For a couple of hours on Tuesday, top Justice and intelligence officials tried to convince the Senate Intelligence Committee to support a secret eavesdropping bill submitted by President Bush. The legislation would pretty much gut the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is the U.S. law of surveillance guidelines for the intelligence community.
In a rare case of better-late-than-never spinal cord regeneration, members of the Senate committee told the Justice Department it had to pony up information about the domestic spying that’s already in progress before they can even hope to get more power to spy on Americans without a warrant.
Up until last January, for over five years, President Bush unconstitutionally and criminally authorized the government to spy on phone calls and e-mails to and from the United States without warrants. After this came to light, Bush didn’t go to jail, but in January the administration did agree to ask for court-approved warrants before wiretapping the phone of any U.S. citizen.
But forget that now. In Tuesday’s hearing, Michael McConnell, the directory of national intelligence, said that he couldn’t promise that President Bush would seek a warrant before listening in on Americans. The whole episode is akin to Charles Manson telling his parole board he can’t promise that he won’t carve up some more actresses with steak knives, and the laws against murder should be expanded to allow him to do this just in case he needs to.
McConnell even tried to use the magic boogieman word: he said that FISA needs to be modernized because of significant threats from “al-Qaeda.”
More Eavesdropping Won’t Win War on Terror
The truth is that the government doesn’t need to gut FISA to combat al-Qaeda.
Just last year, a secret FISA court approved 2,176 warrants for eavesdropping on people in the United States. The same court only denied one request. So, unless Bush wants to listen to somebody he’s not supposed to listen to, what’s the problem?
In the war against terror, the big problem is not surveillance. The problem is not gathering information. The FBI and the CIA already have more information than they can process. I mean, when you have two 9/11 hijackers fresh from an al-Qaeda conference, sharing a kitchen with the best FBI informant in San Diego, and you still can’t connect the dots — believe me, monitoring the telephone calls and emails of more Americans isn’t going to give you a clue. Wiretapping doesn’t cure incompetence.
Besides, the government seems to already have enough intelligence agents aiding and abetting al-Qaeda to keep them under tabs without law-abiding Americans sacrificing any more of their Constitutional rights.
In addition, the NSA already has ECHELON…
ECHELON Global Surveillance Network
ECHELON is a worldwide electronic surveillance network that captures all kinds of electronic data streams — radio, satellite, telephone calls, faxes, and e-mails. According to a year 2000 BBC article about ECHELON:
The Echelon spy system, whose existence has only recently been acknowledged by US officials, is capable of hoovering up millions of phone calls, faxes and emails a minute.
Echelon evolved out of Cold War espionage arrangements set up by the US and UK in 1948, and later bringing in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, in their capacity as Britain’s Commonwealth partners.
The biggest of Echelon’s global network of listening posts is at Menwith Hill, North Yorkshire, where about 30 “giant golf balls” called radomes litter the landscape. The system also boasts 120 American satellites in geostationary orbit.
Bases in the five countries are linked directly to the headquarters of the secretive US National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters at Fort Mead, Maryland.
The system’s superpowerful voice recognition capability enables it to filter billions of international communications for whatever key words or word patterns are programmed in.
As you can see, the Bush administration’s agenda is not to struggle with citizens over their right to privacy. Americans quietly lost that battle a long time ago.
No, the Bush administration’s agenda may only amount to informing Americans about what they’ve already lost. Bush probably wants to break the news as gently as possible to avoid a full-scale revolt. Most politicians aren’t fond of tar and feathers.
[tags]Bush, FISA, wiretapping, eavesdropping, surveillance, spying, ECHELON, privacy, terrorism[/tags]