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S Senate hearings set to cover up domestic spying

With hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Bush administration's domestic spying program set to begin this week, the basic outlines are already clear. The White House is repeating its lies in defense of an illegal and anti-democratic spying operation carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA), while Democrats are offering only the most muted and cowardly criticism.

This combination will ensure that the Senate hearing will be a complete farce, and will not address any of the fundamental issues involved or lead to any check on the Bush administration.
The tenor of the hearings was set on Sunday by Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, who appeared on CBS's television program, "Face the Nation." Leahy suggested that "Americans want to know that there is a check and balance," while insisting that "we're all against the terrorists." He said that all Democrats want to make sure that the Bush administration succeeds in its supposed task of defeating terrorism, and counseled both parties to "stop the polemics and make sure it is working right."

Leahy pointed out that in the past, when the Administration has requested new authorizations such as the Patriot Act and the revision of FISA in 2002, Democrats were quick to agree—a self-indictment of the entire role of the Democrats in facilitating the attack on democratic rights throughout the Bush administration. The Democrats, Leahy announced, are ready to perform the same service once more.

In making these statements, Leahy again indicated that the Democrats accept the entire rationale of the "war on terrorism," used by the Bush administration to justify everything from spying, to war, to tax cuts for the wealthy. No leading Democrat has even suggested that the spying should be halted. Rather, the call is for a pseudo-legal basis for the administration to continue doing what it has been doing.

On the other hand, the Republicans continue to press the offensive. In spite of the public revelations of the program and its obvious violation of existing legislation, the administration's position is that it will continue the program, will refuse to hand over documents relating to it, and will provide no concrete information about what it is doing.

The sole official who will testify before the committee hearings that begin on Monday is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. During his tenure as White House counsel in Bush's first term, Gonzales played a key role in constructing the legal framework used by the administration to defend spying and other attacks on democratic rights—that the president has virtually unconstrained powers as commander-in-chief to override existing legislation. This is an argument for what amounts to dictatorial powers for the President.

Over the weekend, the administration leaked Gonzales's prepared responses to questions that will be posed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter. Gonzales will present the same arguments already advanced by the administration for expansive presidential powers, and will continue to repeat the brazen lies of the administration about the nature of the spying program.

The administration has argued that the President has the right to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)—which prohibits warrantless spying on communications involving people within the United States—largely on the grounds that the so-called war on terrorism and the Authorization to Use Military Force passed shortly after September 11, 2001, trump this law.

Gonzales will continue to insist, in the face of numerous media reports to the contrary, that the program specifically targets members of Al Qaeda. "Contrary to the speculation reflected in some media reporting," Gonzales will say, according to testimony obtained by the Associated Press and Time magazine, "the terrorist surveillance program is not a dragnet that sucks in all conversations and uses computer searches to pick out calls of interest." He will claim that "no communications are intercepted unless first it is determined that one end of the call is outside of the country and professional intelligence experts have probable cause...that a party to the communication is a member or agent of Al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization."

He will insist that press reports documenting the extremely broad scope of the program "are in almost every case...misinformed, confused, or wrong." However, he will refuse to back up these assertions with any concrete details. "I cannot and will not address operations aspects of the program or other purported activities described in press reports," the testimony reads.

He will also repeat the absurd argument that following FISA regulations would significantly delay the administration's capacity to spy on terrorist suspects. The law allows the NSA, with the approval of the attorney general, to conduct warrantless surveillance without court approval for up to 72 hours. And the FISA court has almost never declined a request from the government for a warrant that would be required after this period.

One of the principal reasons the administration has sought to operate the NSA spying program outside of FISA is that the program is in fact much more extensive, and includes the potential or actual monitoring of broad sections of the American population. This was confirmed again by a report by Barton Gellman, Dafna Linzer and Carol Leonnig in the Washington Post on Sunday, which directly contradicts Gonzales's testimony.

The article cited "accounts from current and former government officials" as well as "private-sector sources with knowledge of the technologies in use." The latter are most likely individuals working in telecommunications companies, which have reportedly made their databases of communications available to the government.

