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Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016

Gore's criticism strikes a sour note

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

You sure do have a short memory, Al.

One of the big news stories this week was former vice-president Al Gore's blistering speech about George W. Bush and the current National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdropping flap which has managed to sell some papers for the New York Times and books for author James Risen.

We haven't heard too much from Al lately, and usually when we do it turns out to be a long speech featuring a lot of abuse and criticism directed at the president. On Monday, Gore certainly did not disappoint.

An outraged Gore -- and he is always outraged when it comes to Bush -- said that "a president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government."

Gore spent the better part of 90 minutes tearing into the president over the NSA matter. Gore claimed that Bush has no authority to conduct the war on terror as he has been, and that his policies have crossed the line into criminal activity. The former vice president stated that the current administration has been "breaking the law repeatedly and persistently," and that the war has "brought our republic to the brink of a dangerous breach in the fabric of the Constitution."

While the word "impeachment" was not used, you could tell it was on Al's mind, as well as in the thoughts of his target audience.

But this whole eavesdropping-on-terrorists thing should have jogged Gore's memory a bit because over 10 years ago, he supported very much the same thing.

Anyone remember the Clipper Chip? Many do, and it's surprising that some in the mainstream media haven't brought up the topic. For those of you who don't recall, back in 1993 the Internet was just beginning to be used widely by the public and the Clinton Administration believed that some communications might not be susceptible to government interception. Their solution was the endorsement of the mandatory installation of the little gadget into computers, cell phones and fax machines.

According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Clipper Chip was a cryptographic device that was intended to protect private communications while at the same time allowing government agents to obtain the "keys" upon presentation of what had been vaguely characterized as "legal authorization."

The "keys" were to be held by two government "escrow agents" and would have enabled them to access the encrypted private communication.

Sound familiar now, Al?

The chip was designed by the government ... the NSA in fact, and the device was supposed to be adopted by all consumer electronics manufacturers, with the Agency holding the keys.

Gore was behind this idea 100 percent. In fact, on Feb. 4, 1994, a statement from the Office of the Vice President said that the encryption chip represented "important steps in the implementation of the Administration's policy on this critical issue. Our policy is designed to provide better encryption to individuals and businesses while ensuring that the needs of law enforcement and national security are met."

"Encryption is a law and order issue since it can be used by criminals to thwart wiretaps and avoid detection and prosecution. It also has huge strategic value. Encryption technology and cryptoanalysis turned the tide in the Pacific and elsewhere during World War II."

Does that sound familiar, Al?

Privacy advocates were outraged and the proposal was widely criticized. Groups like the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Electronic Frontier Foundation said that the chip would have the effect of subjecting innocent American citizens to increased and possibly illegal government surveillance.

Not only that, since the chip was classified as secret, no one would be able to tell if it really made them secure. Also, while domestic suppliers of electronic equipment might be forced to install the chip, overseas competitors would not be.

Ironically, it was none other than then-Sen. John Ashcroft, the future attorney general under Bush, who was a leading opponent of the chip proposal. Manufacturers and consumers did not take to the idea and it quietly died in 1996. The Clinton administration relaxed its stance and allowed manufacturers to put stronger encryption into their products as long as they committed to systems that allowed the government to recover the "keys."

In 1998, the encryption algorithms used in the proposed chip were declassified. But that same year, the Washington Post reported that Gore was still pushing the issue, assuming "a more visible role in the encryption debate by attempting to broker an agreement that suits high-tech companies, privacy advocates and federal law enforcement and intelligence officials."

Yesterday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan also took a jab at Gore for his faulty memory when it comes to those searches he blasted Bush for. According to the Associated Press, McClellan said the Clinton-Gore administration had engaged in warrantless physical searches, namely an FBI search of the home of CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames without permission from a judge.

He also said Clinton's deputy attorney general, Jamie Gorelick, had testified before Congress that the president had the inherent authority to engage in physical searches without warrants.

"I think his hypocrisy knows no bounds," McClellan said of the former VP.

It's too bad McClellan never brought up the Clipper Chip matter. For myself, the fact that Al Gore does not remember his own words and actions regarding government eavesdropping on American citizens really bugs me.