Is there anything else

July 2, 2002 4:45 p.m.

Is there anything else to say but Thank God those members of the Congress refused — apparently to a person — to submit to FBI lie detector tests to see who leaked 9/11-related information to the press? The story is being treated as one of those Friday afternoon oddity pieces. But it’s very disturbing on a handful of levels.

For starters, this investigation never should have taken place at all. Federal investigations of members of congress are always a sensitive matter, even when the allegations involve garden-variety criminality. They have to take place, of course, because no one is above the law. But even then real prosecutorial judgment is required since the risk of political prosecutions or the perception of political prosecutions is always an issue.

Here though the question at issue — the alleged infraction — is inherently political. Having the FBI investigate it is a clear violation of separation of powers. Congress itself bears some real responsibility for that since Chairmen Bob Graham and Porter Goss gave in to administration pressure — in the form of a bullying phone call from Dick Cheney — and asked the FBI to investigate.

Letting the FBI request polygraph tests from the very congressmen and Senators who are now investigating the FBI’s slapdash and incompetent intelligence and counter-terrorism work is outrageous — so ill-conceived that it almost boggles the mind.

Perhaps if there were one member of congress who was clearly implicated as the leaker then that person would have been asked to clear himself or herself with a polygraph. Keep in mind, I think this would be unconstitutional and wildly ill-conceived. But at least it would be focused. The idea here was to test every member of the Joint Intelligence committee and let them prove themselves innocent.

A “law enforcement official” told the Associated Press that such exams “are always voluntary.” But I at least find those words and that attitude chilling, not reassuring.

You have to ask: what was the FBI thinking? Aren’t their hands too full leaving America vulnerable to murderous terrorists to make time to subvert the constitution? In all seriousness, we already have a serious problem with a lack of political accountability at the FBI. They’re intractable. How much harder will it be to control them if members of congress have to worry that these characters can strap them up to a polygraph and ask them questions at will every time there is a leak of classified information which they might theoretically have been responsible for?

As important as the security of classified information is, there are worse things that can happen than occasional breaches. And as we’ve seen recently the executive branch often keeps evidence of its own mistakes under wraps. Sometimes leaks serve a purpose.

One hardly need mention that until quite recently the FBI had a long and well-documented history of keeping dossiers on members of congress — and presidents for that matter — which they used to get their way and protect their turf.

The real question — and one that really needs to be asked — is, who approved this? I find it difficult, though not impossible, to believe that FBI agents asked congressman and Senators to take lie detector tests without approval from higher-ups. Did Robert Mueller sign off on this? John Ashcroft? I think we need to know the answer to that question.

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