Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Give Washington a Civilian Review Board

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Give Washington a Civilian Review Board

Article excerpt

Trust in the Bush administration has fallen to such a low point that in order to restore at least some of it, we need a national civilian review board. The board will be composed of eminent Americans of both parties, similar if not the same people who served so well on the 9/11 Commission.

Equipped with security clearance, the board would determine whether our intelligence services are being used in line with the Constitution and our international obligations. It would issue a series of reports about the ways that the government is using the vast arsenal of special powers it amassed since 9/11 without disclosing details about sources and methods. Thus, such a committee would act much like local civilian review boards that have formed in some 60 percent of our nation's largest cities where the public has lost trust in police departments after revelations of widespread corruption and abuse.

Why restore trust in the Bush administration? Simply, homeland protection cannot function effectively when so many Americans distrust the government. Above all, given that existing checks and balances are failing, new ones are urgently needed.

The board must set straight the grossly miscast national security debate. The No. 1 issue is not whether the government requires many new security measures - but rather to ensure that these powers are not abused. Take the uproar over the National Security Agency (NSA) spying on Americans. The main concern is not the fact that such surveillance is taking place; indeed, some Americans may be cooperating with terrorists. Moreover, colleagues at the NSA pointed out to me that often it is impossible to tell the nationality of those online. Each year about 300 million foreigners visit the United States and surely some of their messages to home bases deserve to be monitored. Hence the issue becomes under what conditions such surveillance is authorized, by whom, and above all what mechanisms are in place to ensure proper and not excessive use.

One may say that there are already accountability mechanisms built into the government in the form of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (which authorizes surveillance of "agents of foreign powers" in the US), the office of inspector general, and Congressional committees. …

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