The Enemy is Us

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My interest in politics has risen steadily over the past 6-8 years. As I grew older, the assumptions I picked up in childhood about the political process and the roles our parties played changed. In the year 2000, consistent with my general philosophy of letting adults make their own decisions and having small government - in other words, the philosophy of being fiscally conservative and socially liberal - I voted libertarian. I watched as the drama of the 2000 vote unfolded. Even if you were skeptical and chose to believe that most of what was happening in Florida in 2000 was on the up and up, the the 2004 elections were far more suspicious. The fact that leading e-voting machine manufacturer Diebold's CEO, Walden O'Dell, wrote "I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year" doesn't actually concern me all that much. I don't believe that he had anything to do with it. But the machines Diebold makes have major security problems, and that should be grave cause for concern, especially with close elections. We have enough fraud to worry about with voter intimidation, ballot stuff, dead people voting, and son on without having to ask if the machines counting the votes even work right.

Of course, part of my incredulity is about asking: who voted for this guy? Weren't there enough reasons why Bush should not be re-elected?

Some of the major reasons involve the disinformation the Bush administration propagated.

Vice President Cheney said that Iraq was "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11." The bipartisan 9/11 Commission found that Iraq had no involvement in the 9/11 attacks and no collaborative operational relationship with Al Qaeda.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said that high-strength aluminum tubes acquired by Iraq were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," warning "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." The government's top nuclear scientists had told the Administration the tubes were "too narrow, too heavy, too long" to be of use in developing nuclear weapons and could be used for other purposes.

And, of course...

After receiving a memo from the CIA in August 2001 titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack America," President Bush continued his monthlong vacation.

This segues nicely into the point I have to make now. President Bush says that his illegal spying on Americans is Legal and Essential. He has the gall to imply that the whistleblower who divulged it committed a "shameful act", which is a bit like if Nixon had copped to bugging at Watergate, and then said it was essential for the nation and that Woodward and Bernstein were committing a "shameful act" by uncovering it.

But the Bush Administration made a foolish mistake. If they wanted to propagate the belief that this was somehow legal, they should have just said, "It is legal" and left it at that. Because their offered explanation is laughable.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales also spoke out today as the Bush administration mounted an all-out offensive to rebut the criticisms of Democrats. "Our position is that the authorization to use military force, which was passed by the Congress after Sept. 11, constitutes that authority," he said.

So Gonzales is trying to say that the authorization for war, authorizing "all necessary and appropriate force" in the war on terror, includes spying on Americans in violation of the FISA. As Gonzales himself explained:

"The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides that you must get a court order to engage in electronic surveillance of the type that the president talked about on Saturday, except as otherwise authorized by Congress," he told CNN.

"We believe that other authorization by Congress exists in the authorization of the use of military force that was passed by the Congress in the days after September 11," he added.

That has to be the most specious argument I've heard yet from this administration. It is absurd, and I fully expect Bush to face impeachment now. He has flagrantly violated the law, repeatedly, he is completely unrepentant, and if playing games with the definition of "Sexual relations" is enough to get Clinton impeached, then drastically misinterpreting "military force" for a self-serving domestic espionage agenda certainly qualifies as sufficient to impeach Bush.

The spying is shocking, but very much in keeping with the attitude of this administration. When I first commented on the FISA violations, I quoted some of Bush's assertions from the second 2004 Presidential debate where he stated:

I really don't think your rights are being watered down. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't support it if I thought that.

The dismission of concern flies in the face of massive concern over one of the most controversial pieces of legislation ever.

Returning to the FISA violations, something needs to be asked: Why did they not get the court orders retroactively? The FISA does not mandate that no domestic espionage can be performed without warrants; it only mandates that a warrant be sought retroactively. It provides law enforcement with the ability to act fast, subject only to minor oversight after the fact.

The Bush Administration has done a good job convincing people that in "times like these" - by which they refer to the interminable "war on terror" - we need to do a lot to maintain security. Getting warrants rubberstamped is likely to be the easiest thing in the world.

So why was the Bush Administration unwilling to allow after-the-fact oversight related to this domestic espionage? The obvious answer is that they were up to something so heinous that their plans would be disrupted by even the most minimal oversight. In other words, the fact that they were illegally performing acts of espionage in violation of the FISA with no apparent reason for the deception and no credible excuse for failing to meet the requirements must be taken as prima facie evidence that the Bush Administration was misusing the espionage. In other words, the targets were not terrorists or potential terrorists. They were likely not even criminals.

