Wednesday :: Sep 20, 2006

Congress Screws Up NSA Spying Issue

by Steve

Arlen Specter was all sound and fury earlier this year when he said he was going to push a bill that required the White House to submit its domestic surveillance programs to the courts for judicial review. Specter was set to require the White House to submit to much greater congressional oversight than they have, and still require them to obtain warrants for individual cases. Of late, Specter has caved and sent to the full Senate three different bills including a revised version of his that repeals the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provisions that govern domestic national security intelligence gathering. As the Post’s lead editorial noted today, Specter would now grant the administration:

(C)arte blanche to snoop on Americans however it likes. And it would also permit the administration to seek a warrant for an entire "electronic surveillance program" rather than individual warrants to spy on people against whom it has evidence. The cumulative impact of this bill would be to make FISA optional and give the administration a green light to spy.

Just as bad, GOP representative Heather Wilson of New Mexico, who is facing a tough reelection fight, has succumbed to reason and offered up her own reform bill to please the right wing which as the Post notes provides that:

(A)ll aliens who are not permanent residents would become subject to warrant less surveillance for up to a year if they are "reasonably expected to transmit or receive foreign intelligence information" -- even if there is no suspicion of wrongdoing on their part. Even more troubling, the proposal would give the president the ability to conduct warrant less surveillance against anyone he suspects of contact with terrorists after a terrorist attack or, in the latest version, when he deems an attack imminent. Because the key terms in this section go undefined, these provisions could easily be read to permit broad warrant less surveillance domestically even following -- or in anticipation of -- attacks on U.S. troops in combat zones overseas.

We are used to seeing some terrible judgment from the Post’s editorial page and Fred Hiatt specifically, but the Post is dead-on here. The House GOP went off the wrong track by trying to make Bush’s past breaches legal. Now Wilson compounds that by replacing court oversight with congressional notice and involvement to condone warrant less surveillance after an attack or when an attack is imminent. The legitimate reason for these programs is to allow the NSA to detect possible threats months if not years in advance, by simply getting a warrant from the FISA court to do so. That should not change, nor should Wilson or anyone else try and tie the chief executive’s hands to an imminent attack or post-attack window before noticing Congress that something is brewing that requires warrant less surveillance. There are two essential elements here that Wilson and Specter trample into the ground: court approval and congressional oversight.

Get a warrant Mr. President and tell a select group of bipartisan members of Congress what the hell you are doing. It’s that simple. It’s not as if you have been turned down by the FISA court and have been hindered here. And if Congress feels that you need more tools or have exceeded your limits, they have the constitutionally-derived right to do something about it.

Steve :: 8:00 AM :: Comments (5) :: Digg It!