The Post reported that "thousands" of Americans have had their telephone conversations monitored and their e-mails read, with one source placing the figure at 5,000. However, "fewer than 10 US citizens or residents a year, according to an authoritative account, have aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls, as well." In other words, the vast majority of communications intercepted have nothing to do with terrorism, a fact that contradicts Gonzales and the Bush administration's attempts to frame the spying as a "terrorist surveillance program." Warrants could not be obtained to spy on these individuals because the government could present no evidence to the FISA court documenting probable cause of their connection to terrorism.

Moreover, the Post notes, the government has access to far more communications than the thousands that have been directly read or listened to. "Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny by human eyes and ears," the newspaper reported. Again, this is in direct contradiction to Gonzales's testimony and corroborates previous reports that the government has access to telecommunications switches that contain vast stores of communications, including purely domestic calls and e-mails.

With access to this information, the NSA could easily be monitoring and storing communications of individuals engaged in political opposition to government policies, which is what FISA was originally enacted to prevent. It is unclear what happens to all the data that the government collects; however, the Post reports that one lawyer, representing an individual who has been part of the NSA program, said that participants are "uncomfortable with the mountain of data they have now begun to accumulate." Spokesmen for the Bush administration "declined to say whether any [communications] are discarded," according to the Post.

In addition to refusing to give any details about the nature of the spying program, the administration is also refusing to hand over to the Senate legal opinions written by the Justice Department in 2001 and 2004 that sought to defend it. One of these memoranda was reportedly written by former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who also wrote the infamous torture memo, which argued that ordering torture is one of the President's commander-in-chief powers. The other was written after concerns emerged within the Justice Department itself over the legal basis of the NSA program.

The administration's position is that not only will it continue to do what it is doing, it will seek retribution against those who helped leak existence of the program to the American people. In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, both Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and CIA Chief Porter Goss denounced anyone challenging the legality of the NSA program. Goss claimed that leaks about the spying program had done "very severe" damage to national security and expressed his hope that "we will witness a grand jury investigation with reporters present being asked to reveal who is leaking this information."

Both Negroponte and Goss implied that any criticism of the spying program was endangering national security and therefore aiding terrorists.

The whole position of the administration is absolutely dependent upon the prostration of the Democratic Party and its refusal to take any stand against the attack on democratic rights. The administration feels confident to so openly flaunt the law because it knows from experience that it will find no serious resistance from the nominal opposition.

In addition to Leahy's comments, other Democrats continue to defend the NSA program itself, only counseling that the administration seek authorization from Congress first. Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, wrote in a letter to Bush last week that the "activities of the NSA program can—and should—be accomplished within the law, not by circumventing it." Harman was one of the eight members of Congress to be briefed regularly about the spying program since it was initiated in 2001.

The complicity of the Democrats in the attack on democratic rights was most recently on display in the decision to make only token resistance to the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. The administration is counting on Alito to rule in favor of a broad interpretation of presidential powers, including on such issues as domestic spying.

It should be recalled that among the articles of impeachment drawn up against President Richard Nixon were the charges of abuse of presidential powers and contempt of Congress. The former was for the illegal spying organized by Nixon, and the latter for a refusal to turn over documents. Both of these charges pertain to the present situation. The open flaunting of the law by the Bush administration exceeds even the criminality of Nixon. However, the question of impeachment is not even being suggested as a possibility by the Democratic Party leadership, an indication of the complete decay of any commitment to basic democratic principles within the political establishment.

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a cover up? 06.Feb.2006 11:53

TheTroll

But they did NOT "ignore" FISA. they continued making requests for legal spying. How would it have looked if the NSA requests for legal spying dropped from thousands to ZERO. Damned suspisious to say the least. So why did they continue to go through FISA? Didn't that take more time which BushCO says is the reason for adding illegal spying to thier legal spying program???

Obviously, BushCO's NSA continuing to go through FISA even AFTER they started illegal spying was a beard ment to cover up the illegal spying. If they didn't know for a fact that they were breaking the law, why try to cover up the fact by continuing to go through the FISA courts?

you don't see that point being made by anyone but me, do you?

Bad Dems 06.Feb.2006 19:10

g.d. dem

As usual, I have a bone to pick with Joe Kay about who or what is meant by Kay's "no leading Democrat".

