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the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Bush Has Two Views About Leakers

Americans now know there is widespread warrantless wiretapping by their government and that the United States sends detainees to secret prisons abroad.

The wiretapping is an illegal invasion of privacy and cannot be justified except in the gravest of national emergencies. There is a special court set up to examine whether those intrusions are justified, but President Bush's surveillance program has brushed aside that requirement.

While most leakers and whistleblowers pay a heavy personal price, the president apparently is privileged to become a leaker when it suits his purposes since he can declassify secret documents at will, without going through the legal channels that other officials are required to navigate.

The Justice Department is using FBI agents and lie detectors to track down leakers, while, at the same time, warning the news media they could be prosecuted under federal espionage laws.

The polygraph tests are being applied to intelligence agency employees, including the CIA and the National Security Agency. They are not admissible in court.

Geoffrey Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago, wrote in The New York Times Monday that while tensions between the federal government and the press "are as old as the Republic itself, presidential administrations have never been inclined to criminally prosecute the news media for publishing information they would rather keep secret."

Stone said administration officials have spoken of prosecuting the Times for its Pulitzer Prize-winning expose of NSA spying and The Washington Post for its Pulitzer-Prize winning stories about the administration's clandestine use of secret prisons abroad.

Stone doubted that the threat of invoking federal espionage laws would go anywhere because those laws were never intended to be used against the press and would unquestionably violate the First Amendment.

When asked Monday about the shameful practice of sending prisoners for interrogation and incarceration to Eastern Europe and the Middle East -- hardly bastions of human rights -- National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said he could not comment. That sounds to me like a confirmation.

Many presidents have been enraged about leaks and have railed against them. President Reagan said he had them "up to my keister" and President Nixon created the White House "plumbers" to track leaks, even wiretapping his own National Security Council and some Washington reporters.


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President Bush has acknowledged that he directed the NSA shortly after 9/11 to conduct domestic wiretapping without obtaining a court order required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. Some members of Congress -- including Republicans -- have been up in arms over the president's autocratic directive on domestic spying but are reluctant to call his hand.

Bush imperially defends his legally questionable order, claiming it is his inherent right as commander in chief.

In a shakeup of the CIA, he has appointed Gen. Michael Hayden to be the new director. Hayden, former NSA director, went along with Bush's extracurricular wiretapping, implemented it and has staunchly defended the unlawful activity.

As director of the spy agency one wonders whether Hayden will allow it to be further politicized in view of his close ties to the White House.

The president complained this week that in a "transparent society, everything is in the newspapers." Well, it may seem that way to the president. But first it takes some conscience-stricken people to decide to blab about the hush-hush doings of this super-secret administration.

Last month, Bush revealed he had authorized the release of portions of the National Intelligence Estimates in 2003 to explain his reasons for going to war against Iraq. "I wanted the people to see the truth ... without jeopardizing ongoing intelligence matters," Bush said at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advance International Studies.

In his remarks, Bush also said: "Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States of America."

Who believes that Third World country was going to take on the world's only military superpower?

Maybe someday Bush will leak the real reason he went to war against Iraq.

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas was an American author and former news service reporter, member of the White House Press Corps and columnist. She worked for the United Press International (UPI) for 57 years, first as a correspondent, and later as White House bureau chief. She was an opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. Among other books, she was the author of Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times. Helen passed away on July 20, 2013.

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