Back in October, 2008, when Senator Jay Rockefeller heard the allegations made by two former military linguists that they had been part of a National Security Agency program to listen to the private telephone calls of journalists, aid workers, diplomats, and even American soldiers, he said that he was outraged. Outrage was the natural reaction. The government spying program clearly didn’t have a thing to do with antiterrorism, as it involved recording and even transcribing phone sex conversations soldiers were having with their spouses. Senator Rockefeller released the following statement about the linguists’ revelations:
“These are extremely disturbing allegations. The Senate Intelligence Committee is examining this now and we have requested all relevant information from the Bush Administration. Any time there is an allegation regarding abuse of the privacy and civil liberties of Americans it is a very serious matter. The Congress has enacted tough laws – including the FISA reform bill passed this year – and there are strict procedures in place governing intelligence surveillance when it involves U.S. persons. The Committee will take whatever action is necessary to ensure those rules are followed and any violations are addressed.”
Why Senator Rockefeller should have been disturbed is beyond me. After all, the “FISA reform bill passed this year” that Senator Rockefeller mentioned was the FISA Amendments Act. The FISA Amendments Act, passed thanks to pressure from Senator Rockefeller himself, was not a tough law – it loosened standards and provided multiple ways for government spy programs to evade oversight and judicial control. In fact, it was the FISA Amendments Act that provided legal cover for abuses like the ones that the military linguists described.
Still, Senator Rockefeller acted surprised and outraged, and he promised that there would be an inquiry into the matter. That would have been nice, but it’s been over three months now since Rockefeller promised to start an inquiry and…
…there still has been no inquiry. At least there’s no public record of any such inquiry. I’ve called Senator Rockefeller’s office too, and left a message with his aides in the press office, asking for word back about the inquiry that Rockefeller promised. I left them my telephone number and email, but gosh, they haven’t gotten back with me.
It’s possible, I suppose, that there has been an inquiry, and it’s all been held in top secret closed sessions. The problem with government conducted in secret that way is that the public can never really know that their rights are being protected. Certainly, senators like Jay Rockefeller can’t go around claiming to conduct inquiries to protect our rights, and then saying that the inquiries are all conducted in secret, so we’ll just have to trust him about it. Given Senator Rockefeller’s poor record on protecting civil liberties, I don’t think that it’s a safe assumption that any work on the matter has been done at all.
How It looks to me is that Senator Rockefeller wasn’t really outraged. It looks like Jay Rockefeller was just acting outraged, until the news media stopped reporting on the story, which, obligingly, the news media did.
Little old us here at Irregular Times, asking this question of Senator Rockefeller’s office, won’t get the Senate Intelligence Committee to start that inquiry we were promised. But, imagine what might happen if every Democratic web site out there that has claimed to care about civil liberties over the last eight years would write an article like this, and place a telephone call to Senator Rockefeller’s office asking him when the inquiry is going to begin.
Not that I expect that to happen… but imagine.