Congressional Record: March 7, 2006 (Senate)
Page S1829


  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, recent press reports reveal that despite 
its creation more than a year ago, the Privacy and Civil Liberties 
Oversight Board has yet to hire any staff members or even hold a single 
meeting. This board was established by a law signed in December 2004 in 
response to recommendations from the 9/11 Commission. Now, several 
months into 2006, we learn from a Newsweek article that the board's 
members will finally be sworn in at the White House this month. I will 
ask unanimous consent that a copy of this article be printed in the 
Record. Starting up the work of this important board, particularly in 
this time of unprecedented intrusion into the privacy of Americans by 
the executive branch, is shamefully overdue.
  On December 14, 2004, the President signed into law the Intelligence 
Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Section 1061 of this act 
implemented a 9/11 Commission recommendation to establish an 
independent board within the Executive Office of the President to fill 
a clear void in Government for protecting Americans' liberties.
  Creating the board was no easy feat. The Bush-Cheney administration 
initially resisted the 9/11 Commission's recommendation for a privacy 
board, unpersuasively asserting that it was already protecting privacy 
and civil liberties. The administration then tried to circumvent a 
congressionally authorized, independent board by issuing an Executive 
order establishing an anemic alternative. That entity was not 
independent, had no authority to access information, had little 
accountability, and was comprised solely of administration officials 
from the law enforcement and intelligence communities--the very 
communities in need of oversight. It was the proverbial case of the fox 
guarding the henhouse. But many of us in Congress were committed to 
creating an effective board in keeping with the 9/11 Commission's 
  We succeeded, and the President signed the bill creating the board 
well over a year ago, but the White House's delays and resistance 
continued. Last May 11, I joined Senators Durbin, Collins, and 
Lieberman in writing to the President to inquire why there had not yet 
been any nominations and to urge him to nominate board members as soon 
as possible. We also expressed concern about the inadequate funding in 
the White House budget proposal, which would only have provided an 
underwhelming and insufficient $750,000 for its operations. 
Fortunately, the Transportation, Treasury, and HUD Appropriations 
Subcommittee, on which I serve, raised the amount to $1.5 million to 
ensure a better start for the board.
   President Bush waited until June of last year to appoint three 
members of the board, and to nominate the chairman and vice chairman of 
the board, who were confirmed by the Senate last month. No board 
members have yet been sworn in. Meanwhile, as Newsweek reported, the 
White House's new budget, released last month, listed no money for the 
Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Administration officials 
have said that this omission came only because they decided not to 
itemize funding for offices within the White House, but they could not 
explain why other White House offices were individually listed, yet 
this board was not.
  Regrettably, the delays and insufficient funds suggest that the Bush-
Cheney administration is simply going through the motions, rather than 
following through on a meaningful commitment to the Privacy Board. As 
the Chairman of the 9/11 Commission said, ``The Administration was 
never interested in this.''
  This board is too important for us to simply go through the motions. 
Prior to the board, there was no office within the Government to 
oversee the collective impact of Government actions and powers on our 
liberties. This is a critical blind spot. We have increased and 
consolidated the authority of an already-powerful Government in an 
effort to address the realities of terrorism and modern warfare. As Lee 
Hamilton, Vice Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, noted in a Judiciary 
Committee hearing on August 19, 2004, these developments represent ``an 
astounding intrusion in the lives of ordinary Americans that is routine 
today in government.''
  In the months since Mr. Hamilton made this statement, we have learned 
of reports of far more disturbing and unprecedented intrusions into the 
lives of Americans, including warrantless wiretapping in violation of 
the laws of the land, as well as surveillance of ordinary Americans 
that may include a group of Quakers in Vermont. It is more important 
than ever to have a meaningful entity ensuring that the Government 
pursue crucial antiterrorism efforts without giving up the privacy and 
civil liberties so important to all Americans.
  The delays in setting up the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight 
Board and the failures to properly fund it show that the Bush-Cheney 
administration does not take this responsibility seriously. We must 
make sure that we do take it seriously, on behalf of the American 
  I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the Newsweek 
article to which I referred.
  There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in 
the Record, as follows:

                 [From Newsweek, March 13, 2006 issue]

       Watchdog: What Ever Happened to the Civil Liberties Board?

                          (By Michael Isikoff)

       For more than a year, the Privacy and Civil Liberties 
     Oversight Board has been the most invisible office in the 
     White House. Created by Congress in December 2004 as a result 
     of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, the board has 
     never hired a staff or even held a meeting. Next week, 
     NEWSWEEK has learned, that is due to finally change when the 
     board's five members are slated to be sworn in at the White 
     House and convene their first session. Board members tell 
     NEWSWEEK the panel intends to immediately tackle contentious 
     issues like the president's domestic wiretapping program, the 
     Patriot Act and Pentagon data mining. But critics are furious 
     the process has taken this long--and question whether the 
     White House intends to treat the panel as anything more than 
     window dressing. The delay is ``outrageous, considering how 
     long its been since the bill [creating the board] was 
     passed,'' said Thomas Kean, who chaired the 9/11 Commission. 
     ``The administration was never interested in this.''
       Renewed concerns about the White House's commitment came 
     just a few weeks ago when President Bush's new budget was 
     released--with no listing for money for the civil liberties 
     board. Alex Conant, a spokesman for the Office of Management 
     and Budget, denied to NEWSWEEK the White House was trying to 
     kill the panel by starving it of funds. ``It will be fully 
     funded,'' he said, explaining that the board wasn't in the 
     budget this year because officials decided not to itemize 
     funding levels for particular offices within the White House. 
     When a reporter pointed out that funding for other White 
     House offices such as the National Security Council were 
     listed in the budget, Conant said: ``I have no explanation.''
       The funding snafu is only the latest setback. Kean said the 
     9/11 Commission had pushed hard for the board to ensure that 
     some agency within the government would specifically review 
     potential abuses at a time vastly expanded powers were being 
     given to U.S. intel and law-enforcement agencies. But the 
     White House, and congressional leaders, resisted and sharply 
     restricted its scope, denying the board basic tools like 
     subpoena power. Bush didn't nominate members of the board 
     until June 2005--six months after the panel was created--and 
     they weren't confirmed until last month. The chair of the 
     board is Carol Dinkins, a former senior Justice official 
     under Ronald Reagan and former law partner of Attorney 
     General Alberto Gonzales. Dinkins did not respond to requests 
     for comment.