January 22, 2004

Infiltration of files seen as extensive, Senate panel's GOP staff pried on Democrats

Does this story shed light on the mysterious timidity
of many Senate Democrats? As reported in the LNS, Sen.
Paul Wellstone told a gathering of veterans in
Minnesota, prior to his death, that VICE _resident
Cheney had threatened "dire consequences" for both the
state of Minnesota and Wellstone himself -- if he voted against the Iraq war resolution, which he did...There is, also, of course, the lingering impact of the
anthrax-laden letters addressed to then Senate Majority leader Tom Duck-It (D-SD) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), then chairman of the Judiciary
Committee, as well as VICE _resident Cheney's personal "warning" to Duck-It not to dig to deep into 9/11. But this recent revelation, of at least a year of GOP espionage (i.e. theft of confidential, internal memoes, etc.) could explain some of the capitulation...fear, blackmail...

Charlie Savage, Boston Globe: From the spring of 2002
until at least April 2003, members of the GOP
committee staff exploited a computer glitch that
allowed them to access restricted Democratic
communications without a password. Trolling through
hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking
points and accounts of private meetings discussing
which judicial nominees Democrats would fight -- and
with what tactics.

Rebuke the Rabid Right and Return the _resident to
Waco, Show Up for Democracy in 2004: Defeat Bush
(again!)

http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2004/01/22/infiltration_of_files_seen_as_extensive?mode=PF
Infiltration of files seen as extensive, Senate panel's GOP staff pried on Democrats
By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff, 1/22/2004

WASHINGTON -- Republican staff members of the US
Senate Judiciary Commitee infiltrated opposition
computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy
memos and periodically passing on copies to the media,
Senate officials told The Globe.

>From the spring of 2002 until at least April 2003,
members of the GOP committee staff exploited a
computer glitch that allowed them to access restricted
Democratic communications without a password. Trolling
through hundreds of memos, they were able to read
talking points and accounts of private meetings
discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would
fight -- and with what tactics.

The office of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle
has already launched an investigation into how
excerpts from 15 Democratic memos showed up in the
pages of the conservative-leaning newspapers and were
posted to a website last November.

With the help of forensic computer experts from
General Dynamics and the US Secret Service, his office
has interviewed about 120 people to date and seized
more than half a dozen computers -- including four
Judiciary servers, one server from the office of
Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, and
several desktop hard drives.

But the scope of both the intrusions and the likely
disclosures is now known to have been far more
extensive than the November incident, staffers and
others familiar with the investigation say.

The revelation comes as the battle of judicial
nominees is reaching a new level of intensity. Last
week, President Bush used his recess power to appoint
Judge Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court of
Appeals, bypassing a Democratic filibuster that
blocked a vote on his nomination for a year because of
concerns over his civil rights record.

Democrats now claim their private memos formed the
basis for a February 2003 column by conservative
pundit Robert Novak that revealed plans pushed by
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts,
to filibuster certain judicial nominees. Novak is also
at the center of an investigation into who leaked the
identity of a CIA agent whose husband contradicted a
Bush administration claim about Iraqi nuclear
programs.

Citing "internal Senate sources," Novak's column
described closed-door Democratic meetings about how to
handle nominees.

Its details and direct quotes from Democrats --
characterizing former nominee Miguel Estrada as a
"stealth right-wing zealot" and describing the GOP
agenda as an "assembly line" for right-wing nominees
-- are contained in talking points and meeting
accounts from the Democratic files now known to have
been compromised.

Novak declined to confirm or deny whether his column
was based on these files.

"They're welcome to think anything they want," he
said. "As has been demonstrated, I don't reveal my
sources."

As the extent to which Democratic communications were
monitored came into sharper focus, Republicans
yesterday offered a new defense. They said that in the
summer of 2002, their computer technician informed his
Democratic counterpart of the glitch, but Democrats
did nothing to fix the problem.

Other staffers, however, denied that the Democrats
were told anything about it before November 2003.

