Browsing the blog archives for December, 2005.


Freedom’s Just Another Word

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Civil Rights, Iraq War, Women's Issues

Last October Atlanta Journal-Constitution political cartoonist Mike Luckovich drew the word Why? made up of the names of 2,000 troops killed in Iraq. In response, a 17-year-0ld named Danielle Ansley used the names of the dead to render the word Freedom.

Naturally, righties find Danielle’s illustration inspirational and clever, while Lukovich is dismissed as a “moonbat.” So good with words, those righties.

I don’t want to be too hard on a 17-year-old, but I do hope eventually the child learns to think, and not just regurjitate. Not to sound like Tom Cruise, but freedom is too glib. The word has been just about stripped of all meaning and has become little more than a tribal totem, waved about by the likes of Michelle Malkin, an apologist for racially motivated imprisonment. Yeah, that’s freedom for you.

First off, the idea that any American should die deposing a dictator who was no threat to the U.S. is problematic of itself. There were no WMDs; there was no collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Our soldiers were sent to Iraq thinking they were defending America, and they were not. They were sent to fulfill some cockamamie political theory dreamed up by a pack of over-educated twits at the Project for a New American Century.

Second, whether the people of Iraq, right now, really are more free than they were before the invasion is debatable. Some Iraqis, certainly, are more free. There is more freedom to openly practice Shiia Islam, for example, which is fine. But this Christmas Iraqi Christians were afraid to go to church.

In spite of token rhetoric about women’s rights in the provisional constitution, women are less free than they were when Saddam Hussein was in power. They are less free to walk the streets without a veil. They are less free to marry as they choose. They are less free even to leave their homes. President Bush likes to brag that the invasion closed Saddam Hussein rape rooms; he doesn’t add that the lack of security leaves women more vulnerable to rape and kidnap than they were before. But I guess it doesn’t count if women aren’t raped in “rape rooms,” and the perpetrators are not agents of the state, but just thugs.

In any event, perhaps Danielle Ansley would like to explore the deeper meaning of the word freedom by living as a woman in Iraq (outside the Green Zone) for a while. If she survives, she might learn something about the gap between rhetoric and reality.

As Riverbend wrote,

We’re so free, we often find ourselves prisoners of our homes, with roads cut off indefinitely and complete areas made inaccessible. We are so free to assemble that people now fear having gatherings because a large number of friends or family members may attract too much attention and provoke a raid by American or Iraqi forces.

The bald, hard, bare-assed fact is that the deaths of 2,178 American soldiers (as of today) haven’t brought any measurable amount of freedom to anyone on the planet, except perhaps for the small cadre of men who are getting wealthy from wholesale corruption and war profiteering. In this country, the Bush Administration hides behind the “war on terror” to chip away at the civil liberties preserved in the Bill of Rights. In Iraq, it seems to me that one jackboot is replacing another. I don’t blame American soldiers for this, since most of the oppression right now seems to be Iraqi against Iraqi. One can, however, blame the flaming fools in Washington who sent U.S. soldiers to invade Iraq with next to no plans for post-invasion security.

But what about democracy? What about elections? The fact of the matter is that democracy and freedom are not the same thing. A country can be democratic and still oppress its people; the United States before the Civil War, when millions were enslaved, comes to mind. For that matter, the United States after the Civil War also comes to mind. A majoritarian republic allows the majority to oppress minorities any way it likes. The independent and sovereign Iraq now struggling to be born might technically be a “free” country, but if women must hide behind drapes and veils to avoid being murdered without compunction, then by no definition of the word are they free. Freedom takes more than democratic government; it takes a nation and society committed to the civil liberties of all.

It may be that in the fullness of time Iraq will become a truly free country. And it may have been that in the same fullness of time Iraq would have achieved that happy status without our “help.” We’ll never know what might have been.

But what we can see unfold before our eyes is the appropriation of the word freedom to mean “policies of the Bush Administration.” Perhaps the next word Danielle Ansley should learn is Orwellian.

Update: See also Kathy at Liberty Street.

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Federal Election Commission Stacked With Bush Cronies

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Bush Administration, elections

Here’s a story that just about slipped through the cracks here on The Mahablog — I overlooked it until I saw this editorial in today’s New York Times

President Bush has announced four nominees for the Federal Election Commission, moving to keep the policing of campaign abuses firmly in the hands of party wheel horses. The timing of the announcement – the president waited until the Senate had gone home – is likely to allow the nominees to avoid the full hearing and confirmation process needed to evaluate them properly.

Holy Diebold!

