HomeFeaturesDailyBriefingsRapidReconSpecial ReportsAbout Us

Risky Business

One runs the risk of sticking a foot square in the mouth by commenting on something they have not actually read, so it is with some trepidation that I point out this latest national security development:

A Justice Department plan would loosen restrictions on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to allow agents to open a national security or criminal investigation against someone without any clear basis for suspicion … senators said the new guidelines would allow the F.B.I. to open an investigation of an American, conduct surveillance, pry into private records and take other investigative steps “without any basis for suspicion.” The plan “might permit an innocent American to be subjected to such intrusive surveillance based in part on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or on protected First Amendment activities,” …

That’s one reading of the plan, another is quite different:

The Justice Department is already expecting criticism over the F.B.I. guidelines. In an effort to pre-empt critics, Mr. Mukasey gave a speech last week in Portland, Ore., describing the unfinished plan as an effort to “integrate more completely and harmonize the standards that apply to the F.B.I.s activities.” … Mr. Mukasey emphasized that the F.B.I. would still need a “valid purpose” for an investigation, and that it could not be “simply based on somebody’s race, religion, or exercise of First Amendment rights.”

So which is it? As noted earlier there are those who can interpret things clearly and those who will manipulate the language and intent of a thing in their own self interests. There is no reason to think that the same thing is not happening here, but I’m not prepared to pass judgment till I see the text.

Does any of this matter? Yes, but probably not for the reasons you might think. What we are essentially talking about here is a nascent domestic intelligence capability and as men more erudite than I have pointed out, the FBI is not the place to house such a capability. In fact such a capability (which I back) belongs in no badge-and-gun issuing agency because intelligence and law enforcement have two different and competing goals and outlooks; the former views data and seeks anomaly in order to preempt; the latter deals with suspects after the fact.

Domestic intelligence can be done in a way that denies no one liberty or freedom. Putting such a capability in the hands of people who view people as suspects and perpetrators has the potential to strike at our national heart and soul.