FISA Fight, Round 2: Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way


By Martin Bosworth

I warned you last month that although Chris Dodd and a grassroots push from the blogosphere succeeded in stopping the reauthorization of laws that grant the government vast new spying powers (and immunity from prosecution for telecoms that abet and provide them), this bill would be back, and the fight would come again.

Well, it’s here. Bush is pushing for permanent authorization of the odious Protect America Act, and the extraordinary incompetence of Harry Reid is poised to let him have it.

CREDO Mobile has already cranked up an action alert campaign powerful enough to crash Barack Obama’s campaign servers, urging him and Clinton to come off the campaign trail and stand forth to speak against granting these companies protection for their illegal spying on the American public.

But as Matt Browner-Hamlin (who’s masterminding the CREDO campaign) points out, the telecoms’ deep pockets are showering the three remaining Senators running for office with lots of dough. You would think that standing up for the Constitution and the freedoms of the American people outweighs telecom dirty money on principle, but like it or not, it’s going to take a push from the electorate to get these people to do right.

And they must do right. If they don’t, they will be responsible for passing into law some of the most invasive, intrusive, and unsettling new data-mining and surveillance techniques ever devised (via Glenn Greenwald). You remember Mike McConnell saying how he wanted carte blanche to spy on the Internet? This is another piece of the puzzle–building a massive database containing comprehensive records of everything you’ve ever said on the phone or in an e-mail. It will do little to stop terrorism, but it’ll sure be a deterrent to “dissidents.”

As Jane Hamsher puts it, there are no excuses this time. Take five minutes out of your day and write a letter telling The Powers That Be that you oppose retroactive immunity for lawbreaking corporations and illegal spying on your lives. Then contact Clinton, Obama, and even McCain, and tell them that Chris Dodd is ready to fight for our freedoms–will they stand with him?

Will you?

9 replies »

  1. Before CREDO’s campaign, I faxed the following letter(the second time I’ve written these folks) to the following: Senators Boxer,Feinstein,Reid,Hagel,Snowe,Dodd,Feingold,Obama,Clinton, and Edwards as well as Speaker Pelosi and my Rep.Susan Davis. Feel free to use it in any manner you see fit.

    I am writing to you, again, as your constituent regarding S2248 (FISA, amendments). I am also writing after receiving Senator Feinstein’s email dated 1/9/2008 at the time of 9:24AM, which spoke to the alternative offered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
    I am copying Senator Reid and Representative Pelosi as they are the Congressional leaders of the respective houses and think they should be aware of my writing. And I’m copying Senator Dodd, as it was his willingness to put Constitutional principle above practical regarding his Presidential bid that ought be the byword for how members of Congress engage in politics. The copies to Senator’s Obama and Clinton are to remind them of Senator Dodd’s example. And Senator Feingold as he has made comments I will be quoting.

