Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Today's Hearing Before the 9/11 Commission

Interesting moments from the testimony today before the 9/11 Commission. First, Janet Reno generally praises the Patriot Act:
I have been asked about the Patriot Act and I have always said that the Patriot Act was, kind of, the umbrella that everything that everybody saw happen after 9/11 that they didn't like fell under.

But generally everything that's been done in the Patriot Act has been helpful I think while at the same time maintaining the balance with respect to civil liberties, except with respect to one matter. And there has been so much discussion about it -- one of the things that I hope we might be able to do is to build on what the commission does and have an opportunity to sit down in a thoughtful, nonpartisan way and talk about the details of the Patriot Act so that people will have a better understanding of them.

But one issue is with respect to FISA searches. I don't have all the details with me, but that would be one area that I would like to learn more about in terms of the administration's perspective.

* * *
GORTON: Now, are there things that you think would be helpful in promoting our national security that weren't included in the original Patriot Act that you would recommend in any successor act?

RENO: I can't think of anything off the top of my head.
Janet Reno explains her view that pre-existing law did not prevent the sharing of information between agencies, though without mentioning the contrary memo penned by her deputy Jamie Gorelick (who now sits in the 9/11 Commission itself):
With respect to sharing, one of the frustrations is that the bureau even when it finds that it has something doesn't share, and it says it doesn't share because the legal authorities prohibit it from sharing. But I haven't been able to find with respect to the one instance of the two who came into this country and how we just missed them, what prevented anybody from sharing.

Much of these issues -- many of these issues will or have been resolved by the passage of the Patriot Act or other statements. But I think it is extremely important that the director or whoever leads the FBI understands that you've got to repeat the message again and again.
Janet Reno faces some tough questioning on the above views:
THOMPSON: In your prepared testimony on page 5, I think it's worth repeating these few lines -- because you weren't able to do it in your opening remarks --
There are simply no walls or restrictions on sharing the vast majority of counterterrorism information. There are no legal restrictions at all on the ability of the members of the intelligence community to share intelligence information with each other.

With respect to sharing between intelligence investigators and criminal investigators, information learned as a result of a physical surveillance or from a confidential informant can be legally shared without restriction.

While there were restrictions placed on information gathered by criminal investigators as a result of grand jury investigations or Title III wire taps, in practice they did not prove to be a serious impediment since there was very little significant information that could not be shared.
THOMPSON: If you were to have used those words in a legal opinion directed to the members of the intelligence community and specifically to the members of the FBI and the CIA, according to a lot of what we have heard in public or in private, and certainly according to a lot of assumptions reported in the press, the members of the intelligence community would have been astounded. Or am I wrong about that?

RENO: I think some would have been astounded.

I think it's again very important to understand -- and I think I learned from this how important it is when you announce a policy, when you try to do something, that you make sure you train, you get feedback from people.

And I think one of the things that I failed to do was to get feedback from them to understand exactly what their problems were with it, try to accommodate those interests and proceed to ensure a full exchange of information.

THOMPSON: In your answer to an earlier question you said that, I think I'm quoting you correctly and please correct me if I'm wrong, that you did not say something like this or talk about this subject near the close of your administration because you had failed to achieve consensus within the department on the issue.

THOMPSON: What did you mean by that? And why would you, as the attorney general of the United States, have needed consensus within the department before you issued your interpretation of what the law did or did not demand?

RENO: This obviously was a very sensitive issue, and to make a decision that I thought that would be binding -- obviously, they could change it -- I should have great confidence it seems to me before delivering to the next administration a decision.

I chose to let the next administration make the decision because -- no, you're right, I don't have to have consensus, but I've got to have a pretty clear idea of what's the right thing to do. Harry Truman said doing the right thing is easy; trying to figure out what it is is much more difficult. And it was very difficult for me in that situation.


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