Contrary to Gonzales's testimony, FBI documents show he was well aware of the abuses. In 2005 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Gonzales and members of the administration claimed that no abuses of the Patriot Act's NSL provisions had ever occurred.
Now, four librarians are speaking out about the lies.
NSL Recipients and ACLU Clients Speak Out About Gonzales' Deceit
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
In light of the revelation that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales misled Congress about his knowledge of the FBI's abuse of National Security Letters (NSL) to make the case for reauthorization of the Patriot Act, four NSL recipients spoke out. George Christian, Janet Nocek, Barbara Bailey and Peter Chase — employees or officers of Library Connection, a consortium of libraries in Connecticut — were plaintiffs in Doe v. Gonzales, the ACLU's challenge to the Department of Justice's use of NSLs.
NSL Recipient George Christian Outraged AG Misled Congress
I am not surprised, but I am outraged that Attorney General Gonzales misled Congress when he claimed that he was not aware of any instances of civil liberties abuse. I am the recipient of a National Security Letter issued under the authority of the USA PATRIOT Act. Along with three colleagues and the ACLU, I won the right in Federal District Court to discuss that fact. To our knowledge every other recipient (estimates vary, but currently hover around 150,000 between 2003 and 2005) of an NSL is perpetually gagged and must take the secret of their experience with them to their graves. I believe their free speech rights have been violated — every federal court that has looked at this issue has concluded that a perpetual gag amounts to an unconstitutional prior restraint.
I know my free speech rights were violated. My colleagues and I wanted to inform Congress that our organization, a consortium of 27 libraries, had received a National Security Letter. We wanted to do this back when Congress was debating the renewal of those provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that were about to sunset. At this time the Justice Department was giving Congress the impression that the USA PATRIOT Act had not been and would not be used against libraries. At least four of the citizens who could refute such a claim were prevented from doing so. A few weeks after the USA PATRIOT Act was renewed, the Justice Department decided we no longer needed to be gagged.
What a remarkable coincidence.
A National Security Letter is in effect a demand for records issued by the FBI with no judicial approval, with no third party review for probable cause. Most letters request banking records or phone records or email records about people. So several multiples (10? 50? 100?) of 150,000 people have had their phone records or banking records or email activity turned over to the FBI in secret and with no showing of probable cause.
The crux of the problem is the government cannot be allowed to operate without oversight and without checks and balances. Under a blanket of secrecy — and the PATRIOT Act has many such blankets — human frailty and the need for expediency will always lead to abuse. Allowed to proceed unchecked, over time abuse becomes the rule rather than the exception.
Unless we insist on stringent and meaningful oversight, we are all in danger of losing all of our liberties in an expanding fog of national security claims. In addition to fighting our gag order, my colleagues and I resisted complying with the National Security Letter's request for patron information at one of our libraries. We did so on the grounds that there was no judicial review of the NSL — no evidence to us that an independent judiciary had found the request to be justified by probable cause.
Recently the Judiciary Committee asked the FBI for a tally of how many libraries have been served National Security Letters. Their answer? That the number of libraries served with National Security Letters is classified. A real number could lead to Congressional investigation and review. Over-classification and misleading statements from the Attorney General are the means this administration is using to get itself off the hook. We must stop the fog from spreading further. Congress should return oversight, return checks and balances, and save our imperiled civil liberties.
— George Christian, Executive Director, Library Connection