the 1960s when the CIA’s “”Operation CHAOS”” infiltrated, disrupted and harassed law abiding anti-war and civil rights groups. It would bar “”police, subpoena, or law enforcement powers within the United States, except as otherwise permitted by law or as directed by the President.””

It remains unclear whether the president’s executive order will contain this qualification. If it does, the ACLU said, it would represent a sea-change in the way America does intelligence.

Today’s executive orders also reportedly established a new counter-terrorism center under the control of the DCI, which will have a domestic law enforcement and surveillance function. The ACLU expressed deep concern with such a move, arguing that the responsibility for spying on Americans should remain only within the FBI, which through institutional culture and its case-based approach to law enforcement is more apt to hew to the Constitution.

The 9/11 Commission made exactly this point in rejecting a domestic intelligence agency, modeled after the British MI-5. “”The 9/11 Commission quite clearly said that the FBI should maintain responsibility over domestic surveillance as it will at least be sensitive to the need for constitutional discretion in such activities,”” Mitchell said.

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