Breaking everywhere the past week: 29-year-old former CIA IT guy and defense contractor Edward Snowden reveals to Glenn Greenwald that the NSA has been indiscriminately collecting everyone’s phone records and gouging into the data networks of Apple, Google, Facebook, and other mainstays of today’s social media. “The Prism program allows the NSA, the world’s largest surveillance organisation, to obtain targeted communications without having to request them from the service providers and without having to obtain individual court orders.”
Sadly, this isn’t all that surprising. There have been intimations that the NSA has been up to no good — even beyond the warrantless wiretap fiasco under Dubya — since that weird visit to John Ashcroft’s hospital bed. Nor, sadly, is it all that surprising that — despite saying exactly the opposite in 2007 — our current President is both fine with these surveillance practices and authorizing them. (And at least from my perspective, the idea that getting the rubber stamp approval of a secret FISA court that never says no makes it all ok does not hold water.)
This is exactly what I was talking about last update. Obama acts tortured about continuing all of Dubya’s most terrible civil liberties violations, but then goes ahead and does them anyway. For Crom’s sake, he’s even picked James Comey, the guy who approved warrantless wiretaps back in 2006, to be the new FBI chief. And because this president and this administration is so brazenly two-faced about their anti-terror policies, you end up with disturbing polls like this:
For example, in the Senate: On one hand, we have Ron Wyden, Mo Udall, and Jeff Merkley calling out Obama for continuing with this extra-legal, ginormous-net approach to surveillance. “‘As far as we can see, all of the useful information that it has provided appears to have also been available through other collection methods that do not violate the privacy of law-abiding Americans in the way that the Patriot Act collection does,’ Udall and Wyden said.”
On the other hand, here’s ostensibly Democrat Dianne Feinstein yesterday going full Body Snatcher about Snowden: “‘I don’t look at this as being a whistle-blower,’ Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calf.) said. ‘I think it’s an act of treason.‘” (FWIW, John Boehner and Lindsey Graham were right there with her.) Of course, it’s never “treason” when Feinstein continually does it, and, in any case, this wasn’t breaking news either: The senior Senator from California has long been a quintessential “symbol of the worthless Beltway Democrat.”
This revealing breeze stirred by the NSA revelations is coursing through media outlets too. On one hand, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan has — quite correctly — called for James Clapper’s resignation, given that he flat-out lied to Congress: “We as a nation are being asked to let the National Security Agency continue doing the intrusive things it’s been doing on the premise that congressional oversight will rein in abuses. But it’s hard to have meaningful oversight when an official in charge of the program lies so blatantly in one of the rare open hearings on the subject.” Spot on.
Meanwhile, TPM’s Josh Marshall, who likes to pretend his blog is a font of independent thinking, hems and haws about it all in classic pusillanimous Village-think fashion, all the while making sure never to say anything that might harm his establishment respectability. “I’ve made clear that I don’t see Manning as a hero or a whistleblower or really anything positive at all…Pretty early I realized that to his supporters Manning was a whistleblower who was being persecuted by the government, almost like a political prisoner or prisoner of conscience.” No, Josh, it doesn’t “seem” that way “to his supporters” — That is in fact what is %#%@ happening.
In any case, so as not to fall into the same trap, I’ll just say it outright: First, if Snowden and Manning are traitors, then so is Daniel Ellsberg and so, for that matter, is Dianne Feinstein and any other politician or government official who leaks when it’s convenient. (Also, sorry, folks. there is no substantive difference between revealing secrets to the criminal Julian Assange or to the venerable Bob Woodward. But please do let me know when Richard Armitage is put in a sweatbox for 23 hours a day.)
Second, this vast surveillance apparatus NSA has been constructing is both obviously overkill and clearly legally and constitutionally repugnant, and if this president lived up to even half the rhetoric he continually espoused before he was elected, he would have ended it years ago. Quite frankly, the doubletalk from him, and from so many other Democrats about these revelations so far, is both inexcusable and out-and-out pathetic.
“The grim truth is, not much has changed. The Bush administration continues to limit our basic freedoms, conceal its own worst behavior, and insist that it does all this in order to make us more free.” As a follow-up to her 2006 list of civil liberties violations, Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick surveys The Bush Administration’s Top 10 Stupidest Legal Arguments of 2007.
“James B. Comey, the straight-as-an-arrow former No. 2 official at the Justice Department, yesterday offered the Senate Judiciary Committee an account of Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source.” By way of Medley, the WP blanches at a ridiculous attempt by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to secure warrantless wiretaps against the will of the Justice Department. “Having failed, they were willing to defy the conclusions of the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and pursue the surveillance without Justice’s authorization. Only in the face of the prospect of mass resignations — Mr. Comey, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and most likely Mr. Ashcroft himself — did the president back down.“
“Whenever the courts push back against the administration’s unsupportable constitutional ideas…the Bush response is to repeat the same chorus louder: Every detainee is the worst of the worst; every action taken is legal, necessary, and secret. No mistakes, no apologies. No nuance, no regrets. This legal and intellectual intractability can create the illusion that we are standing on the same constitutional ground we stood upon in 2001, even as that ground is sliding away under our feet.” Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick surveys the top ten most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006.
