Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Wall Street Journal spreads more FISA lies

The Wall Street Journal opinion page, ever a font of RW propaganda, is busy with it once again, flacking the maladministration spin on the Protect America Act reauthorisation:
For the next 9/11 Commission, we nominate the first witness: Silvestre Reyes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He's the man now telling everyone to chill out, take it easy, there's nothing to worry about, after his fellow Democrats last week scuttled a bipartisan compromise on warrantless wiretapping of al Qaeda.
Why not put up the Heritage Foundation "countdown to terrorist attack" clock too (see first update)? Oh, yeah, nevermind. It hit "T - zero" ... and nothing happened.
"It is an insult to the intelligence of the American people to say that we will be vulnerable unless we grant immunity for actions that happened years ago," Mr. Reyes wrote in a letter to President Bush. By "actions" he means the cooperation with U.S. intelligence by private telecom companies after 9/11, for which the companies now face more than 40 lawsuits.
By "actions", we mean felony criminal and civil violations of the law, specifically 50 USC §§ 1809 and 1810.
Mr. Reyes's letter is a political keeper -- all the more so because it is so divorced from intelligence reality. Nearly every other professional says that Friday night's expiration of the wiretap law will do significant security harm.
Not so. See here, and here, and most damningly, here; even Dubya said FISA was enough ... until he got caught violating the law.
Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat, on the Senate floor last week: "What people have to understand around here is that the quality of the intelligence we are going to be receiving is going to be degraded. It is going to be degraded. It is already going to be degraded as telecommunications companies lose interest."
As they "lose interest"?!?!? WTF???
Intelligence-gathering has changed since the end of the Cold War. We live in a world of fiber optics and packet switching....
So?

Nonetheless, as Glenn Greenwald points out, FISA has been updated repeatedly, and even in the aftermath of 9/11 back in October of 2001.
... The National Security Agency can't get what it needs merely by scanning the airwaves for telephone calls and code words....
So? They couldn't back in 1978 either. That's why there was a FISA provision [50 USC § 1801(f)(2)] for "wire communications". But that FISA provision said you need a court order to spy on people in the U.S.
... Terrorists communicate through the Internet. To eavesdrop on those communications, the NSA needs the help of private companies, which voluntarily cooperated after 9/11 when Mr. Bush and the Attorney General asked them to do so.
The point is not their "cooperat[ion]". It is their following the law. Their "cooperat[ion]" is required by law ... if the gummint requests them to do so in a legal fashion.
We've long held that a President doesn't need a court order under the Constitution to order such wiretaps....
What the WSJ opinion page editors "hold" is of no legal significance. They are not courts charged with upholding the FISA law that did require " a court order ... to order such wiretaps".
... But the reality is that, because of these lawsuits, the telephone companies now won't cooperate without the legal protection of a court order. That's how pernicious these lawsuits are.
Yes, they are not required to break the law. They are supposed to do this only under specific circumstances, one of which is that for certain snoops, a court order is required, and if they do so without this, they are subject to civil and possibly criminal penalties. Let's hope they stop.
We asked one phone company executive what he'd do, after Friday's expiration, in response to a government request for cooperation. His answer was blunt: "I'm not doing it. If I don't have compulsion, I can't get out of court [and those lawsuits]. . . . I'm not going to do something voluntarily." Having talked to telecom executives, we can tell you this view is well-nigh universal.
"Volunt[eering]" to help break the law is not something that should be encouraged, in my book. If this one executive says that he won't do so again, I'm afraid I don't see what the problem is.
What we have here is a remarkable display of the anti-antiterror minority at work. Democrats could vote directly to restrict wiretapping by the executive branch, but they lack the votes. So instead they're trying to do it through the backdoor by unleashing the trial bar to punish the telephone companies. Then if there is another terror attack, they'll blame the phone companies for not cooperating.
No. That would be the RW foamers and Rethuglicans like the WSJ here who are just waiting for a terror attack, so you can run around screaming, blaming the Democrats. Sorry, na ga happen....

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