Tuesday, December 20, 2005

more thoughts on domestic surveillance

"This is a different era, a different war. People are changing phone numbers and phone calls, and they're moving quick. And we've got to be able to detect and prevent. I keep saying that, but this . . . requires quick action." de facto President George W. Bush, yesterday at his press conference.

Guess who this quote is from? See the end of this entry for the answer. "An evil exists that threatens every man, woman and child of this great nation. We must take steps to ensure our domestic security and protect our homeland."

Talking about the domestic spying by the National Security Agency, Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales said "This is not a backdoor approach. We believe Congress has authorized this kind of surveillance." But then he acknowledged that they decided not to ask for legislation explicitly asking for such authority because it "would be difficult, if not impossible" to pass.

In other words, it WAS a backdoor approach, and Gonzales cannot possibly believe that they were authorized by Congress or they wouldn't have considered asking for new legislation. Congress would be wary about passing such a measure because many members are reluctant to condone the creation of a "security state" that takes civil liberties too lightly. The same reason they made many provisions of the Patriot Act subject to being renewed. Oh, and by the way, Congressional notification is meaningless if they can't see the details of the programs in question AND are banned by law from SAYING anything about it!

Remember -- the special court established in 1978 under FISA has had a record of acting quickly and rarely refusing a warrant. And they are willing, in an instance where time really IS short, to issue warrants after the intercept if necessary. The requirement to seek a warrant is supposed to prevent authorities from abusing the power, not to keep them from doing their job.

Yes, it makes a great deal of sense to monitor international calls of certain individuals, even calling from the United States -- that's fine and probably wise. But NOT to do so in violation of our laws.

Anyway, at his press conference, Bush resorted to the tried and true if-you-aren't-with-us, you're-against-us line: "It was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war," he said. "The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy." And he wants to investigate the leak that lead to the New York Times story.

I've got news -- I think international terrorists know damn well that the NSA tries to listen to their communications. The disclosure by the New York Times doesn't hurt us one bit. It hurts the Bushies though by again demonstrating their kneejerk reflex for secrecy and their willingness to break the law even when they don't NEED to. THAT was the shameful act. That's why Bush tried to convince the Times bigwigs in person a couple of weeks ago not to run the story.

I just wish they'd run it before the elections last year.

Meanwhile, the FBI is also keeping tabs on various dangerous organizations. You may have heard of some of them. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The Catholic League (an organization dedicated to charity which the FBI saw as "semi-communistic"). Greenpeace.

Personally, I'd rather have the FBI looking out for terrorists, not social workers and animal activists and environmentalists. Even apart from being possibly illegal and definitely wrong, isn't it also a waste of time and money?

By the way, the quote above wasn't from Bush or Cheney or Gonzales or Rumsfeld. From a guy you may have heard of called Hitler.