Oh, The Irony of It All
Vol: 11 Issue: 29 Thursday, August 29, 2002
Attorney General John Ashcroft’s Justice Department suffered a major blow last week when the secret federal court that approves spying on terror suspects in the United States refused to give the Justice Department broad new powers.
A May 17 opinion by the court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) alleges that Justice Department and FBI officials supplied erroneous information to the court in more than 75 applications for search warrants and wiretaps.
What I found interesting was the way the story was reported. For example, the 75 cited instances in which the Justice Department abused its authority and padded its search warrant requests.
Peter Jennings reported it this way at ABC: “Good evening, everyone. We are going to begin tonight with the first ever published opinion from a secret court. The court which operates inside the Justice Department says the Bush administration is not adequately protecting the privacy of American citizens and permanent residents. Notice Jenning’s spin. The “Bush administration is not adequately protecting. . .”
Jennings finally acknowleged at the end of the piece that perhaps at least SOME of the inadequate protection of American privacy took place during the Clinton administration as well.
“”The court said the FBI misled it when it sought permission for wiretaps and search warrants, making misstatements and omissions of facts in cases going back to the Clinton administration.”
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer spun the story this way: “Still, this court’s rebuff is another development that makes John Ashcroft a lightening rod for criticism over his department’s role in the war on terror.”
CBS News explained the FISA decision to America this way. “A big setback for the Justice Department in the war on terror. A secret U.S. court that deals with sensitive intelligence issues is refusing to expand the department’s surveillance authority. The court saying the department has been abusing the authority it already has as far back as the Clinton administration.”
The CBS anchor, John Roberts then threw to reporter Jim Stewart for the ‘rest of the story’. Unlike Roberts, Stewart never mentioned the Clinton administration.
“They meet twice a month in a sealed courtroom on the sixth floor of the Justice Department, and until now had never issued a public order. Today the Bush administration was wishing they still hadn’t. The top secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court blasted the FBI for submitting a troubling number of inaccurate affidavits while seeking secret wiretaps and then making unauthorized disseminations of what they learned from the surveillances. Angered, the court turned down a request from Attorney General John Ashcroft to broaden the FBI’s surveillance and intelligence sharing powers in the war on terrorism. Ashcroft is appealing, but bureau critics point out the court was very specific in its criticism.”
And to dot the last ‘i’ and cross the final ‘t’ in CBS’ indictment of the Ashcroft Justice Department, they cut to a clip from Democratic Senator Charles Grassley: “They cited a long history of 75 cases of the FBI not being credible, not being candid in the request of information.”
In closing, Stewart was able to credit the abuses of the Ashcroft Justice Department with missing an opportunity to prevent the September 11, attacks:
“Ironically, it was because the bureau had already been slapped over ill-conceived FISA requests that it failed to ask the court’s permission to search accused terrorist Zacharias Moussaoui’s computer last year. That led to charges the FBI missed an opportunity to prevent the 9-11 attacks.”
Life can be ironical, ironically. Because you would have to be a pretty knowledgeable individual to know that all seventy-five Justice Department abuses cited by the court took place prior to September 2000.
The Department of Justice admitted to all seventy-five of them before the court back then. The Bush administration didn’t come into office until January, 2001. Ashcroft’s confirmation was held up until February, 2001.
The court’s opinion specifically noted that in September 2000, “the government came forward to confess errors in 75 FISA applications related to major terrorist attacks directed against the United States – the errors related to misstatements and omissions of material facts.”
But you didn’t learn any of that from ABC, CBS or CNN. And during the NBC Nightly news, as Fred Francis was explaining (charitably, compared to everyone else) that it didn’t ALL happen on the Ashcroft watch, (although the truth is that none of it did) the screen went black and the audio cut off just as Francis began to pronounce the first syllable of the name Clinton: “The secret court says the FBI deceived it largely during the Cl-. . .”
(I’m not alleging it was on purpose. Just that it happened. Draw your own conclusions).
In reporting the story, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post ever mentioned the name “Janet Reno” once.
The Washington Post did manage to mention John Ashcroft six different times in the piece, though. The Post noted that “ironically, [there’s that word again) the Justice Department itself hadn’t opposed the release [of the opinion].”
The Post didn’t mention why, because they would have to explain it was because the court cited the Reno Justice Department for 100% of the criticism.
The New York Times never mentioned Reno, but it did admit that there were an “alarming number of instances” during the Clinton administration in which the F.B.I. might have acted improperly. All. All. That is even more alarming.
And the New York Times was alone among major liberal media outlets to report that Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who recently stepped down as the court’s presiding judge, had praised Attorney General John Ashcroft and his staff for ending abuses of the system for requesting wiretap authority.
Isn’t that ironical?