WASHINGTON – Almost 32 years to the day after President Ford created an independent Intelligence Oversight Board made up of private citizens with top-level clearances to ferret out illegal spying activities, President Bush issued an executive order that stripped the board of much of its authority.
The White House did not say why it was necessary to change the rules governing the board when it issued Bush’s order late last month. But critics say Bush’s order is consistent with a pattern of steps by the administration that have systematically scaled back Watergate-era intelligence reforms.
“It’s quite clear that the Bush administration officials who were around in the 1970s are settling old scores now,” said Tim Sparapani, senior legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union. “Here they are even preventing oversight within the executive branch. They have closed the books on the post-Watergate era.”
Ford created the board following a 1975-76 investigation by Congress into domestic spying, assassination operations, and other abuses by intelligence agencies. The probe prompted fierce battles between Congress and the Ford administration, whose top officials included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the current president’s father, George H. W. Bush.
Savage puts this move in the context of other Bush Administration actions (after the jump).
Some analysts said the order is just the latest example of actions the administration has taken since the 2001 terrorist attacks that have scaled back intelligence reforms enacted in the 1970s.
In his 1976 executive order, for example, Ford also banned foreign intelligence agencies, such as the National Security Agency, from collecting information about Americans. The Bush administration bypassed that rule by having domestic agencies collect information about Americans and then hand the data to the NSA, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.
Ford’s order also banned assassination. But Bush authorized the CIA to draw up a list of Al Qaeda suspects who could be summarily killed.
The administration decided that such targeted killings were an exception to the rule because it was wartime.
In 1978, Congress enacted a law requiring warrants for all wiretaps on domestic soil. But now spies are free to monitor Americans’ international calls and e-mails without court supervision if the wiretaps are aimed at targets overseas.
In 1980, Congress enacted a law requiring that the full House and Senate intelligence committees be briefed about most spying activities. The Bush administration asserted that it could withhold significant amounts of information from the committees, briefing congressional leaders instead.
Finally, executive orders were once widely understood to be binding unless a president revoked them, an act that would notify Congress that the rules had changed. But the administration has decided that Bush is free to secretly authorize spies to ignore executive orders – including one that restricts surveillance on US citizens traveling overseas – without rescinding them.