Friday, December 16, 2005

The NSA presents "I love the 70s"

The NYTimes has printed a story, after delaying it for a year at the request of BushCo, about the NSA's expanded warrantless surveillance of Americans.

No, we're not talking about the Patriot Act, which, for all its faults, at least is a legal law passed legally through a legal process by legally-endowed-if-mentally-challenged members of our legal legislative bodies.

This is a secret illegal order made by BushCo:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 - Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

"This is really a sea change," said a former senior official who specializes in national security law. "It's almost a mainstay of this country that the N.S.A. only does foreign searches."

Never heard of the NSA? You're not the only one. The NSA's profile is so low that it is frequently referred to as "No Such Agency." (Hey, that's funny for Washington.) For more info on the NSA, see James Bamford's seminal 1982 book The Puzzle Palace.

Why does any of this matter? Shouldn't our government be able to conduct intelligence-gathering inside our borders in order to stop crimes and terrorist attacks?

Of course. There's only one catch, constitutionally speaking.

It's called a warrant:

The standard of proof required to obtain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is generally considered lower than that required for a criminal warrant - intelligence officials only have to show probable cause that someone may be "an agent of a foreign power," which includes international terrorist groups - and the secret court has turned down only a small number of requests over the years. In 2004, according to the Justice Department, 1,754 warrants were approved. And the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court can grant emergency approval for wiretaps within hours, officials say.

Administration officials counter that they sometimes need to move more urgently, the officials said. Those involved in the program also said that the N.S.A.'s eavesdroppers might need to start monitoring large batches of numbers all at once, and that it would be impractical to seek permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court first, according to the officials.

Hear that? It's inconveinent for them to uphold the constitution!

Well, hey, that's good enough for me, BushCo! Spy away! I trust you not to abuse the power!

Because your administration is a model of restraint when it comes to tolerance of your critics.

Even the increasingly conservative NYT allows a few sentences about why this whole thing might be a really bad idea:
Widespread abuses - including eavesdropping on Vietnam War protesters and civil rights activists - by American intelligence agencies became public in the 1970's and led to passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which imposed strict limits on intelligence gathering on American soil. Among other things, the law required search warrants, approved by the secret F.I.S.A. court, for wiretaps in national security cases. The agency, deeply scarred by the scandals, adopted additional rules that all but ended domestic spying on its part.

Ah, the 70s! Bell bottoms, disco, and unrestrained domestic surveillance! Man, I miss those days.

You know what I think it comes down to? What kind of country you want to live in.

There are many people, my friends, many many people who willingly give up their freedom in order to more closely live the illusion that they are safe. It's how they're put together. It's the way they think things should be. They think there's nothing wrong with BushCo's post 9/11 admonition to "watch what you say" because hey, they fuckin' do that anyway. They already think that if you say bad things 'bout the government, then you deserve to go to jail, you fucking ungrateful little bitch.

I should know. Many of those people are related to me.

But the government is not my parent, and I don't have to be grateful to it for the mortgage over my head and the pothole-scarred pavement under my feet. Neither is it the boss of me, as long as I don't break any real laws. And talking shit is not illegal, okay? At least not yet, although I think T.O. may soon ruin that for all of us if he doesn't shut the fuck up.

The government is mine, fucker. It belongs to me. And if it sucks, no one will say so or try to nudge it ever so fucking slowly in a better direction if not me.

So if I want to say that I think BushCo should be hauled before the Hague and prosecuted for crimes against humanity, it's only tough love, man. Tough love.

Surveillance that, motherfuckers.


Fa said...

I kind of agree with eavesdropping on anyone who might be suspected of having ties with terrorism. The people who support terrorism (in the USA or abroad) are scummier than anyone in Washington's ever been. Actually, 9/11 is only the tip of the iceberg of the evil these guys will consider doing to infidels. So yeah, spy on them and catch them. If they turn out to be innocent, no harm done, nobody gets hurt, nobody will know about it either. It is very unlikely that an ordinary american's life will be threatened or changed by the swift surveilling eye of the NSA. And yes, I read James Bamford's book Body Of Secrets (excellent eye opener).

vikkitikkitavi said...

You forget 2 things:

1. The government is now and always has been free to surveillance anyone. They just need a warrant. This provents abuses by requiring that more than one branch of the government consent.

2. You trust the government to only use this power to spy on guaranteed, 100%, American-death-plotting terrorists? If so, I have a detention facility in Guantanamo Bay I'd like to sell you.