Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Sunday, March 16, 2008

  The gutting of the Intelligence Oversight Board

George Bush's Feb. 29 Executive Order is quite obviously another important step in his project to dismantle the oversight of intelligence activities, especially the oversight mechanisms instituted as a result of the Church Committee hearings in the 1970s. The Executive Order essentially neutered the Intelligence Oversight Board, which previously had considerable powers to expose illegal intelligence activities.

During the last two weeks I've discussed the EO extensively (see here and here). Other bloggers picked up the story as well. Yet the traditional media has all but ignored it until now. On Monday, for example, Peter Baker referred to it as "a little-noticed executive order" without however taking the trouble to describe what it actually entailed. And that's the only time a Washington Post reporter has so much as mentioned the EO. The near silence of the traditional media has been overwhelming.

So yesterday's report in the Boston Globe by Charlie Savage is welcome. In fact, Savage provides considerable background on the issues, describing the most important ways in which Bush's Executive Order hollows out the IOB; the historical background to the Board's creation under Gerald Ford; and the series of steps George Bush has taken to undermine the intelligence oversight reforms instituted during the 1970s.

Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., the former chief counsel to the Senate committee that undertook the 1975-76 investigation into intelligence abuses, said that by rolling back the post-Watergate reforms, the Bush administration had made intelligence abuses more likely to occur.

"What the Bush administration has systematically done is to try to limit both internal oversight - things like the Intelligence Oversight Board - and effective external oversight by the Congress," Schwarz said, adding, "It's profoundly disappointing if you understand American history, and it's profoundly harmful to the United States."

Savage also provides us, finally, with a White House response to the charge that it has just neutralized the IOB's ability to blow the whistle on illegal intelligence activities. And the WH justification turns out to be a duesie:

But Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, denied that the order reduced the authority and independence of the panel.

Fratto pointed to a federal statute that makes it a general duty of all government officials to report lawbreaking to the Justice Department. Because of this, he said, there is still a "widely understood background presumption" that the board can contact the attorney general even though Bush deleted the authority to make criminal referrals from its list of core responsibilities.

Yes indeed, George Bush eliminated an explicit provision (under the previous EO) requiring the IOB to report violations of the law to the Attorney General because there's nothing in the new Executive Order actually prohibiting the IOB from blowing the whistle. That's really just as good, isn't it? When you think about it, I mean.

crossposted from Daily Kos

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