Sunday, January 08, 2006

Opponents of Bush's espionage program line up

President Bush staunchly defends authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on American citizens over a period of years without requesting a subpoena to do so from a judge. He seems to be unashamed of his actions, claiming that both the Constitution and Congress granted him the permission to do so. However, more and more people on Capitol Hill are coming forward to say that what the president did was a shameful act.

This is occurring on both sides of the aisle. Even the Republican senator Alan Specter is questioning the president's action. As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has called for hearings into the matter. But he has not stopped there: since the committee will not have those hearings until after the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee, Judge Alito, senator Specter claims he will incorporate questioning related to the legality of the president's action into the confirmation hearings. Showing clear concern for the length to which Bush is stretching presidential war powers, Specter told Wolf Blitzer today that he has already begun discussing the issue with attorney general Alberto Gonzalez.

As you would expect, the president is already under intense fire from the other side of the aisle. In fact, the 'I' word is now being tossed around. In an email he sent to Americans last week, congressman John Conyers added the approval of unwarranted espionage against Americans to "impeachable offenses" on which he's calling for the president to be investigated. He and a couple dozen other congressmen wrote the president a letter requesting information justifying the legality of his action (which Bush is sure to ignore, just as he does every letter Congress sends to him).

That's not the only 'I' word being tossed around. Also speaking to Wolf Blitzer today, senate minority leader Patrick Leahy unambiguously referred to what the president ordered as "illegal spying on Americans." Congresswoman Jane Harman, on the other hand, was originally somewhat sympathetic to Bush's espionage program. The president briefed the "gang of eight" on his espionage program -- "brief" being the operative word -- claiming the top-secret briefings as when Congress supposedly approved his program. However, as Harman learned more about what Bush told (or, more accurately, did not tell) the gang of eight about the program in strict confidence before she joined the House Intelligence Committee, Harman now says those briefings were illegal.

At the request of a number of congressmen, the Congressional Research Service investigated presidential authority to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance to gather foreign intelligence information. Their 44-page analysis found that:
It appears unlikely that a court would hold that Congress has expressly or impliedly authorized the NSA electronic surveillance operations here under discussion, and it would likewise appear that, to the extent that those surveillances fall within the definition of "electronic surveillance" within the meaning of FISA or any activity regulated under Title III, Congress intended to cover the entire field with these statutes.
Their report also disclosed that Alan Specter's Senate Judiciary Committee stated that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was designed "to curb the practice by which the Executive Branch may conduct warrantless electronic surveillance on its own unilateral determination that national security justifies it."

However, legislators are not the only authorities questioning the president. A former NSA official, Russ Tice, wrote letters to both the House and Senate judiciary committees. In his letter Tice said, "I intend to report to Congress probable unlawful and unconstitutional acts conducted while I was an intelligence officer with the NSA and with the Defense Intelligence Agency." Why is Tice a "former" official? Because he was dismissed from the NSA after he became a whistleblower.

Of course, Bush says Article II of the Constitution of the United States gives him the martial power to legally order his espionage program. However, if you justify Bush's action under war powers, then you're giving the executive branch permission to spy on Americans indefinitely. The "war on terror" is not a traditional combat between two nations where one will eventually prevail over the other, it's a rhetorical war against a scourge of society. As such, much like the rhetorical war on drugs, it will never be won and it will never end. Just as mankind has abused drugs since the first time we discovered the effects of things like hallucinogenic mushrooms and fermented juice, mankind has also utilized terrorism since the first time one man discovered he could control another through fear (just read the Bible for ancient examples) and will continue to have terrorists until we become extinct from the face of this planet.

"Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."

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