According to AP report:

< House Democrats contend that Bush committed a crime in authorizing the spying, and [that] Republicans in the House of Representatives have abdicated their responsibilities by refusing to hold hearings.

< Representative John Conyers, the House Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, and other Democrats met in a basement room of a House office building on Friday to hear a panel of lawyers and activists discuss whether Bush had committed an impeachable offense.

In all fairness, is it not identifying action by the executive as in violation of law requiring impeachment tantamount to suggesting that the spying be halted?

Similarly, Senator Kennedy is quoted by AP, as follows: "If President Bush can make his own rules for domestic surveillance, Big Brother has run amok.'' That statement can hardly be equated to accepting what Kay correctly identifies as Bush's "entire rationale of the 'war on terrorism'." After all, an allusion to Orwell's 1984 is hardly an endorsement of that kind of paranoid propaganda!

Kay also accuses Democrats generally (evidently with no exceptions) of accepting "the entire rationale of the 'war on terrorism,' used by the Bush administration to justify everything from spying, to war, to tax cuts for the wealthy." Now there is a clear implication that is a downright distortion of fact!

That is, Kay is guilty of distortion by lumping together - with NSA spying on American citizens - war and tax cuts for the wealthy as issues on which there is no substantive difference between Republicans and Democrats. Think about Kay's statement in the light of these two facts: (1) approximately half of all congressional Democrats voted against authorization of force in the October (2002) Resolution, (no one remembers this fact because that is the vote that Kerry lived to regret), and, (2) there is no doubt whatsoever that a Democratic congress would have defeated the Bush tax cuts for the rich. (Even a Republicrat like Clinton was strongly opposed to that kind of regressive taxation policy.)

HOWEVER, Kay's accusation that Democrats accept the official version of 911 and related 'war on terrorism' rhetoric - that part of Kay's article is accurate. I wish that Kay would have explored that problem in more detail, because there lies the heart of the problem - and it isn't limited to the Democrats by any means. (For example, Alexander Cockburn of CounterPunch has dismissed all 911 research as 'conspiracy theory'!)

What I find unacceptable is Kay's going to the extreme of stating that "the whole position of the administration is absolutely dependent upon the prostration of the Democratic Party and its refusal to take any stand against the attack on democratic rights" -- that's just inaccurate and unjustified. The truth is that the whole position of the administration is absolutely dependent upon a White House, a Congress and a corporate media that is controlled by Republicans! That unpleasant reality, and no other, is the proximate and sufficient foundation on which the administration has built - and continues to build - its assault on democratic rights.

I understand what Joe Kay is up to. Kay is a Marxist and so he must be wary of the danger that the masses will fail to understand the evil of ever combining with any reformist tendency - lest the 'movement' lose its ideological purity. There's some validity in that idea, but what I can't stand is 'revolutionary vanguard' intellectuals who seem to think that reality must be carefully screened for the masses lest they reach any conclusions on their own!

You have to love the anti-Dems -- for years now they have told us to be sure to never vote against Democrats and now, with the Republicans running the whole show, it's still the fault of the Democrats!

Bad Dems. Very bad. Very bad Dems. Very very very bad Dems.
_______

BTW, I agree with point made by 'The Troll' - who isn't even, IMHO, a troll at all, but who seems to have considerable understanding of how things work behind the scene, where the strings are pulled.

Very bad Dems 06.Feb.2006 21:24

g.d. dem

As usual, I have a bone to pick with Joe Kay about who or what is meant by Kay's "no leading Democrat".

According to AP report:

< House Democrats contend that Bush committed a crime in authorizing the spying, and [that] Republicans in the House of Representatives have abdicated their responsibilities by refusing to hold hearings.

< Representative John Conyers, the House Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, and other Democrats met in a basement room of a House office building on Friday to hear a panel of lawyers and activists discuss whether Bush had committed an impeachable offense.

In all fairness, is not identifying action by the executive as in violation of law requiring impeachment tantamount to suggesting that the spying be halted?

Similarly, Senator Kennedy is quoted by AP, as follows: "If President Bush can make his own rules for domestic surveillance, Big Brother has run amok.'' That statement can hardly be equated to accepting what Kay correctly identifies as Bush's "entire rationale of the 'war on terrorism'." After all, an allusion to Orwell's 1984 is hardly an endorsement of that kind of paranoia-inducing propaganda!

