March 17, 2003
COVER LETTER TO INTERESTED PARTIES
To: Interested Persons
We write with growing concern and alarm over a proposal that would change America for the worse: establishment of a domestic intelligence agency that would spy on Americans who are not involved in criminal activity.
As the attached sign-on letter to President Bush explains, the establishment of such an agency would violate a fundamental American value that law-abiding Americans should not fear intrusive, long-term investigation by their government because their ideas or beliefs are outside of a bureaucrat's definition of the mainstream. Past political spying abuses have chilled organizations and individuals across the political spectrum, from Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement in the 1960s to anti-abortion and religious conservatives targeted by the Clinton FBI's "Project Megiddo." The proposed secret domestic spy agency would exacerbate this problem dramatically, by institutionalizing the very idea - spying without evidence of criminal activity - that past reforms attempted to restrict.
We strongly believe only the largest and most diverse coalition can put the brakes on this proposal. Senator John Edwards (D-NC) has come out forthrightly in favor of a domestic spy agency. So far, the Bush Administration has been more cautious, neither endorsing a new agency nor ruling it out entirely. Still, the combined weight of support from Senator Edwards, the Gilmore Commission and the mandate of the Joint House and Senate Intelligence Committee 9/11 Inquiry to consider a new agency shows that a dangerous "inside the Beltway" consensus in favor of a new agency may be beginning to form.
As we saw during the debate on the Homeland Security Department, it will be almost impossible to slow down the proposal if momentum continues to grow. We strongly urge your organization to sign onto the attached letter to President Bush urging him to reject this proposal.
LETTER TO PRESIDENT BUSH
RE: CREATION OF DOMESTIC SPY AGENCY
President George W. Bush
Re: Proposal for Domestic Intelligence Agency
Dear President Bush:
On behalf of our broad and diverse coalition of organizations, we are writing to urge you to reject proposals for the creation of a domestic intelligence agency that would serve no other ultimate purpose than to spy on individuals and groups within the United States.
We understand that while some officials in your administration may feel compelled to advance this idea, you have not yet decided whether to propose a new domestic intelligence agency. Though the House and Senate intelligence committees investigating the September 11 attacks have called for a new Cabinet-level intelligence "czar", they have only recommended studying whether such an agency is needed.
We are confident that it isn't needed, and emphatic that it shouldn't be created.
Like all Americans, our organizations were shocked and appalled by the attacks of September 11, and we are dedicated to supporting changes in our national security and intelligence policies that are truly effective without sacrificing vital civil liberties. We believe creative solutions to our intelligence problems must be found, but we are concerned that creating an internal spy agency would not solve our intelligence problems and would only pose a threat to our treasured American way of life.
Indeed, the proposed agency's fundamental mission appears to frustrate a basic American principle: that law-abiding Americans should not fear intrusive, long-term investigation by their government.
Currently, the collection of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence within the United States is the responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the nation's premier law enforcement agency. Removing that function from the FBI and investing it elsewhere would thwart the effective investigation and collection of information on Americans and others within our borders suspected of criminal wrongdoing - including, obviously, terrorism.
The newly empowered agency will then essentially be charged with the sole task of monitoring any and all individuals and groups, particularly those whose views fall outside of a bureaucrat's definition of "mainstream" or "acceptable", regardless of their disposition and intentions. Such is the nature of domestic surveillance.
This proposal is not a bulwark against terrorism. It is rather a blueprint for the construction of a Big Brother apparatus. The answer to this proposal before 9/11 was "no". The answer in its terrible aftermath must again, as ever, be "no".
Our government must not fail to respect the right of all Americans to do, say or think what they want within the law. Respecting the line between crime and what some might see as unorthodox beliefs focuses scarce law enforcement and homeland security resources on terrorists, not political activists. Putting a new spy agency in charge of intelligence gathering would abolish that line altogether. It would fundamentally alter the delicate balance between public safety and civil liberties that was established at our nation's founding and that America has sought to maintain ever since.
We strongly urge you to reject this misguided idea. America must be made safe, but it must also remain free.
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee