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The Most Important Question of All in Bush's Domestic Spying Scandal

This is no conspiracy theory - all the signs point right to this conclusion. In fact, it would be a conspiracy theory to say otherwise, because it would be ignoring the cold, hard facts that we already know.
Published on Monday, December 19, 2005 by the Huffington Post



In the last 72 hours since the revelation that President Bush ordered illegal domestic surveillance operations, we have seen how the Republican spin machine has mastered the art of turning any and all controversies into questions of national security. You know the drill: those who are criticizing Bush's orders are billed as weak, soft on national security, or against domestic efforts to stop terrorism.

Meanwhile, Bush is portrayed as the tough fighter of terrorism, willing to make the tough choices to defend America's national security. In short, his crimes are portrayed as badges of honor.

There's just one problem: this isn't a question of whether America supports domestic surveillance operations against terrorists or not. This is a question of whether America supports those operations without requiring a warrant.

The truth is, domestic surveillance operations happen all the time. They are such a part of our culture, they are a regular topic of television shows and movies (think Serpico or Stakeout). But they are also governed by the U.S. Constitution's 4th Amendment, which explicitly protects citizens against "unreasonable search and seizures" and requires the executive branch to obtain a warrant from the objective judiciary branch in order to do surveillance operations.

So the question reporters should be asking the White House isn't why the president thinks there should be domestic efforts to track and stop terrorists. The vast majority of Americans think that. The question reporters should be asking is "Why did the President order domestic surveillance operations without obtaining constitutionally-required warrants?" That is behavior that most Americans who believe in the Constitution likely do not support at all.

Make no mistake about it - this is an especially poignant question considering that, under the Patriot Act's weakened standards, the government can now circumvent the traditional (and more rigorous) judicial system and obtain a warrant directly from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Remember, this is a court almost completely skewed in favor of the government. As Slate Magazine correctly noted, getting a warrant from that judge requires "no need for evidence or probable cause" and the judge has almost no authority to reject the government's request for a warrant, unless the government's request are extraordinarily outlandish. It is why, as Josh Marshall reports, the government's own data shows that "in a quarter century, the FISA Court has rejected four government applications for warrants." It is also why Members of Congress of both parties have tried to repeal the Patriot Act sections that allow the administration to use FISA warrants for domestic surveillance.

In his defense, the President has tried to deflect attention by repeatedly saying he needed to order these operations to protect Americans. Fine - but it still doesn't answer the real question. If the surveillance operations he ordered were so crucial and so important to protecting our country, how come he didn't get a warrant? Surely something so critical to our security would have easily elicited a warrant from a FISA court already inclined to issue warrants in the first place, right?

And that gets us right back to the most important question: why would the President deliberately circumvent a court that was already wholly inclined to grant him domestic surveillance warrants? The answer is obvious, though as yet largely unstated in the mainstream media: because the President was likely ordering surveillance operations that were so outrageous, so unrelated to the War on Terror, and, to put it in Constitutional terms, so "unreasonable" that even a FISA court would not have granted them.

This is no conspiracy theory - all the signs point right to this conclusion. In fact, it would be a conspiracy theory to say otherwise, because it would be ignoring the cold, hard facts that we already know.

Two years ago, the New York Times reported that the administration is using the FBI to "collect extensive information on the tactics, training and organization of antiwar demonstrators." Then, just a few months ago, the Times reported that the FBI "has collected at least 3,500 pages of internal documents in the last several years on a handful of civil rights and antiwar protest groups." And just this past week, NBC News obtained a 400-page Pentagon document outlining the Bush administration's surveillance of anti-war peace groups. The report noted that the administration had monitored 1,500 different events (aka. anti-war protests) in just a 10-month period.

These are exactly the kind of surveillance operations even a government-tilted FISA court would reject, and it raises yet more questions: Are these anti-war peace groups the targets of Bush's warrantless, illegal surveillance operations? Who else has the President been targeting? Has it been his partisan political enemies a la Richard Nixon? Or has he been invading the privacy of unsuspecting citizens in broad sweeps with no probable cause at all?