I believe the Bush Administration has been using the NSA to spy on political "dissidents".

This is the only explanation that makes sense. It is absurd to imply that permitting a special FISA court to oversight the espionage activites would compromise national security. There is a small set of judges associated with a "FISA court". You can read this FISA-related letter to get information about what the FISA Court is.

A brief description and explanation of the docket of the Court is in order. In general, the docket reflects all filings with the Court and is comprised almost exclusively of applications for electronic surveillance and/or searches, the orders authorizing the surveillance and the search warrants, and returns on the warrants. All of these docket entries are classified at secret and top secret level. Each application is ruled upon by an individual judge. It is very rare that the FISA Court sits en banc and renders a decision. As already noted, it is equally rare to have unclassified material on the docket. The May 17th order was such a case because the government made a request of the Court, raising an unclassified legal issue, that affected information that had been gathered pursuant to past surveillance orders and search warrants that had been authorized individually by all of the judges on the FISA Court. Therefore, it was appropriate for the Court to sit en banc and consider the request of the government.


Colleen Kollar-Kotelly
Presiding Judge, United States
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Would the administration have us believe that the small panel of judges associated with the FISA court was a national security risk? Perhaps for one or two incredibly critical, super-private, incredibly classified taps. But to suggest that our FISA judges comprise a security risk to review thousands of wiretaps is absurd.

Feingold, the lone Senator with enough respect for our civil liberties to refrain from voting for the Patriot Act in 2001, had this to say:

The President's shocking admission that he authorized the National Security Agency to spy on American citizens, without going to a court and in violation of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress, further demonstrates the urgent need for these protections. The President believes that he has the power to override the laws that Congress has passed. This is not how our democratic system of government works. The President does not get to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. He is a president, not a king.

Some of the quotes in response to Bush's rationale are just priceless:

"The president does not have a leg to stand on legally with regard to this program," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.). He added, "I think it's one of the weakest legal arguments I've heard that this [Afghanistan] war resolution somehow undid the basic laws of wiretapping in the United States."

If Bush feels the FISA law needs to be changed, "he should come to us and we should debate it," Feingold said. Meanwhile, Bush should respect the FISA court and "cease doing anything else he might be doing for which there is not legal authority that we don't know about," he said. "He is the president, not a king."

"Where does he find in the Constitution the authority to tap the wires and the phones of American citizens without any court oversight?" demanded Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He also disputed Bush's statement in the news conference that checks on his executive power -- such as his authority to order the secret surveillance -- came from his oath of office and congressional oversight.

"That's not a check on the executive branch, notifying some members of Congress -- if he did -- that he's taken the law into his own hands," Levin said. "That is not a check on the executive branch, nor is the fact that he gets opinions from six lawyers in the executive branch, all under his control, that he can do this."

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said that "like my colleagues, I'm just stunned by the president's rationales with respect to the illegal wiretapping."

I liked this quote when I posted earlier today, and I like it still:

Bush warned us that the terrorists hate us for our freedoms. True to his word, he's been making life safer for us by making us less of a target for terrorists.

A friend of mine said that, and it's painfully true. But I've always been generally opposed to any unchecked power or things that violate traditional understanding of civil liberties recognized by the Constitution. That's not new. What is new is the flagrant and shameless lawbreaking by Bush.

It is time for Bush to be impeached. If it doesn't happen, it is the duty of every American to go to the polls and vote to have a President rather than a king, and toss the entire Republican establishment out of office. If they won't do their duty and impeach Bush and force him to answer for his illegal acts, they should be voted out to make room for those who will.

Meanwhile, one has to ask: if you wanted to undermine the politics of America, and secure unchecked power for yourself or your faction, how would you do it? Bush's growing audacity speaks to larger plans. Are we ready for an America where Bush's self-declared "War powers" have no limits? How long before Bush's spying and dangerous reprisals against dissent begin to quash political opposition?

Meanwhile, now is a very interesting time to learn something about Russ Feingold, who was the 1 in the 99-1 approval vote of the Patriot Act. Now, over 40 democrats and four Republicans are with him as he leads a filibuster to prevent re-approval of the sunsetting provisions of the Patriot Act.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Matt published on December 19, 2005 2:34 PM.

Homeland Security Snoops on Student Book Loans was the previous entry in this blog.

Think Progress details on FISA is the next entry in this blog.

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