Sunday, April 09, 2006

The scope of Bush's espionage program

In 2004 during a discusion on the USA PATRIOT Act, president George W. Bush told America:
"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."
After making that assurance, it must have been incredibly difficult for Bush to have to belie his word and approve the NSA to spy on American citizens. The mitigating factor was that the espionage was also being conducted over foreign terrorists. Therefore, even though he promised to get a court order before doing so, he decided that national security trumped his reputation for honesty. Any American chatting with al Qaeda operatives overseas deserves to be spied on anyway.

That said, Bush would never approve of spying on a phone call or email without a warrant when both parties in the communication are Americans, would he? Who better to ask than Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez. It turns out that Gonzalez was asked about that very issue during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee Friday. His response: "I'm not going to rule it out" that Bush could order warrantless wiretaps on telephone calls occurring solely within the US. Apparently, Gonzalez must have missed Bush's statement referred to above and was simply misinformed.

The best way to get to the bottom of this is to consider the wires that could be tapped. Let's look at the public statement made by former AT&T technician, Mark Klein, last week. He states that at the beginning of 2003, the NSA tapped in to AT&T's Internet backbone. From five different American cities, the NSA began "conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the internet -- whether that be peoples' e-mail, web surfing or any other data." Based on his technological knowledge of the AT&T network, Klein does not believe that the NSA's spying program is limited to foreign communications.

How can we reconcile this new information with the statement Bush made in 2004? I'm afraid no amount of double-talk, diversion, and spin could possibly explain that away.

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