Civil Rights

Yes, a call from a member’s office was intercepted

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An open letter to members of Congress 

Dear Colleague,

{mosads}I have evidence that a telephone conversation, which took place in my congressional office in the spring of 2011, regarding an issue before the Congress of an urgent matter of international importance, was intercepted.

I had been working to stop an illegal attack on Libya, without congressional authorization, using the War Powers Act to force a debate and a decision in the Congress to end U.S. involvement there. After having witnessed the destruction of Iraq based on misinformation and lies, I was determined to try to stop America from getting mired in another foreign policy quagmire.

The conversation with Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, occurred after consulting with attorneys in the House General Counsel’s office who assured me that under Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution, a conversation with a foreign leader was permitted, pursuant to the right of members of Congress to gather information. 

Gadhafi reached out to me after repeated calls he made to the White House and to the State Department were spurned. His government did not understand why it was being attacked since it had reached an agreement with the Bush administration and that those attempting to overturn his government were, in fact, a criminal element. 

Saif, concerned about being hit by a drone attack, used a one-time only “burner” phone to contact my office. If the call was nevertheless picked off in Libya, I have been told by several intelligence sources that once it is determined that a member of Congress is involved in a conversation, the interception is to be discontinued. 

In this case, a tape of the conversation was leaked to the Washington Times in 2015. Investigative reporters for the Times played the tape for me. I authenticated it. 

In May of 2012, unaware that any surveillance had taken place, I sent routine Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to all intelligence agencies. A reply from the director of national intelligence (DNI) received three years later proves that office was actively attempting to defeat the bipartisan effort aimed at stopping an attack on Libya. 

According to information from the FOIA response, the DNI used resources to lobby against the legislation, contacting members of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. 

The DNI’s involvement succeeded in delaying the legislation. The Republican leadership brought forth a substitute, which passed, and scuttled our efforts to stop the war.

The office of the director of national intelligence had a stake in the outcome since the Libya attack was justified, in part, based on intelligence the agency provided the executive branch. What makes this egregious is that the Libyan attack turned out to be the unmitigated disaster, which I and other members predicted. 

Our ambassador to Libya and three other Americans defending his compound were killed and the black flag of al Qaeda soon flew over the municipal building in Benghazi. It turned out that no credible intelligence existed which justified the attack on Libya. The full responsibility and failure was squarely with the Obama administration and the intelligence agencies. 

Five years since my FOIA requests, a number of agencies, including the DNI, have yet to fully respond. One submission to the CIA, still not answered, was delayed three years because the agency misspelled my name.

Members of Congress are entitled to know the extent to which the executive branch covertly tracks their activities, and the manner and methods used. In this regard it is important to remember that the CIA admitted to hacking the computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

Agencies engage in interminable delays in producing information so as to interfere with congressional action, frustrate congressional oversight and mislead members of Congress.

I would advise my former colleagues to be aware that their phone conversations, while protected by the Constitution, may not be protected from intelligence agencies’ covert practices. 

It would be wise to FOIA all intel agencies to see who has been watching, or listening in.

Considering the disaster of Iraq and Libya, and the failure of the intel agencies, Congress must reassert its Constitutional authority over matters of war, insist on its prerogatives as a co-equal branch of government and demand accountability on foreign policy. There should be severe penalties for the top executives of any intel agency found spying on Congress.

The sanctity of the Constitution, the independence of Congress and the freedom of the American people are at stake.

Kucinich served in Congress from 1997 to 2013.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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