NSA Case Dropped After Lawyers Denied Clearances
A Justice Department investigation into the NSA electronic surveillance operation has been abruptly dropped after NSA denied security clearances to the DOJ lawyers.
The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers the necessary security clearance to probe the matter.
The inquiry headed by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR, sent a fax to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., on Wednesday saying they were closing their inquiry because without clearance their lawyers cannot examine Justice lawyers’ role in the program. “We have been unable to make any meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program,” OPR counsel H. Marshall Jarrett wrote to Hinchey. Hinchey’s office shared the letter with The Associated Press.
Mr. Hinchey said the denial of clearances was “hard to believe” and compounded what he called a violation of the law by the program itself, which eavesdrops without court warrants on people in the United States suspected of ties to Al Qaeda.
Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, said that the N.S.A. program was “highly classified and exceptionally sensitive” and that “only those involved in national security with a specific need to know are provided details about this classified program.” He said the legality of the eavesdropping program had been reviewed by other Justice Department offices and by the N.S.A. inspector general.
This is, to say the least, rather dubious. Surely, there are competent investigators employed by the government who have TS/SCI clearances. By definition, conducting an inquiry under order from the Attorney General and/or Congress constitutes a “need to know.”
President Bush has the authority to overrule NSA on this. He should do so forthwith.