“It’s something that’s been bothering me for quite some time, the direction in which the party has been going more and more toward big government and disregard toward privacy and civil liberties.” Staunch conservative, defender of civil liberties, and Borat cameo Bob Barr leaves the Republican Party (for the Libertarians.) Now if only Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe would follow his example…
“We should see the administration’s bill for what it is: a shattering assault on our constitutional system of checks and balances. It seeks to inaugurate an age of presidential supremacy over fundamental rights, without effective control by Congress or the courts. The Senate should reject it decisively when it comes to the floor in the coming weeks.” Yale professor Bruce Ackerman decries Dubya’s recent wiretapping bill, which recently passed out of committee on a party-line vote. (Thanks, Arlen.)
“Despite the Administration’s stonewalling, the Judiciary Committee, which knows even less about the program than the Intelligence Committee, today approved legislation that would not only legalize a program that the Committee does not understand but would also completely gut the FISA law…Expanding executive power at the request of a president who has shown such deep disrespect for the rule of law is exactly the wrong thing to do.” Checks and balances? Bah, humbug. At Dubya’s mandate — and despite Democratic attempts to limit the damage — Spineless Specter and the GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee approve legislation legalizing the NSA’s warrantless wiretap program. As the ACLU summed it up: “Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee acted as a rubber stamp for the administration’s abuse of power.” For shame.
After fierce debate among the neocons, Dubya comes clean about the CIA’s secret prisons (outed by the Post last November) and moves the detainees held therein to Gitmo. But don’t think this moment of clarity means King George is playing it straight just yet: He’s also asking Congress to sidestep recent court decisions and grant him power to continue wiretapping without warrants and to torture alleged evildoers with impunity. And even moderate Republicans and military lawyers have issues with his recent attempts to deny suspected terrorists due process.
Update: Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick has more: “The speech teemed with all the rhetorical wizardry you might expect of a do-over. Bush justified torture and extraordinary rendition while denying that they exist. He stuck a fork in the eye of the Supreme Court while agreeing to be bound by the majority’s decision. He conceded that Congress should play a role in creating military tribunals while demanding that it greenlight his plan.“
“This report raises serious concerns crucial to the survival of our democracy…If left unchecked, the president’s practice does grave harm to the separation of powers doctrine, and the system of checks and balances that have sustained our democracy for more than two centuries.” Then, again, I could be sold on the merits of bar associations…if they continue to call out Dubya for trampling on our Constitution.
“If another nation’s leader adopted such positions, the United States would be quick to condemn him or her for violating fundamental tenets of the rule of law, human rights, and the separation of powers. But President Bush has largely gotten away with it, at least at home, for at least three reasons. His party holds a decisive majority in Congress, making effective political checks by that branch highly unlikely. The Democratic Party has shied away from directly challenging the president for fear that it will be viewed as soft on terrorism. And the American public has for the most part offered only muted objections. These realities make the Supreme Court’s decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, issued on the last day of its 2005-2006 term, in equal parts stunning and crucial.” In related news, as seen at both Salon and Mother Jones (as well as the New York Review of Books), author and law professor David Cole underlines the importance of the Hamdan decision in preserving the rule of law and throttling Dubya’s unchecked power grabs of late.
“[I]f Specter’s bill prevails, it will amount to a White House masterstroke, precisely what James Madison had in mind when he described the dangers of unchecked rule by one branch of government: ‘the very definition of tyranny.’” Having read the legislation in full, author and wiretap expert Patrick Radden Keefe discovers, perhaps not surprisingly, that Specter’s recent NSA “compromise” is a complete capitulation to executive power. And, in very related news, file this under “repeated injuries and usurpations“: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified under oath this week that it was Dubya’s personal decision to close down the Justice Department’s probe into the NSA’s warrantless wiretaps (the one, you may recall, that couldn’t get the security clearances to do its job.)
Meanwhile, in another recent reversal — one likely precipitated by both the Hamdan case and pending lawsuits by the ACLU and others — the Dubya White House agrees to a deal put forth by Arlen “paper tiger” Specter that would put the NSA warrantless wiretaps to a constitutional review by the FISA court. But the trick, as many Dems have pointed out, is under this deal the FISA court would only do a general review of the wiretap program, rather than conduct the individual case-by-case reviews that the law has always demanded: “Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) criticized the agreement, saying he will oppose ‘any bill that would grant blanket approval for warrantless surveillance of Americans, particularly when this administration has never explained why it believes that current law allowing surveillance of terrorist suspects is inadequate.’“
“‘You have given up the store,’ complained Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., in denouncing the move. ‘You’re just walking away.‘” Playing true to form, Arlen Specter folds yet again and reverses his earlier promise to make phone companies testify about their role in the NSA’s recent data-mining. “The senator from Pennsylvania acknowledged his reversal was forced upon him by his Republican colleagues in a private session prior to the afternoon hearing.”