    There is a real need to mention certain points regarding this legislation and how it came about that do not pertain to the need to enhance surveillance regarding ‘terrorists’.
    1. September 11th, 2001 did NOT occur because this legislation wasn’t in place; simply stated, it occurred because of the failure of the Bush Administration to act on warnings (especially those of foreign governments) and the lack of co-ordination between and within various ‘intelligence’ agencies.
    I state this in particular because of the statement by Mike McConnell, Director of National Security, that, in regard to Mohamed Atta, “Terror network al-Qaeda understood that, and that’s why 9/11 happened, in my view.”, referencing FISA. He asserted to a group of students in St. Mary’s City, Missouri, that “the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, were caused by weak domestic wiretapping laws.” Such a blatantly false statement cannot go unchallenged and says to me he is but another political hack installed by the Bush Administration because Congress would not challenge the appointment.
    2. To think that ‘terrorists’ are not aware of the technical prowess of the United States to monitor communications simply ignores reality. Do any of you remember the United Nations scandal where the United States was ousted for planting bugs and tapping phone lines in the offices of the United Nations? And that an official of one of the countries bugged indicated that ‘everyone assumes that communications are monitored and take the necessary steps to ensure private communications?”
    3. The ‘Protect America Act’ was pushed through by the Bush Administration as part of its strategy to avoid culpability for knowingly violating the law and, as you know, is EXTREMELY flawed legislation. And EVERY time civil liberties are sacrificed on the altar of ‘security’, that is but another victory for terrorism.
    4. ANY legislation that Bush doesn’t concur fully with gets a ‘signing statement’ that according to his legal advice allows him the discretion to do what he please regarding legislation he signs. And NO ONE in Congress has taken him to court to regarding such legal reasoning. Adding amendments to legislation is inviting the Bush Administration to interpret such legislation as he sees fit and the ‘exclusivity’ Senator Feinstein has introduced will simply be swept aside via ‘signing statement’.
    5. It is now been reported that the Bush Administration started the processes by which all communications in the United States –regardless of status or citizenship- just two weeks after taking office in 2000. This ‘should’ tell you all you need to know of the real intent in pushing for legal immunity within the changes to the FISA. How many times do you need to be lied to before you ‘get it’?
    Putting aside the incredibly specious reasoning that allowing citizen lawsuits to proceed would bankrupt the telecommunications companies I would like to mention Senator Feingold’s statements he has posted online. “Granting this kind of amnesty is totally unjustified since these companies already receive immunity if they follow the law. And it’s not as if these companies don’t have lawyers to tell them what’s legal and what’s not – especially when these laws have been on the books for 30 years. It is particularly outrageous that companies think they deserve immunity for allegedly participating in an illegal program when we found out last week from the DOJ Inspector General that telecom carriers are perfectly willing to shut off wiretaps – including a foreign intelligence wiretap – when the FBI doesn’t make its payments on time.”

    These telecommunication companies have very skilled lawyers and, given the example of Qwest rejecting such ‘assistance’, knew that such actions were against the law (or should have, given their expertise). And I also will mention that it has been drummed into my head since I was much younger that ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it. Even the Unified Military Code of Justice has provisions within it for not following an unlawful order.

    Senator Feingold also posted “But both the so-called Protect America Act (PAA) – the law we passed last year – and the Intelligence Committee bill go far beyond addressing that issue. They grant unprecedented powers to the executive branch to engage in widespread surveillance involving Americans, with virtually no judicial involvement.”

    The ongoing assault by the Bush Administration on the U.S. Constitution’s system of checks and balances in the name of the “Unitary Executive Theory” MUST be stopped and it is Congress’ failure to combat this flawed theory that is part of the reason why citizens hold Congress in such low regard.

    Again quoting Senator Feingold, “The Intelligence Committee bill doesn’t give adequate authority to the FISA court to do what it is supposed to do – operate as an independent check on the executive branch. “ Given that the House passed FISA update AND the Senate Judiciary Committee’s bill that does NOT include immunity for the telecommunication companies, one has to express wonder why Senator Reid brought the Intelligence Committee’s bill to the floor. Perhaps it was for the same reason Senator Reid refused to bring forth a bill to address removing the tax breaks from the hedge fund and private equity managers currently in force.

    IF ‘bi-partisan’ means granting immunity to the telecommunications companies, then such is NOT ‘bi-partisan’ but strongly partisan in favor of corporate donors and a desire to avoid addressing the lawlessness that the Bush Administration has consistently engaged in.

    The “Protect America Act” SHOULD be allowed to lapse and if you think that the Intelligence Community won’t conduct ‘much-needed surveillance’ on non-U.S. citizen’s outside of the country without authorizing legislation, allow me to remind you of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition and ‘black’ prisons outside of the country, both of which violate human rights and international law. As well as the imposition of torture in violation of U.S. law.

    The one amendment to the Senate Judiciary Committee bill that makes any sense is that which extended privacy protections for United State’s citizens no matter their locale. An amendment turning over the legality of the immunity protection to the FISA court (a ‘secret’ court) is the last thing this country needs, specifically more ‘secrecy’.

    The bottomline is that the House and Senate legislation that DOES NOT provide immunity but DOES provide the ‘tools’ the Bush Administration has said are necessary for the ‘war on terror’ (do any of you ever wonder why everything that is an issue in the U.S. becomes a ‘war on’?) are ALL –except the amendment that extends extraterritoriality- that needs to be passed.

    If Bush wants to veto such legislation and Republican’s won’t join in a bi-partisan manner to override such a veto, then it is the Bush Administration and Republican Senators and Representatives who are to blame for not acting in a manner that supports ‘national security’. And the Democratic Party needs to be vociferous on that point.

    The ‘message’ that is currently being presented to the citizenry of the United States is that, if immunity is granted, then, once again, Congress has failed in it’s responsibility to the citizenry in favor of corporate donors and a desire to avoid addressing the lawlessness that the Bush Administration has consistently engaged in. And no amount or type of amendments will overcome that idea.

    The citizenry of the United States has even a lower opinion of Congress than they do of the Bush Administration and this current example of Congress putting ‘practical’ above ‘Constitutional principle’ and letting the Bush Administration ‘skate’ on it’s illegal practices is but the latest example of why that opinion is so low. If immunity is granted, it will only hasten the demise of this representative form of a republic.

    And bluntly speaking, the chances of me or anyone else being harmed from driving on the California freeways is many orders of magnitude greater than being harmed by a ‘terrorist attack’. And people know that fact; governing from a basis of fear is no longer acceptable to the citizenry of the U.S. and Congress needs to realize that. It’s time to stop making a mockery of the words ‘land of the free and home of the brave’.

    In closing, I implore you to NOT provide any immunity to the telecommunications companies (don’t they have enough help from the FCC already?) and put the onus on the Bush Administration and Republican’s of both Houses for not passing legislation said to be ESSENTIAL for ‘national security’.

    I would also ask that this missive be read on the floor of the House’s and entered into the respective Congressional Record(s).

    I would also recommend that everyone who receives this missive read David Cay Johnston’s book “Free Lunch: How The Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You with the Bill.”
    The citizenry of the United States have ‘awoken’ and, paraphrasing the character in the movie ‘Network’, “We are mad as hell, and aren’t going to take this anymore!”
    Bruce Sims

  2. I do not pay taxes to be spied on or have my rights violated by bush and cheney. i pay my taxes to be represented by responsible people in congress and this is not a bill that represents america. It is another disregard to this constitution and the americans that fought for this country. Bush and cheney have made the constitution just another piece of paper.

  3. If the Democrats in Congress cave in on the FISA bill, they will have put the nails in their own coffin. Stand and Fight for “We The People”.

  4. #1 – great letter… bet the response was ‘TLDNR.’
    i have never gotten more than a curt form email acknowledging my concerns to any communication to these morons much longer than ‘this bad – vote no.’ the interns just can’t be bothered.

    i propose, to ensure their attention, that all correspondence with congress be in writing, with a $100 attached… MINUS the serial numbers.
    indicate that a substantive response will earn them an envelope with the numbers.

  5. #1 – Well Done!!

    Craig, the responses you received are similar to the ones I’ve received.

    We citizens of whatever political stripe cannot let this immunity go forward. I’ve written my Senators and my Representative; called them as well. Please, everyone get onboard with this.

  6. Senator Reid: Your oath of office demands that you protct the Constitution. With this FISA legilation the Administration becomes its sworn enemy. I urge you to support Senator Dodd in his opposition to this massive invasion of American Civil Rights.

  7. I spent most of last night and a good part of today writing letters: some nice, some not so nice.

    I saved my letters to Sens Dodd and Feingold for last; it was refreshing to say, “thank you.”