The emerging scope of the GOP surveillance of
confidential Democratic files represents a major
escalation in partisan warfare over judicial
appointments. The bitter fight traces back to 1987,
when Democrats torpedoed Robert Bork's nomination to
the Supreme Court. In the 1990s, Republicans blocked
many of President Clinton's nominees. Since President
Bush took office, those roles have been reversed.

Against that backdrop, both sides have something to
gain and lose from the investigation into the computer
files. For Democrats, the scandal highlights GOP dirty
tricks that could result in ethics complaints to the
Senate and the Washington Bar -- or even criminal
charges under computer intrusion laws.

"They had an obligation to tell each of the people
whose files they were intruding upon -- assuming it
was an accident -- that that was going on so those
people could protect themselves," said one Senate
staffer. "To keep on getting these files is just
beyond the pale."

But for Republicans, the scandal also keeps attention
on the memo contents, which demonstrate the influence
of liberal interest groups in choosing which nominees
Democratic senators would filibuster. Other
revelations from the memos include Democrats'
race-based characterization of Estrada as "especially
dangerous, because . . . he is Latino," which they
feared would make him difficult to block from a later
promotion to the Supreme Court.

And, at the request of the NAACP, the Democrats
delayed any hearings for the Sixth Circuit Court of
Appeals until after it heard a landmark affirmative
action case -- though a memo noted that staffers "are
a little concerned about the propriety of scheduling
hearings based on the resolution of a particular
case."

After the contents of those memos were made public in
The Wall Street Journal editorial pages and The
Washington Times, Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch,
Republican of Utah, made a preliminary inquiry and
described himself as "mortified that this improper,
unethical and simply unacceptable breach of
confidential files may have occurred on my watch."

Hatch also confirmed that "at least one current member
of the Judiciary Committee staff had improperly
accessed at least some of the documents referenced in
media reports." He did not name the staffer, who he
said was being placed on leave and who sources said
has since resigned, although he had apparently already
announced plans to return to school later this year.

Officials familiar with the investigation identified
that person as a legislative staff assistant whose
name was removed from a list of Judiciary Committee
staff in the most recent update of a Capitol Hill
directory. The staff member's home number has been
disconnected and he could not be reached for comment.

Hatch also said that a "former member of the Judiciary
staff may have been involved." Many news reports have
subsequently identified that person as Manuel Miranda,
who formerly worked in the Judiciary Committee office
and now is the chief judicial nominee adviser in the
Senate majority leader's office. His computer hard
drive name was stamped on an e-mail from the National
Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League that
was posted along with the Democratic Senate staff
communications.

Reached at home, Miranda said he is on paternity
leave; Frist's office said he is on leave "pending the
results of the investigation" -- he denied that any of
the handwritten comments on the memos were by his hand
and said he did not distribute the memos to the media.
He also argued that the only wrongdoing was on the
part of the Democrats -- both for the content of their
memos, and for their negligence in placing them where
they could be seen.

"There appears to have been no hacking, no stealing,
and no violation of any Senate rule," Miranda said.
"Stealing assumes a property right and there is no
property right to a government document. . . . These
documents are not covered under the Senate disclosure
rule because they are not official business and, to
the extent they were disclosed, they were disclosed
inadvertently by negligent [Democratic] staff."

Whether the memos are ultimately deemed to be official
business will be a central issue in any criminal case
that could result. Unauthorized access of such
material could be punishable by up to a year in prison
-- or, at the least, sanction under a Senate
non-disclosure rule.

The computer glitch dates to 2001, when Democrats took
control of the Senate after the defection from the GOP
of Senator Jim Jeffords, Independent of Vermont.

A technician hired by the new judiciary chairman,
Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, apparently made a
mistake that allowed anyone to access newly created
accounts on a Judiciary Committee server shared by
both parties -- even though the accounts were supposed
to restrict access only to those with the right
password.

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

Posted by richard at January 22, 2004 12:05 PM