Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Spying On U.S. Citizens Over? Don't Bet On It.

Reuters reports that George W. Bush has decided not to continue spying on U.S. citizens in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I wouldn't bet my freedom on it.

When the New York Times blew the lid off the secret, warrantless NSA wiretapping program, Bush didn't even try to lie his way out of it. Quite the contrary; he bragged about spying on Americans without warrants, and declared he would continue to do so.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, was set up in 1978 to prevent the sort of abuses practiced by Richard Nixon during his own presidency, which ended in resignation and humiliation. It requires federal authorities, including the president, to obtain a warrant before engaging in surveillance on American citizens.

A special court was established to oversee FISA, coming to be known as the FISA Court. It set ridiculously lax standards for obtaining warrants, and FISA was rewritten several years ago to make it even easier for federal authorities to spy on people; now, warrants must still be obtained, but the government can tap your phone line for up to seventy-two hours without a warrant before obtaining one. Theoretically, if the government doesn't get such a warrant within the allotted three day period, it is supposed to cease all surveillance activity on the suspect.

The FISA Court grants nearly 100% of warrant applications. Which makes Bush's multitude of violations of the Act even more suspicious. Think about it: the only reason Bush has, logically, for circumventing the Court is if he fears it will actually deny the applications. And why would the Court, with its lax standards, do that?

The only answer that makes any kind of sense is that the people Bush is spying on are not suspected terrorists. Which means his regime has not just repeatedly violated the law and gutted the Constitution, but is currently the single biggest threat to the U.S.

A federal district court ordered a stop to the illegal wiretaps, but given the dictator's propensity for ignoring Congress, the law, and the Constitution it was not surprising in the least when he ignored the judge's order.

So what has changed?

A Congress with Democrats in control, itching to begin official hearings backed by subpoena power. If Democrats begin looking closely at the NSA program, they will find evidence that would make keeping impeachment off the table impossible.

But don't count on the threat of investigation, censure or even impeachment to put a halt to Bush's crimes. Anyone familiar with Bush's endless deceptions and abuses of power should know by now that he will not stop breaking the law just because someone tells to. He will keep engaging in warrantless surveillance; it's just that now it will be even more under the radar than it was before the NYT exposed the program the first time around.

As with the escalation of the war in Iraq, the only way Bush can be stopped is if Congress stops him. And it won't do that unless public pressure forces it to impeach the traitor. Write your Representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives, in particular Michigan's John Conyers (now Chairman of the Judiciary Committee), and DEMAND the legislative body begin impeachment proceedings NOW.

American lives, and the Constitution, depend on it.


Wouldn't you know it? The very same evening I predict Bush will still spy on Americans under the radar, I find a New York Times article revealing changes in an Army manual allowing an opening for the warrantless wiretaps to continue. I'll reproduce the article in its entirety here, due to the nature of online archiving...

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 — Deep into an updated Army manual, the deletion of 10 words has left some national security experts wondering whether government lawyers are again asserting the executive branch’s right to wiretap Americans without a court warrant.

The manual, described by the Army as a “major revision” to intelligence-gathering guidelines, addresses policies and procedures for wiretapping Americans, among other issues.

The original guidelines, from 1984, said the Army could seek to wiretap people inside the United States on an emergency basis by going to the secret court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, or by obtaining certification from the attorney general “issued under the authority of section 102(a) of the Act.”

That last phrase is missing from the latest manual, which says simply that the Army can seek emergency wiretapping authority pursuant to an order issued by the FISA court “or upon attorney general authorization.” It makes no mention of the attorney general doing so under FISA.

Bush administration officials said that the wording change was insignificant, adding that the Army would follow FISA requirements if it sought to wiretap an American.

But the manual’s language worries some national security experts. “The administration does not get to make up its own rules,” said Steven Aftergood, who runs a project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.

The Army guidelines were finalized in November 2005, and Mr. Aftergood’s group recently obtained a copy under the Freedom of Information Act. He said he was struck by the omission, particularly because of the recent debate over the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program. President Bush has asserted that he can authorize eavesdropping without court warrants on the international communications of Americans suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda.

Like several other national security experts, Mr. Aftergood said the revised guidelines could suggest that Army lawyers had adopted the legal claim that the executive branch had authority outside the courts to conduct wiretaps.

But Thomas A. Gandy, a senior Army counterintelligence official who helped develop the guidelines, said the new wording did not suggest a policy change. The guidelines were intended to give Army intelligence personnel more explicit and, in some cases, more restrictive guidance than the 1984 regulations, partly to help them respond to new threats like computer hackers.

“This is all about doing right and following the rules and protecting the civil liberties of folks,” Mr. Gandy said. “It seeks to keep people out of trouble.”

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