“‘Having been blacklisted from working in television during the McCarthy era, I know the harm of government using private corporations to intrude into the lives of innocent Americans. When government uses the telephone companies to create massive databases of all our phone calls it has gone too far.‘” Author, oral historian, and American institution Studs Terkel is one of six plaintiffs to file a lawsuit against AT&T for their complicity in the NSA master phone database.
“Unlike so many of the hacks placed in charge of important government agencies during the past six years, Hayden possesses powerful qualifications for the job…By the admittedly dismal standards of the Bush administration, then, Hayden is an unusually good appointment.” As former NSA head and probable CIA director-to-be Michael Hayden navigates the confirmation process (leaving all his Snoopgate-related answers for the secret session), he procures an endorsement from an unlikely source: Salon‘s Joe Conason: “[D]espite his military uniform, Hayden is likely to be more independent of the Pentagon and the White House than Goss was. It will help that, unlike Goss, he actually knows what he’s doing.” Hmmm. Update: Hayden is through committee on a 12-3 vote. (Feingold, for his part, voted no: “Our country needs a CIA Director who is committed to fighting terrorism aggressively without breaking the law or infringing on the rights of Americans.”
Even more Snoopgate fallout: As last week’s bombshell story in USA Today makes the covers of the major newsweekies, two ABC reporters say their calls to sources are being monitored. “A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources. ‘It’s time for you to get some new cell phones, quick,’ the source told us in an in-person conversation.”
Dubya officially nominates Michael Hayden to replace Porter Goss at CIA, despite bipartisan criticism of Hayden’s military background. “U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said, ‘This appointment…signals that we are not that concerned about having an independent intelligence community independent of the Department of Defense.‘” Nevertheless, some top Dems, including the House Intelligence Committee’s Jane Harman and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, have indicated that they’re both ok with the pick and will, likely, avoid the NSA wiretaps issue like the plague during the hearings.
As y’all have probably heard by now, controversial CIA chief Porter Goss was forced to quit his post yesterday, no doubt to much rejoicing at Langley. “As the normally mild-mannered Ivo Daalder, a former staff member at the National Security Council under Bill Clinton, put it, ‘Porter Goss was such an absolute disaster for the agency and our national security that his departure comes not a day too soon.’” Goss chalked up his abrupt dismissal as “just one of those mysteries,” but other reports suggest the real reason — bribes, poker, and prostitutes — is less mysterious than it is just plain unsavory. “‘It’s all about the Duke Cunningham scandal,’ a senior law enforcement official told the Daily News in reference to Goss’ resignation.” As for his replacement, Dubya has tapped former NSA chief Michael Hayden, which may mean the warrantless wiretaps may soon get another hearing in the Senate.
“‘We know the president broke the law,’ Leahy said. ‘Now we need to know why.’” With the Dems — except for Feingold and Leahy — AWOL yet again, the Senate Judiciary Committee debates Feingold’s censure resolution and hears testimony from former Nixon counsel John Dean, who is back before Congress for the first time since Watergate. Said Feingold at one point: “If you want the words ‘bad faith’ in [the censure resolution], let’s put them right in, because that’s exactly what we have here…The lawbreaking is shocking in itself, but the defiant way that the president has persisted in defending his actions with specious legal arguments and misleading statements is part of what led me to conclude that censure is a necessary step.” Said the rest of the committee Dems (Kennedy, Biden, Kohl, Feinstein, Schumer, Durbin): Nothing.
“This is clearly more serious than anything President Clinton was accused of. It is reminiscent of what President Nixon was not only accused of doing but was basically removed from office for doing.”/em> As Senator Feingold continues his lonely push for a censure resolution, the GOP go into full “soft on terror” attack mode, while most Dems — of course — commence to hemming and hawing. “Reid…commended [Feingold] ‘for bringing this to the attention of the American people. We need a full and complete debate on this NSA spying.’ Reid and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) told reporters they wanted to examine the resolution before endorsing or rejecting it.” The world is watching, Dems: Get up and fight!
