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Constitutional scholar: 9/11 'highly convenient' in allowing Bush to expand power
David Edwards and Nick Juliano
Published: Tuesday October 16, 2007

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A constitutional scholar says President Bush and his administration were working to expand their spy powers months before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which provided a "highly convenient" opportunity to dramatically strengthen law enforcement and surveillance authority.

"This administration was seeking a massive expansion of presidential power and national security powers before 9/11. 9/11 was highly convenient in that case," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told Keith Olbermann on Countdown Monday night. "I'm not saying that they welcomed it, but when it happened, it was a great opportunity to seize powers that they have long wanted at the FBI."

Turley was responding to allegations aired last week by a former Qwest CEO that the National Security Agency approached telecoms as early as February 2001 about establishing secret mechanisms to spy on Americans. The former CEO, Joe Nacchio, said in court papers related to an insider trading conviction that the government withdrew lucrative contracts from his company after he raised legal objections to the proposed spy program.

Earlier in the program, Olbermann invoked recent reports that the Pentagon used the FBI to issue secret national security letters allowing access to reams of data on Americans with even slim connections to the military.

"Does that essentially mean that I or you dial a wrong number and it happens to belong to somebody that's under investigation, the pentagon can go and get your information or my information as well?" Olbermann asked.

"They can. And you can thank the U.S. congress for that," Turley said, noting that the Patriot Act made it very easy for the FBI to issue the letters. "And what is astonishing is that the abuses of the NSLs are well documented. As soon as the FBI got this power that they were promising to use in the most judicious and cautious way, they abused it with abandon."

Toward the end of the segment, Turley noted the disconnect between the drive for expanded power, and the FBI and National Security Agency's inability to properly analyze intelligence before Sept. 11.

"The great irony, of course, with the NSA and the FBI is that their blunders help contribute to 9/11," he said, "but they radically expanded those powers as a result of that tragedy."

"Nothing succeeds like failure," Olbermann quipped.

The following video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast on October 15, 2007.


A partial transcript appears below:

Olbermann: These details about the pentagon spying program and national security letters, if as I was quoting from its manual, these NSLs can be used to gather information on anybody, even somebody vaguely connected with a suspect. Does that essentially mean that I or you dial a wrong number and it happens to belong to somebody that's under investigation, the pentagon can go and get your information or my information as well?

Turley: They can. And you can thank the U.S. congress for that. In the Patriot Act and four other pieces of legislation that were enacted, the NSLs can be used with extraordinary ease. And what is astonishing is that the abuses of the NSLs are well documented. As soon as the FBI got this power that they were promising to use in the most judicious and cautious way, they abused it with abandon. Congress has done very, very little. But what congress did do is they created this relevancy test. And most anything can be relevant. And your example is by no means far-fetched. Yes, If you show up on the phone records by accident of somebody that they suspect, you can have your records searched and you will not know it because the companies are told that they can't tell you.

[..]

Olbermann: These allegations from the former CEO of Qwest -- and he's not necessarily a neutral witness. We have to take this with a grain of salt because he's trying to get an insider trading conviction overthrown. But what do you make of his allegation? Is this the first time we've heard anything like that that the NSA was trying to get phone records of citizens of this country, no warrant involved, seven months before 9/11?

Turley: You're right, we do have to consider the context. But what he is saying actually is confirmed by other sources. You know, this administration was seeking a massive expansion of Presidential power and national security powers before 9/11. 9/11 was highly convenient in that sense. I'm not saying that they welcomed it, but when it happened, it was a great opportunity to seize powers that they have long wanted at the FBI. The great irony, of course, with the NSA and the FBI is that their blunders help contribute to 9/11, but they radically expanded those powers as a result of that tragedy.

Olbermann: Nothing succeeds like failure.

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