The most objectionable nominee is Hans von Spakovsky, a former Republican county chairman in Georgia and a political appointee at the Justice Department. He is reported to have been involved in the maneuvering to overrule the career specialists who warned that the Texas gerrymandering orchestrated by Representative Tom DeLay violated minority voting rights. Senators need the opportunity to delve into that, as well as reports of Mr. von Spakovsky’s involvement in such voting rights abuses as the purging of voter rolls in Florida in the 2000 elections.

The nomination of von Spakovsky was announced a couple of weeks ago. I missed it, but John Gideon of the Brad Blog did not:

He is an attorney who is presently the head of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Voting Section. He is a member of the right-wing Federalist Society, and joined other Bush cronies in the Florida recount battle in 2000, and he is President Bush’s newest recipient of a crony-nomination.

Yeah, this is exactly the guy we need on the bleeping Federal Election Commission. Voters, we are bleeped.

In addition to nominating four new members, Bush moved up a Republican crony already on the FEC to be head of the commission — Michael Toner, a former attorney for Bush ‘s election and the Republican National Committee. A real impartial guy. Toner was named a member of the FEC by Bush via recess appointment in 2002. As head, he will replace Scott Thomas, a Democrat. The New York Times calls Thomas “the one incumbent praised for his independence by Senator John McCain, who has campaigned for a clean, hack-free Federal Election Commission.” Thomas’s term has expired.

Bush named Robert D. Lenhard to be one of the three Democrats to serve on the six-member board. Lenhard was part of a legal team that challenged the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. But get this, from Sourcewatch:

“As a lawyer, Lenhard wasn’t able to overturn McCain-Feingold before it took effect, but, as an FEC commissioner, he’ll be able to do the next best thing and try to gut it,” Arianna Huffington wrote December 18, 2005. “But that’s not why I’m obsessing (if I got worked up every time Bush picked a fox to guard a government henhouse, I’d never get anything done!). No, the thing that has my mental wheels in overdrive is the fact that Lenhard is the husband of Viveca Novak — the Time Magazine journalist whose loose lips may end up saving Karl Rove from joining Scooter Libby on Indictment Row.”

Cough. Small world, ain’t it? Mind you, Lenhard is one of the three Democrats on the board who are supposed to be making the board “bipartisan.”

Beside von Spakovsky and Lenhard, the other two nominees are David M. Mason and Steven T. Walther.

Mason, a Republican, has already served one term on the FEC board. He was originally appointed by President Clinton and confirmed by the Senate in 1998. Before joining the FEC Mason had been a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

News stories identify Walther as a political associate of the Senate minority leader Harry Reid.

“By endorsing them, the president has finally shown his commitment to bipartisanship in the worst of ways: by installing another undistinguished group of factotums to referee the democratic process,” says the Times.

Beside Lenhard and Walther, the other Democrat is Danny Lee McDonald, who’s been on the FEC board since 1982.

See also: Ghosts in the Voting Machine and From the New Deal to the Dirty Deal in George Bush’s America.

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IOKIYAR

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conservatism, holiday

I overlooked this column, “Slurs Fly from the Left,” by Jeff Jacoby in Wednesday’s Boston Globe and only noticed it today through some links. See if you notice what’s missing:

NOTHING BRINGS OUT RACIST slurs like an ambitious black man who doesn’t know his ”place.” So when Maryland’s lieutenant governor, Michael Steele, announced his candidacy for the US Senate recently, the bigots reared up. On one popular website, The News Blog, Steele’s picture was grotesquely doctored, making him look like a minstrel-show caricature. ”I’s Simple Sambo and I’s Running for the Big House,” read the insulting headline accompanying the picture.

This wasn’t some white supremacist slime from the right-wing fringe. The News Blog is a liberal site, and the reason for its racist attack on Steele, a former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, is that he is a conservative. Specifically, a black conservative. As far as too many liberals are concerned, blacks who reject liberalism deserve to be smeared as Sambos and worse.

”Black Democratic leaders in Maryland say that racially tinged attacks against Lt. Gov. Michael Steele . . . are fair because he is a conservative Republican,” The Washington Times reported. ”Such attacks . . . include pelting him with Oreo cookies during a campaign appearance, calling him an ‘Uncle Tom,’ and depicting him as a blackfaced minstrel.”

What’s missing, of couse, is the blogger of The News Blog, Steve Gilliard. Who is black. And the beef with Steele is not with his conservatism but with his aquiesence to racism. Steve defends himself quite well here; no need for me to do it for him. “What would you think about Jewish politicians who sought the favor of Islamic radicals,” Steve asks. “Would you want that person to represent you?”

