Thursday, December 29, 2005


Domestic Spying: Bush Breaks Law Because It Suits Him

Ted Rall has become one of my favorite columnists: he’s witty and cynical, hard-headed and very readable. A lot of columnists fail in all those categories.

Spying on American citizens is the Number One news story these days. As if it just happened, yeah. Part of the shame of it is this is just old behavior. In this regard, the government is like the abusive husband: he promises never to hit his wife again and then, once she’s forgiven him, hits her. Spying and lying: America’s government at work.

Ted Rall: 'The return of Total Information Awareness: Bush asserts dictatorial 'inherent' powers'
Date: Thursday, December 29 @ 08:58:25 EST
Topic: The Constitution & Civil Liberties


NEW YORK--Civil libertarians relaxed when, in September 2003, Republicans bowed to public outcry and cancelled Total Information Awareness. TIA was a covert "data mining" operation run out of the Pentagon by creepy Iran-Contra figure John Poindexter. Bush Administration marketing mavens had tried to dress up the sinister "dataveillance" spook squad--first by changing TIA to Terrorism Information Awareness, then to the Information Awareness Office--to no avail. "But," wondered the Electronic Frontier Foundation watchdog group a month after Congress cut its funding, "is TIA truly dead?"

At the time I bet "no." Once a regime has revealed a predilection for spying on its own people, the histories of East Germany and Richard Nixon teach us, they never quit voluntarily. The cyclical clicks that appeared on my phone line after 9/11 corroborated my belief that federal spy agencies were using the War on Terrorism as a pretext for harassing their real enemies: liberals and others who criticized their policies. As did the phony Verizon employee tearing out of my building's basement, leaving the phone switching box open, when I demanded to see his identification. He drove away in an unmarked van.

So I was barely surprised to hear the big news that Bush had ordered the National Security Agency, FBI and CIA to tap the phones and emails of such dangerously subversive radical Islamist anti-American terrorist groups as Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American Indian Movement and the Catholic Workers, without bothering to apply for a warrant. "The Catholic Workers advocated peace with a Christian and semi-communistic ideology," an agent wrote in an FBI dossier, a man sadly unaware of the passings of J. Edgar Hoover and the Soviet Union.

Old joke: A suspect running away from a cop ducks down a long dark alley. When the policeman's partner catches up he finds the first cop walking around in circles under a bright streetlamp. "What are you doing?" the second officer asks. "The guy ran into that alley!" "I know," his colleague replies, "but looking for him out here is a lot easier."

No wonder they haven't found Osama bin Laden. Tapping the ACLU's phones is easier than traipsing through Pakistani Kashmir.

The return of brazen Nixon-style domestic eavesdropping --it undoubtedly occurred under presidents from Ford to Clinton, though on a smaller, more discreet scale--indicates that the White House is flipping ahead to the next page in its Hitler playbook, the part about exploiting a state of perpetual war to stifle internal dissent on a vast scale. "As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants," the New York Times reports, "the NSA has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications." Maybe I should worry about the real Verizon guy too.

But then, last week, Bush also claimed the right to spy within the United States. Despite Congressional denials Bush said that the resolution that authorized him to use force to go after the perpetrators behind 9/11--which he used to invade Afghanistan--also gave him the right to listen in on Greenpeace and infiltrate a PETA seminar on veganism (yes, really). Attorney General and torture aficionado Alberto R. Gonzales cited the president's "inherent power as commander in chief."

Actually, as Peter Irons documents in his outstanding War Powers: How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution, the Founding Fathers never intended for the "commander in chief" to have any powers beyond ordering troops to repel an invasion force. As everyone understood in 1787, the title was strictly ceremonial. A president can't declare war, much less violate our privacy, based on his commander-in-chief "authority."

Officials of a democratic republic derive their power and authority from law. As servants of the people, they can't do anything unless it's specifically authorized by law or judicial interpretations thereof. Only in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes may a legal theory be created that imbues the leader, as the personal embodiment of the state, with "inherent" powers. For example, the Nazi "führer principle," in which the head of state was answerable to no one and the legislative and judicial branches of governments were reduced to rubber stamps, required Hitler to assign himself inherent powers.

Bush and Gonzales' interpretation of their roles is alien, un-American. Do they understand our system of government? Or are they trying to change it to something more "efficient"--something closer to authoritarian state led by a strongman, or even outright fascism?