“This conduct is right in the strike zone of the concept of high crimes and misdemeanors….We, as a Congress, have to stand up to a president who acts like the Bill of Rights and the Constitution were repealed on Sept 11.” On This Week, Senator Feingold calls for a censure of Dubya for, “openly and almost thumbing his nose at the American people,” continuing the NSA warrantless wiretaps. (The censure resolution is here.) Catkiller Frist — flush from his straw poll win over the weekend — responded by calling the censure a “terrible, terrible signal” to give the evildoers. It’s “terrible” to show respect for the rule of law? Get real. It’s about time somebody in the AWOL Senate stood up to this administration’s repeated abuses of power. Update: Feingold writes more on the censure. (Via Medley.)
“Far from ‘reasserting responsibility and oversight,’ Congress is putting itself out of business. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., suggested that, after this week, the intelligence committee will sink ‘further into irrelevancy.’ The Times went a step further today and declared the committee dead.” Century Foundation fellow Patrick Radden Keefe takes issue with the Pat Roberts “compromise” over the NSA’s warrantless wiretaps.
“‘The committee is, to put it bluntly, basically under the control of the White House through its chairman,’ [Senator Jay Rockfeller (D-WV)] told reporters. ‘At the direction of the White House, the Republican majority has voted down my motion to have a careful and fact-based review of the National Security Agency’s surveillance eavesdropping activities inside the United States.’” Once again, on a party line vote and at the behest of Chairman Pat Roberts (by way of the Dubya administration,) the GOP members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence vote down an investigation into the NSA warrantless wiretaps….meaning presumed committee moderates Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel buckled under pressure again.
And, speaking of buckling under pressure, the House pass the Patriot Act 280-138. “‘I rise in strong opposition to this legislation because it offers only a superficial reform that will have little if any impact on safeguarding our civil liberties,’ [Congressman Dennis] Kucinich said…’Congress has failed to do its job as a coequal branch of government…The administration’s attack on our democracy has to be reigned in.‘”
“I did not and could not address…any other classified intelligence activities.” In a letter clarifying his recent Senate testimony on the NSA wiretaps, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales hints at a broader warrantless spying program than has yet been acknowledged. “‘It seems to me he is conceding that there are other NSA surveillance programs ongoing that the president hasn’t told anyone about,’ said Bruce Fein, a government lawyer in the Nixon, Carter and Reagan administrations.” Update: Gonzales tells Jane Harman that’s all there is.
Arlen Specter, who has clearly given up on his oversight and impeachment talk of a few short weeks ago, tries at least to bring future NSA wiretap inquiries before the FISA court. Meanwhile, the White House nixes a call by 18 House Dems to appoint an independent counsel to delve into the NSA matter, opting instead for more of their patented Shoot-the-Messenger defense: “‘I think that where these Democrats who are calling for this ought to spend their time is on what was the source of the unauthorized disclosure of this vital, incredible program in the war on terrorism,’ White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. ‘I really don’t think there is any basis for a special counsel. … But the fact that this information was disclosed about the existence of this program has given the enemy some of our playbook.’“
The WP surveys the recent White House campaign to prevent Senate oversight into the NSA wiretaps. “Hagel and Snowe declined interview requests after the meeting, but sources close to them say they bridle at suggestions that they buckled under administration heat.” Well, then, Senators, what do you want to call it?
“[T]errorism is not the only new danger of this era. Another is the administration’s argument that because the president is commander in chief, he is the ‘sole organ for the nation in foreign affairs.’” From the Right, George Will makes the conservative case against Dubya’s “monarchical” pretensions regarding the NSA wiretaps. (Via Cliopatria.)
“Treason is a strong word, but not too strong to characterize the situation in which the Senate is the eager, resourceful, and indefatigable agent of interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be.” As feared — the Senate GOP, including supposed “moderates” Snowe and Chafee — vote down hearings into the NSA wiretaps. And also as feared, the Senate Dems completely collapse on the Patriot Act renewal, joining the Republicans to end the Feingold filibuster 96-3. (Only Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Jim Jeffords (I-VT) sided with Russ.) So, with the Senate in effect abdicating its responsibilty as an independent and coequal branch of government, it looks like it’ll be up to the judiciary to check Dubya’s executive powergrab.
“If some kind of inquiry would be beneficial to getting a resolution to this issue, then sure, we should look at it. But if the inquiry is just some kind of a punitive inquiry that really is not focused on finding a way out of this, then I’m not so sure that I would support that.” Bad news for congressional oversight and the rule of law: After an “all-out” campaign of White House arm-twisting, crucial Senate Republicans — including Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel — appear on the verge of folding up the tent on the proposed NSA hearings. The critical vote will come tomorrow, but it’s iffy. “Two committee Democrats said the panel — made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats — was clearly leaning in favor of the motion last week but now is closely divided and possibly inclined against it.“
As critics in both parties poke more holes in Dubya’s flimsy NSA defense, Republican congresswoman Heather Wilson of New Mexico, chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, calls for a “complete review” of Dubya’s wiretapping program.