The reasons for quick reauthorization of provisions of the Patriot Act have moved past dubious, through the paper-thin wall between rational and irrational, and straight into the land of the bizarre.
In a letter written yesterday to Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper provided the Obama administration’s justification for reauthorizing the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act quickly, without civil liberties reform and without democratic debate:
If the Congress does not act quickly to extend these critical authorities, we would likely not be able to conduct timely surveillance on a non-U.S. person “lone wolf” terrorist such as an individual who has self-radicalized and responds to international terrorist calls to attack the United States.
But according to the Obama administration, and according to the Bush administration before that, the U.S. Government has never used its “lone wolf” powers — not once, ever.
So this is the Obama administration argument: just in case the government decides to conduct its first-ever “lone wolf” surveillance in U.S. history on this particular weekend, the Senate must pass reauthorization of the Patriot Act now, without even an hour or a day of delay, without any reforms, and without debate or a vote allowed on any amendments.
But wait, it gets stranger still. The whole idea of a “lone wolf” is that a person is acting on their own to create terror and mayhem, independent of any organization. Further, “lone wolf” authority would be supposedly necessary when there’s not sufficient probable cause to demonstrate to a judge that the person is probably up to no good, the standard used to obtain a regular old criminal search warrant. Finally, already authorized investigations would still continue. What DNI Clapper suggests is that a “lone wolf” terrorist, who the government had never investigated before, would within hours of the expiration of Patriot Act authority (all on his or her own and without the help of an organization, mind you) activate a terrorist plot, and would tip off the government to his or her activities, but not enough to show probable cause, just enough to for agents to suspect something without having evidence for probable cause, requiring that the government for the first time in history activate “lone wolf” provisions. All that, right after authorities of the Patriot Act expire. All that, requiring the Senate to toss aside debate and toss aside amendments and toss aside reform and just hold the damned vote right now, now, now, no time to lose, no time to think, not an hour, quickly now, now, now.
None of this makes sense; it’s simply too bizarre to be believed. Either the administration of Barack Obama is not sharing its real reasons for wanting the Patriot Act to be reauthorized, or the administration of Barack Obama has left the reality-based community.