Domestic Intelligence: New Powers, New Risks
by Emily Berman
Brennan Center for Justice
From the Executive Summary:
Successful domestic counterterrorism policy is vital to keep the homeland safe. In this effort, policymakers must resist the oft-exhibited tendency to overreact to the threats we face. This overreaction, time and again, takes a similar form: In the face of a perceived existential threat, we expand the scope of the government’s powers while simultaneously diminishing oversight of and accountability for the use of those powers. We fail to ensure that these powers will be employed in a manner consistent with our fundamental values. Civil liberties—such as privacy and freedom of expression, association, and religion—are often curtailed. In the wake of 9/11, government action exhibited this tendency across a wide range of counterterrorism policies.
To his credit, President Obama acknowledged this overreaction in several areas, implementing much-needed modifications to inherited policies, which improved procedural protections, guarded against civil liberties violations, and increased transparency. But in many respects, the Obama Administration’s counterterror efforts resemble those of the Bush Administration’s second term. This is especially true in the context of countering domestic terrorism threats.
One key example: The Obama Administration’s choice to rely upon rules drafted by its predecessor to increase the FBI’s authority for domestic investigations, including probes into terrorist threats. We believe these rules, known as the Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations (“Attorney General’s Guidelines” or “Guidelines”), tip the scales too far in favor of relatively unchecked government power, allowing the FBI to sweep too much information about too many innocent people into the government’s view. In so doing, they pose significant threats to Americans’ civil liberties and risk undermining the very counterterrorism efforts they are meant to further.
And while some may doubt the severity of these threats, nobody can argue that such broad powers in the hands of government officials should not be monitored regularly to ensure that they are not being abused.
Read the full report (pdf).