Still, I wasn’t going to write about this until I ran into Ann Coulter’s latest, um, effort. No need turning over rocks or reading between lines to find racism; Coulter throws it in your face. Here’s Ann’s ode to Kwanzaa:

(Sing to “Jingle Bells”)

Kwanzaa bells, dashikis sell
Whitey has to pay;
Burning, shooting, oh what fun
On this made-up holiday!

Yeah, she actually wrote that. Here’s a bit more, if you can stand it:

Coincidentally, the seven principles of Kwanzaa are the very same seven principles of the Symbionese Liberation Army, another charming invention of the Least-Great Generation. In 1974, Patricia Hearst, kidnap victim-cum-SLA revolutionary, posed next to the banner of her alleged captors, a seven-headed cobra. Each snake head stood for one of the SLA’s revolutionary principles: Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba and Imani — the same seven “principles” of Kwanzaa….

…Kwanzaa was the result of a ’60s psychosis grafted onto the black community. Liberals have become so mesmerized by multicultural nonsense that they have forgotten the real history of Kwanzaa and Karenga’s United Slaves — the violence, the Marxism, the insanity. Most absurdly, for leftists anyway, is that they have forgotten the FBI’s tacit encouragement of this murderous black nationalist cult founded by the father of Kwanzaa.

Now the “holiday” concocted by an FBI dupe is honored in a presidential proclamation and public schools across the nation. Bush called Kwanzaa a holiday that promotes “unity” and “faith.” Faith in what? Liberals’ unbounded capacity to respect any faith but Christianity?

She also notes President Bush’s recognition of Kwanzaa: “It’s as if David Duke invented a holiday called ‘Anglika.'”

Jeff Jacoby wrote in the Boston Globe that “Once upon a time, segregationists excoriated white liberals as ‘nigger lovers.’ Today, racist insults in the political arena are more likely to come from the left — and to target black conservatives.” And if he reads Coulter’s column, will he revise his opinion? Of course not — IOKIYAR.

Update: See RT at Just a Bump in the Beltway and John at AMERICAblog.

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Take the Cannoli

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Bush Administration, War on Terror

“In the past, presidents set up buffers to distance themselves from covert action,” said A. John Radsan, assistant general counsel at the CIA from 2002 to 2004. “But this president, who is breaking down the boundaries between covert action and conventional war, seems to relish the secret findings and the dirty details of operations.”

It’s sooo much fun pretending to be president. Oh, wait …

The paragraph above is from an article by Dana Priest in today’s Washington Post, “Covert CIA Program Withstands New Furor: Anti-Terror Effort Continues to Grow.” Priest describes a CIA program called “GTS,” which has “grown into the largest CIA covert action program since the height of the Cold War.”

GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.

Over the past two years, as aspects of this umbrella effort have burst into public view, the revelations have prompted protests and official investigations in countries that work with the United States, as well as condemnation by international human rights activists and criticism by members of Congress.

Still, virtually all the programs continue to operate largely as they were set up, according to current and former officials. These sources say Bush’s personal commitment to maintaining the GST program and his belief in its legality have been key to resisting any pressure to change course.

Covert torture programs are even more fun than executions! Our president seems to relish the secret findings and the dirty details of operations! No buffers! But you know what this means? This means …

No plausible deniability.

Heh.

Priest continues,

The administration contends it is still acting in self-defense after the Sept. 11 attacks, that the battlefield is worldwide, and that everything it has approved is consistent with the demands made by Congress on Sept. 14, 2001, when it passed a resolution authorizing “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks.”

“Everything is done in the name of self-defense, so they can do anything because nothing is forbidden in the war powers act,” said one official who was briefed on the CIA’s original cover program and who is skeptical of its legal underpinnings. “It’s an amazing legal justification that allows them to do anything,” said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues.

Extreme times call for extreme lawyering:

“The Bush administration did not seek a broad debate on whether commander-in-chief powers can trump international conventions and domestic statutes in our struggle against terrorism,” said Radsan,[*] the former CIA lawyer, who is a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn. “They could have separated the big question from classified details to operations and had an open debate. Instead, an inner circle of lawyers and advisers worked around the dissenters in the administration and one-upped each other with extreme arguments.”

* A. John Radsan, assistant general counsel at the CIA from 2002 to 2004.

One way the White House limited debate over its program was to virtually shut out Congress during the early years. Congress, for its part, raised only weak and sporadic protests. The administration sometimes refused to give the committees charged with overseeing intelligence agencies the details they requested. It also cut the number of members of Congress routinely briefed on these matters, usually to four members — the chairmen and ranking Democratic members of the House and Senate intelligence panels.

