The Mystery of the Two James Baker Statements
In a 2002 statement presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee, James A. Baker of the Justice Department Office of Intelligence Policy and Review questioned the constitutionality and the necessity of a proposal by Senator Mike DeWine to lower the legal threshold for domestic intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. persons from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion.”
But for yet unknown reasons, Mr. Baker’s remarkable statement is found in two distinct versions.
“If we err in our analysis and courts were ultimately to find a ‘reasonable suspicion’ standard unconstitutional, we could potentially put at risk ongoing investigations and prosecutions,” Mr. Baker said in the more expansive version of his statement.
Moreover, “If the current standard has not posed an obstacle, then there may be little to gain from the lower standard and, as I previously stated, perhaps much to lose.”
Yet even as Mr. Baker was expressing concerns about lowering the probable cause threshold, the government was doing precisely that in the NSA domestic surveillance activity.
Baker’s testimony was highlighted last week by blogger Glenn Greenwald and cited in the Washington Post and the New York Times.
Strangely, however, the testimony in which Mr. Baker presented those concerns cannot be found anywhere on the public record except for the Federation of American Scientists web site.
The testimony that is posted on the Senate Intelligence Committee web site does not contain the three paragraphs in which Mr. Baker questions the propriety of going beyond the probable cause standard as proposed by Senator DeWine.
Likewise, only the truncated version of Mr. Baker’s testimony was archived in the Nexis database and published by the Government Printing Office in its printed hearing record.
“I am going to check into this,” a Justice Department official told Secrecy News on January 27. “Maybe we can clear this mystery up.”
No one has suggested that the FAS version of the Baker statement is inauthentic.
In fact, an Associated Press story from the day of the hearing (July 31, 2002) includes this sentence: “Baker said the Justice Department is still reviewing that [DeWine] proposal and hasn’t decided whether such a change would be needed or if it would be constitutional.”
This sentence, by AP reporter Ken Guggenheim, does not correspond to anything in the truncated Baker statement or in his transcribed remarks at the hearing. But it does reflect the contents of the full version of his statement that was posted on the FAS web site, indicating that the AP had the same document.
Citing Mr. Baker’s testimony, Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate the apparent contradiction between his remarks and the conduct of the NSA surveillance program.
“I hope that the Committee’s review of this entire matter will include inquiring whether the failure to brief the Committee as required by law was compounded by testimony which was at best misleading, and at worst, false,” Sen. Feinstein wrote.
In a second letter, she noted the discrepancy between the Baker testimony on the FAS web site and the official Committee version. “I do not know why the two transcripts are different, and I have asked my staff to investigate.”
Both letters from Senator Feinstein are posted here.
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