After Democrats failed to muster any substantive opposition
to the Bush White House's overhaul of domestic spying laws just a few weeks ago, it would be a striking turn of events if the House leadership launched into a massive, multi-decade investigation of how the government has been monitoring its own citizens since the Cold War.
But that's what Salon
speculates about today in a far-reaching report
from Capitol Hill.
While reporting on domestic surveillance under Bush, Salon obtained a detailed memo proposing such an inquiry, and spoke with several sources involved in recent discussions around it on Capitol Hill. The memo was written by a former senior member of the original Church Committee; the discussions have included aides to top House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, and until now have not been disclosed publicly.
That's pretty interesting. This Democratic leadership doesn't seem to have done anything over the past couple years to suggest it is about to launch a broad, sweeping investigation into highly sensitive national security-related issues. (They haven't even really questioned the president on his hugely unpopular Iraq policies).
Reporter Tim Shorrock reaches as far back as the Regean Administration and culls evidence of a secret and potentially illegal database maintained by the National Security Administration called "Main Core." The existence of such a database has been the subject of speculation
for years, but never confirmed. This database would presumably be the focus of any large-scale congressional investigation.
The investigation under consideration would be rare in its scope, potentially encompassing both Republican and Democratic administrations.
During one recent discussion on Capitol Hill, according to a participant, a senior aide to Speaker Pelosi was asked for Pelosi's views on a proposal to expand the investigation to past administrations, including those of Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. "The question was, how far back in time would we have to go to make this credible?" the participant in the meeting recalled.
That question was answered in the seven-page memo. "The rise of the 'surveillance state' driven by new technologies and the demands of counter-terrorism did not begin with this Administration," the author wrote. Even though he acknowledged in interviews with Salon that the scope of abuse under George W. Bush would likely be an order of magnitude greater than under preceding presidents, he recommended in the memo that any new investigation follow the precedent of the Church Committee and investigate the origins of Bush's programs, going as far back as the Reagan administration.
It's hard to think of any examples of a Congressional probe of the scope described here.
report notes that Democrats on the Hill may be reluctant to green-light the investigation because of their own party's complicity in approving certian surveillance techniques. Key lawmakers declined to comment for Salon
's story, including Pelosi, Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Russ Feingold (D-WI).
However skeptical we may be, the idea sounds fascinating. It's hard to think of much more exciting than a parade of witnesses on Capitol Hill revealing how the government has been spying on all of us since the Cold War. We'd be sure to cover that gavel-to-gavel.