Clinton scandals prove positive for Bush

By Lisa S. Dean
web posted February 26, 2001

With all the talk about the continuing Clinton scandals that have garnered so much news coverage, the Bush Administration has done admirably in terms of sticking to message and moving forward with the programs and policies that the President promised to the American people.

In fact, scandals, such as the reprehensible "Pardongate" or "Artgate", are actually doing President Bush a favor. Whether it's his tax cut plan or his faith-based initiative, Bush has been able to take his time to plan, frame the issues, establish his agendas for the next four years as well as accomplish his goals without the need for congressional action.

However, among all of important issues that the President and his team are focusing on, there is one issue that is missing from the agenda - namely, personal privacy and the protection of our liberties which the previous administration worked so hard to erode.

Phillip Hanssen
Phillip Hanssen

At a news conference regarding his tax plan, President Bush was asked by a reporter what he thought of FBI Director Louis Freeh's handling of the Agent Hanssen spy case. Bush responded by saying that he had the highest respect for Freeh. What on earth for? For the last 15 years, Agent Hanssen has been betraying his country and at the same time, Director Freeh has been lobbying Congress for expanded surveillance capability to, in his own words, "capture people who might be planning a crime." This is the same FBI Director who believes that the Fourth Amendment is outdated and that we need a new one "for the Information Age" and has cooperated with an administration who worked to change the mindset within that agency to equate those citizens who would criticize the government with those who would terrorize. It seems that Louis Freeh, in his attempt to paint American citizens as criminal suspects plotting against the government, forgot who the real enemy is.

Over the past seven years Freeh had successfully lobbied and received expanded wiretap authority. He also broke his promise to Congressional leaders and interpreted the 1994 digital telephony law to allow for his agency to dictate the design of telecommunications systems in this country. The result is that law enforcement is able to legally tap all phones in the vicinity of a suspect rather than the suspect's line itself. Cell phone manufacturers must install "location tracking features" in phone models to enable law enforcement the ability to track the whereabouts of users.

Louis Freeh

Last year under Freeh, the FBI further expanded its own surveillance capability through their new program "Carnivore" which works in the opposite way of a traditional wiretap where the agent obtains a warrant to tap a particular telephone line - Carnivore gets only a court order to retrieve hundreds of thousands of email messages from users and the agent sorts through looking for the messages from the targeted suspect.

This, of course, is a sloppy investigating technique at best, but at worst, a violation of innocent citizens' Fourth Amendment rights because their messages were intercepted along with the criminal suspect's.

Given that sampling of the mindset as well as the practices of this FBI Director, I hardly think that a vote of confidence by the president is warranted. Instead, a vote of no confidence accompanied by a demand for his resignation would not only be justified, but a good first step toward restoring our Fourth Amendment rights which Director Freeh believes that we are not entitled.

Lisa Dean is Vice President for Technology Policy at the Free Congress Foundation.

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