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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Clonk 

What ho! The Bush administration reminds us of a venerable Goon Show sketch, in that there is always another shoe waiting to drop:
In a sharply worded letter to President Bush in May, an important Congressional ally charged that the administration might have violated the law by failing to inform Congress of some secret intelligence programs and risked losing Republican support on national security matters.

The letter from Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, did not specify the intelligence activities that he believed had been hidden from Congress.

But Mr. Hoekstra, who was briefed on and supported the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program and the Treasury Department's tracking of international banking transactions, clearly was referring to programs that have not been publicly revealed . . . .

He added: "The U.S. Congress simply should not have to play Twenty Questions to get the information that it deserves under our Constitution."
Mr. Hoekstra's veiled intimations were perhaps anticipated by Billmon, haruspex-in-residence at Whiskey Bar, who last week had this to say about the right-wing campaign of intimidation against the New York Times:
[P]erhaps the administration suspects, or at least has reason to worry, that the Times is getting close to an even bigger police state atrocity, and are pulling out the stops to try to intimidate Keller and his minions into laying off the story.

If you think about it, the latter theory makes a certain amount of sense: This is by far the most sustained political attack on an American news organization since Nixon took on the Washington Post over its early Watergate coverage, and we all know what he was afraid Woodstein would find.
It does, however, please us to see the Bush administration responding to complaints from Congress, the press, and the American public by taking decisive steps to address at least some of the problems that arise when a government operates in excessive secrecy, with inadequate oversight:
The federal government will pay a Texas law school $1 million to do research aimed at rolling back the amount of sensitive data available to the press and public through freedom-of-information requests.

Beginning this month, St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio will analyze recent state laws that place previously available information, such as site plans of power plants, beyond the reach of public inquiries.

Jeffrey Addicott, a professor at the law school, said he will use that research to produce a national "model statute" that state legislatures and Congress could adopt to ensure that potentially dangerous information "stays out of the hands of the bad guys."

"There's the public's right to know, but how much?" said Addicott, a former legal adviser in the Army's Special Forces.
UPDATE: A Post Everyone Will Link To Soon, If They Haven't Already, comes from our erudite colleague Emptywheel, who reads the Hoekstra letter as a salvo in an internecine war between Negroponte and Rumsfeld.

UPDATE II (via a gentleman of impeccable taste at Needlenose): Our distinguished colleagues Drum & Rood, citing a recent story on NSA whistleblower Russell Tice, speculate that the secret program to which Rep. Hoekstra recently made reference "might have involved the illegal use of space-based satellites and systems to spy on U.S. citizens." Another possibility (one that, just between us, the Royal Spymaster considers rather more likely) is a technology borrowed from the surprisingly fertile field of colonoscopy: fibre-optic spycams that would run from the central sewer systems through the plumbing and directly into the toilets of private homes, offering, from that vantage, a periscopic view of your daily ablutions. We strongly advise you to look before you leak.

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