The answers to these questions will get us away from the silly and partisan "strong on national security" vs. "weak on national security" and get us to the real questions at hand. This controversy has to do with whether America believes in the Constitution's separation of powers between an executive and a judicial branch - the separation that quite literally differentiates our form of government from any old dictatorship, where when the monarch snaps his fingers, the secret police immediately target the unsuspecting citizen. That's about as un-American as you get - and that's why we need to know whether those who hold high office in this country think they can turn our democracy into their autocracy.

David Sirota is a writer and veteran political strategist. He just completed a book for Random House's Crown Publishers entitled "Hostile Takeover" - it will be released in the Spring of 2006. Sirota is currently the co-chairperson of the Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN). - a position he took after finishing a two-year stint at the Center for American Progress. Sirota is currently a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, and a regular contributor to The Nation magazine. He is also a twice-weekly guest on the Al Franken Show.

2005 The Huffington Post

homepage: homepage: http://www.commondreams.org/

one nation under surveilance 19.Dec.2005 17:43

abovethesmoke

evil weinie

Bush's "Need for Speed" Argument Runs Into the Truth 19.Dec.2005 18:15

by David Sirota

In his news conference today, President Bush invoked the need for speed in the War on Terror as the reason he is illegally ordering the National Security Agency to conduct domestic surveillance without search warrants. Sounds like a compelling argument, right? In the fast-moving world of information age technology, we can't really afford to make our law enforcers take the time to go get a warrant, right?

It's true - Bush might have had a point, except for one tiny little detail he refused to discuss at his press conference: namely, the fact that current law is so lax that he is already permitted  link to www.talkingpointsmemo.com the special court that grants these warrants has only rejected 4 government requests in a quarter century, meaning getting a warrant is about as easy as it gets...that is, as long as you aren't trying to do something wholly outrageous and unrelated to the War on Terror.

And so we're back to the same question: why did the President order domestic surveillance operations without even asking retroactively for warrants? In his press conference, Bush tried to ramrod the entire issue into one of him working to defend America, and critics supposedly being weak on national security. But he frontally refused to answer the very simple question when a reporter put it to him:

QUESTION: Getting back to the domestic spying issue for a moment, according to FISA's own records, it's received nearly 19,000 requests for wiretaps or search warrants since 1979, rejected just five of them. It also operates in secret, so security shouldn't be a concern. And it can be applied retroactively. Given such a powerful tool of law enforcement is at your disposal, sir, why did you see fit to sidetrack that process?

BUSH: We used the process to monitor. But also, this is a different era, different war. It's a war where 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 is -- it requires quick action.

This is a form of lying that is worse than even the day-to-day lying that goes on in politics. This is premeditated lying - lying where everyone in the room knows a calculated lie is being told; lying where the facts invoked in the very question asked is patently ignored. How could he possibly cite the need for speed as the reason for refusing to get search warrants, when those warrants can be issued retroactively, and thus do not slow down operations in any way at all?

There really is only one explanation that a sane, rational person could come up with: The surveillance operations Bush is ordering are so outrageous, so unrelated to the War on Terror and such an unconstitutional breach of authority that he knows that even a court that has rejected just 4 warrant requests in 25 years will reject what he's doing. All you have to do is look at recent news reports about federal law enforcement  link to www.truthout.org assets being deployed against domestic anti-war and peace groups to know that this is well within what the Bush White House sees as acceptable behavior.

And it is clear, they aren't going to relent. As the Associated Press reports, "President Bush brushed aside criticism over his decision to spy on suspected terrorists without court warrants Monday and said he will keep it up 'for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens.'"

So even after public outcry, and even after a courageous reporter pointed out that the White House's "need for speed" answer doesn't hold water, the President stood up and said screw the law, screw the constitution, I'm going to do it anyway - and I'm not going to provide any legal justification for any of it.

This scandal has quickly ripped the veneer off this White House's use of "national security" in the post-9/11 world. It sees "national security" not as a priority in defending America, but as a slogan that justifies smarmy, used-to-getting-whatever-they-want politicians trampling the laws that are supposed to confine state power. This has nothing to do with the need for speed, or the need to fight terrorists - it has everything to do with an out-of-control, paranoid President believing he is above the laws that have governed this country for 200 years. And if America lets this stand - if we let the law be "brushed aside" - we set a dangerous precedent for future presidents to trample our Constitution.


it's downright un-Oregonian 19.Dec.2005 18:39

imprisoned for un-Chinese activity

> That's about as un-American as you get

Not that I expect Mr. Sirota is reading this, but America is a place, not an ideology. It has been pointed out that "Americanism," "un-Americanism," and "anti-Americanism" are concepts that only mean anything if America is a totalitarian state with an official ideology.

I hope Mr. Sirota is simply confused by a common linguistic mistake and is not attempting to acknowledge and endorse an ongoing totalitarian condition.

Question for "imprisoned for un-Chinese activity".....{mmm, hm} 19.Dec.2005 18:58

what

do you consider to be "American" activity?

would the activities of the Un-elected Bush administration since Nov. 2000 be considered fully and forthrightly "American" in nature -

in your valuable opinion, sir?

Please, do let us know.

One Word! 19.Dec.2005 19:36

Liberty

impeach!

monitoring could be extensive 19.Dec.2005 20:06

big brother is watching!

Check out this story on a UMASS student visited by Homeland Security for requesting a book by Mao Tse-tung.

 http://www.southcoasttoday.com/daily/12-05/12-17-05/a09lo650.htm


on Dec. 6th Bush summoned NYT's publisher, exec. editor to Oval Office 19.Dec.2005 20:24

Think Progress

From Newsweek  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10536559/site/newsweek/ : "I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the [already-suppressed-for-1-year] story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president's desperation."


this is really what it comes down to 19.Dec.2005 20:49

reader

The Bush administration and its secret police (and its not-so-secret police) are surveilling all of us, all the time. On the phone, on the streets on public and private video cameras, and in our homes on the Internet. With no oversight of any kind, these people can look into every aspect of the private life of anyone they choose.

 link to www.whitehouse.gov

"It appears that the phone and e-mail messages of thousands of Americans and foreigners resident in America have been or are being monitored and recorded by the NSA." --  http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/pp/05352/623818.stm

The thing that galls me is that the vast, vast majority of what they are seeing is perfectly legitimate, yet they view it as subversive or insurrectionary. I mean, how many library books are published by Muslim terrorists? If you are smart enough to read Mao in its original printing, how much smarter must you be than the Homeland Security agents who knock on your door convinced that you are a threat to your country because you are reading this book?

What other books are on this list? How many of them have I read? How about you?

Do you like to read, occasionally publish to Indymedia or blog sites? Do you know an animal liberation activist? Have you held a sign at a political protest? Attended a meeting about the war? Do you forward emails to your friends?

As Professor Williams said in the article linked above: "I shudder to think of all the students I've had monitoring al-Qaeda Web sites, what the government must think of that," he said. "Mao Tse-Tung is completely harmless."

Under their way of reasoning, nearly all of us could be indicted or disappeared by these people. What the f*** are we as a nation going to do about this?

IMPEACH 19.Dec.2005 21:24

IMPEACH

IMPEACH!

Scream it loud and clear!

IMPEACH 19.Dec.2005 21:44

Chazz

I've got tomorrow off, I'm going to start calling every representitive I can, urging them to be responsible and uphold the constitutional law the fucking swore to, it is time these pathetic shit heads actually did there jobs. If not it will just be more fuel for the fire when we have to assert pressure through other avenues. ENOUGH ALREADY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

impeach bush - movement sponsored by john conyers 20.Dec.2005 20:05

a patriot, the old-fashioned kine

CONYERS INTRODUCES BILL TO CREATE A SELECT COMMITTEE TO INVESTIGATE POSSIBLE CRIMES AND MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING GROUNDS FOR IMPEACHMENT -


see this site:  info@pdamerica.org tell your friends about it, keep the movement going

The Constitution in Crisis: Censure and Investigate Possible Impeachment 21.Dec.2005 01:33

Rep. John Conyers

 http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2005/12/330697.shtml

 link to www.huffingtonpost.com

for more information, go to Congressman Conyers' home page:


what 21.Dec.2005 15:16

who

Activities of any sort are neither American nor un-American. Places are American if they are within the Americas.

What would you say was "Oregonian activity"?

It's obviously a meaningless question, because people have not been trained to think of "Oregon" as an ideology as well as a place.