When I first read about Bush's domestic eavesdropping operation--which he promises to continue--I did what any left-of-center Bush-bashing cartoonist and columnist would do: I filed Freedom of Information Act requests to force the FBI, CIA and NSA to cough up whatever they've got on me. After all, if the feds are going after Ancient Forest Rescue, it isn't a big stretch to surmise that they might be interested in a guy who says that George W. Bush is illegitimate, dumb as a rock and the head of a cabal of sociopathic mass murderers who've done more to destroy the United States than Osama. I'll let you know what, if anything, turns up.

Interesting tidbit: When I visited the NSA's official website, my browser warned me that I was "about to enter a site that is not secure." Ain't that the truth.

Source: Yahoo

The URL for this story is:


The second story in this mess is that the probable reason Bush went and broke the law regarding warrants is because the FISA court actually acted in a fair manner and objected to some of the government’s justifications for warrants. So, Bush-baby threw a tantrum and did it his own way, inventing—no, he didn’t invent it, he just got his lawyers to justify it enough to satisfy him—some sort of regal right to act outside—not “above”—the law. In other words, he was given rationalizations for his actions.

Secret Court Modified Wiretap Requests
By Stewart M. Powell
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Saturday 24 December 2005
Intervention may have led Bush to bypass panel.
Washington - Government records show that the administration was encountering unprecedented second-guessing by the secret federal surveillance court when President Bush decided to bypass the panel and order surveillance of US-based terror suspects without the court's approval.
A review of Justice Department reports to Congress shows that the 26-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court modified more wiretap requests from the Bush administration than from the four previous presidential administrations combined.
The court's repeated intervention in Bush administration wiretap requests may explain why the president decided to bypass the court nearly four years ago to launch secret National Security Agency spying on hundreds and possibly thousands of Americans and foreigners inside the United States, according to James Bamford, an acknowledged authority on the supersecret NSA, which intercepts telephone calls, e-mails, faxes and Internet communications.
"They wanted to expand the number of people they were eavesdropping on, and they didn't think they could get the warrants they needed from the court to monitor those people," said Bamford, author of "Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency" and "The Puzzle Palace: Inside America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization." "The FISA court has shown its displeasure by tinkering with these applications by the Bush administration."
Bamford offered his speculation in an interview last week.
The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, adopted by Congress in the wake of President Nixon's misuse of the NSA and the CIA before his resignation over Watergate, sets a high standard for court-approved wiretaps on Americans and resident aliens inside the United States.
To win a court-approved wiretap, the government must show "probable cause" that the target of the surveillance is a member of a foreign terrorist organization or foreign power and is engaged in activities that "may" involve a violation of criminal law.
Faced with that standard, Bamford said, the Bush administration had difficulty obtaining FISA court-approved wiretaps on dozens of people within the United States who were communicating with targeted al-Qaida suspects inside the United States.
The 11-judge court that authorizes FISA wiretaps has approved at least 18,740 applications for electronic surveillance or physical searches from five presidential administrations since 1979.
The judges modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications that were approved over the first 22 years of the court's operation. In 20 of the first 21 annual reports on the court's activities up to 1999, the Justice Department told Congress that "no orders were entered (by the FISA court) which modified or denied the requested authority" submitted by the government.
But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for court-ordered surveillance by the Bush administration. A total of 173 of those court-ordered "substantive modifications" took place in 2003 and 2004 - the most recent years for which public records are available.
The judges also rejected or deferred at least six requests for warrants during those two years - the first outright rejection in the court's history.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said last week that Bush authorized NSA surveillance of overseas communications by US-based terror suspects because the FISA court's approval process was too cumbersome.
The Bush administration, responding to concerns expressed by some judges on the 11-member panel, agreed last week to give them a classified briefing on the domestic spying program. U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard, a member of the panel, told CNN that the Bush administration agreed to brief the judges after US District Judge James Robertson resigned from the FISA panel, apparently to protest Bush's spying program.
Bamford, 59, a Vietnam-era Navy veteran, likens the Bush administration's domestic surveillance without court approval to Nixon-era abuses of intelligence agencies.
NSA and previous eavesdropping agencies collected duplicates of all international telegrams to and from the United States for decades during the Cold War under a program code-named "Shamrock" before the program ended in the 1970s. A program known as "Minaret" tracked 75,000 Americans whose activities had drawn government interest between 1952 and 1974, including participation in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War.
"NSA prides itself on learning the lessons of the 1970s and obeying the legal restrictions imposed by FISA," Bamford said. "Now it looks like we're going back to the bad old days again."

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