Kay also accuses Democrats generally (evidently with no exceptions) of accepting "the entire rationale of the 'war on terrorism,' used by the Bush administration to justify everything from spying, to war, to tax cuts for the wealthy." Now there is a clear implication that amounts to a downright distortion of fact!

That is, Kay is guilty of distortion by lumping together - with NSA spying on American citizens - war and tax cuts for the wealthy as issues on which there is no substantial difference between Republicans and Democrats. Think about Kay's statement in the light of these two facts: (1) approximately half of all congressional Democrats voted against authorization of force in the October (2002) Resolution, and, (2) there is no doubt whatsoever that a Democratic congress would have defeated the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Even a Republicrat like Clinton was strongly opposed to that kind of regressive taxation policy. My point isn't that anybody should vote for Democrats - or vote at all - it's just that there are substantial differences, from the point of view of the masses, between Democrats and Republicans - whether Kay acknowledges those differnces or not.

HOWEVER, Kay's accusation that Democrats accept the official version of 911 and related 'war on terrorism' rhetoric - that part of Kay's article is accurate. I wish that Kay would have explored that problem in more detail, because there lies the heart of the problem - and it isn't limited to the Democrats by any means. (For example, Alexander Cockburn of CounterPunch has dismissed all 911 research as
'conspiracy theory'!)

What I find unacceptable is Kay's going to the extreme of stating that "the whole position of the administration is absolutely dependent upon the prostration of the Democratic Party and its refusal to take any stand against the attack on democratic rights" -- that's just inaccurate and unjustified. The truth is that the whole position of the administration is absolutely dependent upon a White House, a Congress and a corporate media that is controlled by Republicans! That unpleasant reality, and that alone, is the entire proximate and sufficient foundation on which the Republican assault on civil liberties is based.

I understand what Joe Kay is up to. Kay is a Marxist and so he must be wary of the danger that the masses will fail to understand the evil of ever combining with any reformist tendency -- lest the 'movement' lose its ideological purity. There's some validity in that idea, but what I can't stand is 'revolutionary vanguard' intellectuals who seem to think that reality must be carefully screened for the masses so that they will not be tempted to reach any conclusions on their own!

You have to love the anti-Dems -- for years now they have told us to be sure to never vote for any Democrats and now, with the Republicans running the whole show, it's still the fault of the Democrats!

Bad Dems. Very bad. Very bad Dems. Very very very bad Dems.
_______

BTW, I agree with point made by 'The Troll' - who isn't even, IMHO, a troll at all, but who seems to have a good understanding of how things work behind the scenes, where the strings are pulled.

Senatorial dark ages 07.Feb.2006 09:36

TheTroll

I didn't see much of the hearings. It is so depressing to think these senators are the ones we depend on to protect Americans from the abuse of power.

But I did see Biden talk. He made a big performance about how NOONE doing the spying is accountable to ANYONE and how such unchecked power is not acceptable to Americans. And how did Gonzales respond? He pointed out that in his opening statements, he said that the director of the NSA is responsible for policing his own. And Biden didn't even catch on to the fact that Gonzo was actualy agreeing with him and that Biden's (America's) concerns were legit. Not only Biden, but NONE of the senators acting concerned caught on to the admittion by Gonzales. They are all just as much a bunch of dim bulbs (title refrance) as Biden.

What is the deal? Are senators and Gonzales just reading from flash cards, or something? Can't even one of them find 2 brain cells to rub together when such an obvious admittion is stated? These are the morons we expect to protect American intrests? And noone in the media caught on either.

Needles to say, that straw had me turning the channel to texas hold um for some mindless entertainment. Mindless govenrance just depresses me.

Later on, I turned back to the government reality show to see Sessions talking about how a few Democraps also claimed the illegal spying was legit under Democrap rule. Well, gee wize. If a hand full of Republitrash saying it is legal isn't going change the reality. A handfull of Democraps wouldn't change the legality either. Click. that was the last of it I saw. There must have been some hold over depression from watching earlier. Usually it takes more that 2 minutes of mind numbing stupidity to drive me away.