Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How the Bush Administration Buried Coleen Rowley

The daily news cycle is a hungry beast with a short memory, so maybe it should come as no surprise that the revelations of Minneapolis FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley came and went so quickly. Still, you’ve got to credit W and company. The administration has dispatched her story with impressive speed and political acumen.

First they took advantage of the cover afforded by the Rowley firestorm to announce sweeping rollbacks in the U.S.’s meager edifice of rules against indiscriminate domestic spying, rules spawned by the exposure of prolific FBI abuses in the 1960s. Under the new guidelines set forth in John Ashcroft’s little-noted May 30 diktat, there is no longer any pretense that intelligence agencies need “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity to mount prolonged fishing expeditions into the affairs of private individuals.

The administration then turned to defusing Rowley’s story. Hence the rushed announcement of plans to reorganize the entire intelligence apparatus, even though the particulars are so ill-formed that Bush has no intention of soliciting funds for it this year. Thus, too, the sudden fanfare regarding the arrest of Jose Padilla a month earlier. After the Padilla story had simmered for a couples of days, the administration cheerfully conceded it was less than advertised. It was unlikely Padilla would ever be prosecuted; as a Defense Department deputy told CBS, “I don’t think there was actually a plot beyond some fairly loose talk.”

Job well done. Padilla served his purpose, which was to steal the last bit of thunder from Rowley’s Congressional testimony a few days earlier. There’s no mystery as to motive: Her disclosures concerning quashed pre-9/11 leads (along with news of the FBI’s so-called Phoenix memo and some unattended CIA leads) called into doubt a main premise of the Bush program-the frantic contention that what we need most going forward is a vastly expanded repertoire of police powers and resources.

Only the most gullible could believe that a desire to combat terror is the sole agenda here. Every administration since Reagan’s has chased after rollbacks in the civil liberties and curbs on police power wrought in the ’60s and ’70s by the civil rights movement, the Warren Court and post-Watergate reformers. And it’s usually done in the name of war, be it on drugs, pornography, child abuse, “welfare as we know it,” or terrorism. The present threat is certainly more real and more precipitous than the sham domestic wars of our recent past, but it’s fair to ask how much additional security we can expect to buy with a wholesale surrender of freedoms and privacy rights. The answer, by FBI Director Robert Mueller’s own sidelong admission, is probably not much. Testifying before a Senate committee in May, Mueller said that the 9/11 hijackers “contacted no known terrorist sympathizers [and] left no paper trail. As best we can determine, the actual hijackers had no computers, no laptops, no storage media of any kind.” In short, they seem to have done nothing that would have made them any more visible under the expansive new Bush/Ashcroft rules on snooping, electronic and otherwise, than they already were.

Once the immediate embarrassment engendered by Rowley has passed, we’re bound to see her complaint spun a different way. Why, pundits will be prompted to ask, did FBI administrators refuse to seek a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings? Another sad case of law enforcement shackled by old liberal due process rules and PR concerns. The moral: Slip the shackles! Let the FBI be the FBI! In truth (and Rowley says as much) the agency had ample cause for a warrant under existing standards, but no one in the bureaucratic daisy chain recognized the possible significance of the case or could be bothered to raise their heads to pursue it.

The apparent lesson here is that the old powers of domestic surveillance are quite potent if the FBI is doing its job. American intelligence had plenty of information about September 11, we now know. What it lacked was the coordination or the resolve to add two and two. Bush’s new cabinet department is supposed to remedy this, but no executive “clearinghouse” is going to make the FBI and the CIA/NSA play well together. Jealously safeguarding what they know, particularly from each other, is the foundation of their political power.

The official rejoinder is obvious enough: We have to err on the side of sacrificing freedoms and empowering police agencies, however marginal the gains in domestic security. The stakes are too high to do otherwise. Cold comfort, wouldn’t you say, when the most glaring problem exposed to date is the intelligence machine’s failure to do anything with the information it already had?

Steve Perry is a frequent contributor to CounterPunch and a columnist for The Rake.

He can be reached at: sperry@mn.rr.com

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
Brian Saady
How the “Cocaine Mitch” Saga Deflected the Spotlight on Corruption
David Swanson
Tim Kaine’s War Scam Hits a Speed Bump
Norah Vawter
Pipeline Outrage is a Human Issue, Not a Political Issue
Mel Gurtov
Who’s to Blame If the US-North Korea Summit Isn’t Held?
Patrick Bobilin
When Outrage is Capital
Jessicah Pierre
The Moral Revolution America Needs
Binoy Kampmark
Big Dead Place: Remembering Antarctica
John Carroll Md
What Does It Mean to be a Physician Advocate in Haiti?
George Ochenski
Saving Sage Grouse: Another Collaborative Failure
Sam Husseini
To the US Government, Israel is, Again, Totally Off The Hook
Brian Wakamo
Sick of Shady Banks? Get a Loan from the Post Office!
Colin Todhunter
Dangerous Liaison: Industrial Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset
Ralph Nader
Trump: Making America Dread Again
George Capaccio
Bloody Monday, Every Day of the Week
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Swing Status, Be Gone
Samantha Krop
Questioning Our Declaration on Human Rights
Morna McDermott
Classrooms, Not Computers: Stop Educating for Profit
Patrick Walker
Today’s Poor People’s Campaign: Too Important Not to Criticize
Julia Stein
Wrestling With Zionism
Clark T. Scott
The Exceptional President
Barry Barnett
The Family of Nations Needs to Stand Up to the US  
Robert Koehler
Two Prongs of a Pitchfork
Bruce Raynor
In an Age of Fake News, Journalists Should be Activists for Truth
Max Parry
The U.S. Won’t Say ‘Genocide’ But Cares About Armenian Democracy?
William Gudal
The History of Israel on One Page
Robert Jensen
Neither cis nor TERF
Louis Proyect
Faith or Action in a World Hurtling Toward Oblivion?
David Yearsley
The Ubiquitous Mr. Desplat
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail