Sunday, August 12, 2007
What if you or I could secretly commit crimes against our fellow citizens, bury the evidence of the crime by stamping it "TOP SECRET," refuse to answer questions when we are accused of committing the crime, and then, before we can be prosecuted for the crime, we can make a law that says the crime we committed is no longer a crime. And then call ourselves heroes.
Welcome to the New America.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has required, since 1978, that government agents obtain a warrant before spying on Americans. A special system of courts was set up to hear the reasons such spying was necessary, with judges granting the warrants under rather lenient conditions. The feds were allowed, when granted a warrant, to listen in on international phone calls; a later provision included electronic communications: It was simple accountability, based on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
One week ago, the FISA court system was effectively set aside by your president and his sneaky administration, in the name of keeping you safe.
Bush's National Security Administration was accused in 2005 of listening in on the international calls of Americans, without getting warrants first. Two American attorneys for an Islamic charity organization have since sued the administration, armed with a log of their calls -- inadvertently released and copied -- despite the TOP SECRET stamp on every page. Their case is to be heard in federal court in San Francisco on Aug. 15.
What to do? The Bush administration had asked the court to dismiss the case altogether, then claimed it could not defend itself in such a lawsuit, because to do so, it would have to give up information that would threaten national security. In the New America, there seems to be no constitutional tromping that cannot be justified in the name of national security.
But, just a nose ahead of the first serious legal challenge to the NSA's spying program, Bush signed a law on Aug. 5 that revamps the NSA program, broadening the spy scope, making it all legal.
The handy new law allows international surveillance by means of fiber optic cable -- the medium of most international communication today -- and best of all, without a warrant. Who needs the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act?
It was a tricky move. The FISA law had not yet caught up with technology. But suddenly, it was a matter of great urgency, even though the administration had been stretching the spirit of the law and abusing advances in technology to get around the letter of the law, for years. These acrobatics will no longer be necessary.
The FISA courts have been stripped of any real oversight; the attorney general and the director of national intelligence will now approve international surveillance. There will be no examining of the individuals being spied upon, to decide if the surveillance is reasonable. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell called it "modernizing" FISA, and graciously submitted to post-surveillance "reviews."
McConnell assures us the new law's targets will be foreigners, not Americans.
So, relax. You can trust the Administration of the Freely Reigning Executive never to abuse or stretch the limits of its power. Or, you can stay off the phone with your friends overseas.Daily Southtown columnist Marlene Lang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org