Clinton Claimed Authority to Order No-Warrant Searches
While they go ballistic about President Bush ordering the phone tapping of persons suspected of terrorist links making foreign calls, they fail to report that Bush, rather than creating an unprecedented prerogative, is very much in the mold of his predecessors:
In a little-remembered debate from 1994, the Clinton administration argued that the president has “inherent authority” to order physical searches — including break-ins at the homes of U.S. citizens — for foreign intelligence purposes without any warrant or permission from any outside body. Even after the administration ultimately agreed with Congress’s decision to place the authority to pre-approve such searches in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, President Clinton still maintained that he had sufficient authority to order such searches on his own.So why haven’t the media put the Bush’s actions in historical context?
“The Department of Justice believes, and the case law supports, that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes,” Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on July 14, 1994, “and that the President may, as has been done, delegate this authority to the Attorney General.”
“It is important to understand,” Gorelick continued, “that the rules and methodology for criminal searches are inconsistent with the collection of foreign intelligence and would unduly frustrate the president in carrying out his foreign intelligence responsibilities.”
Reporting the day after Gorelick’s testimony, the Washington Post’s headline — on page A-19 — read, “Administration Backing No-Warrant Spy Searches.” The story began, “The Clinton administration, in a little-noticed facet of the debate on intelligence reforms, is seeking congressional authorization for U.S. spies to continue conducting clandestine searches at foreign embassies in Washington and other cities without a federal court order. The administration’s quiet lobbying effort is aimed at modifying draft legislation that would require U.S. counterintelligence officials to get a court order before secretly snooping inside the homes or workplaces of suspected foreign agents or foreign powers.”
In her testimony, Gorelick made clear that the president believed he had the power to order warrantless searches for the purpose of gathering intelligence, even if there was no reason to believe that the search might uncover evidence of a crime. “Intelligence is often long range, its exact targets are more difficult to identify, and its focus is less precise,” Gorelick said. “Information gathering for policy making and prevention, rather than prosecution, are its primary focus.”
The two explanations are bias and ignorance. But they are not mutually exclusive.