So, the CIA has been free to develop new procedures, such as:

The CIA has stuck with its overall approaches, defending and in some cases refining them. The agency is working to establish procedures in the event a prisoner dies in custody. One proposal circulating among mid-level officers calls for rushing in a CIA pathologist to perform an autopsy and then quickly burning the body, according to two sources.

Nasty stuff. But Bush has forgotten the Michael Corleone buffer rule, as explained in Godfather II:

Senator Pat Geary: Mr. Cici, was there always a buffer involved?
Willi Cici: A what?
Senator Pat Geary: A buffer. Someone in between you and your possible superiors who passed on to you the actual order to kill someone.
Willi Cici: Oh yeah, a buffer. The family had a lot of buffers!

This will make the eventual prosecution at The Hague soooo much easier.

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British Torture Memos

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torture

Doing my part to publish documents the British government wants to suppress … Beneath the fold are the same documents posted here. See also Blairwatch, Booman Tribune, TalkLeft, and Daily Kos for background.

I think it’s safe to say the toothpaste is out of the tube.

Continue Reading »

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Bomb the Map

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Bush Administration

Via Buzzflash — you’ll get a kick out of this Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi.

Best line: “It was classic Bush-think: Instead of bombing the insurgency off the map, he bombs the map.”

And this:

God bless George Bush. The Middle East is in flames, and how does he answer the call? He rolls up to the side entrance of a four-star Washington hotel, slips unobserved into a select gathering of the richest fatheads in his dad’s Rolodex, spends a few tortured minutes exposing his half-assed policies like a campus flasher and then ducks back into his rabbit hole while he waits for his next speech to be written by paid liars.

If that isn’t leadership, what is?

And this:

Up until now this president’s solution to everything has been to stare into the cameras, lie and keep on lying until such time as the political problem disappears. And now, unable to comprehend that while political crises may wilt in the face of such tactics, real crises do not, he and his team are responding to this first serious feet-to-the-fire Iraq emergency in the same way they always have — with a fusillade of silly, easily disprovable bullshit.

Preach it, bro’ Matt!

Update: James Wolcott triumphs again!

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It’s the Warrants, Stupid

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Bush Administration, Civil Rights, War on Terror

I agree with John at AMERICAblog and Stephen Kaus at Huffington Post that the righties are missing the point on the NSA issue. By several million miles.

The righties are grasping to their bosoms a new Rasmussen poll finding that 64 percent of Americans believe the National Security Agency should be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States. Even 51 percent of Democrats surveyed said yes. Bush is vindicated! they crow. This has just gotta hurt the left, they exclaim. America is OK with NSA, says Little Lulu.

However, Rasmussen doesn’t seem to have included some critical distinctions, like “warrants” or “judicial oversight.” The righties are still waltzing with a straw man — that us lefties object to surveillance of possible terrorists. But it’s not the snooping, it’s the snooping without warrants, that we object to.

I mean, even I would say yes to the question “Should the NSA intercept telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States?” Just so long as the NSA follows legal procedures.

And let’s not forget the Bushies have already demonstrated a proclivity for using the NSA for purely political purposes. They used the NSA to snoop on UN delegates and Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA, for example. Without proper oversight, we have no idea who the Bushies really are snooping on.

Ezra Klein writes
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There’s no doubt the NSA should — nay, must! — tap the phones of suspected terrorists. The only issue is whether they are an agency unbound, freed from all judicial oversight and/or congressional constraint. Administration apparatchiks will try to twist it into a referendum on the president’s authority to tap phones in the War on Terror. It’s not. It’s a referendum on whether any President should ever be trusted with the tools and authority of a totalitarian dictator.

Just try explaining that to righties, though. Or try explaining physics to a hamster, which is nearly as futile.

I’m fascinated by the way so many rightie bloggers flip off the question of legality as so much noise and focus only on how the issue will impact politics. For example, winger Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom wrote (italics are Mr. Goldstein’s),

Poll numbers of course have no bearing on whether or not the NSA program authorized by Bush (to the extent it has been revealed) is legal—but it does suggest that in spite of the decidedly anti-administration slant being put on the program by most of the legacy media, a strong majority of Americans believe that the program is a good idea, and that the President is using appropriate historical authority in authorizing and defending it.

Will these results convince partisan Democrats who’ve been pushing the story that they’re not likely to gain much politically by pressing the issue? That remains to be seen. And it remains to be seen how SCOTUS will rule on inherent authority for foreign intelligence wiretapping.

Translation: Who cares if the President is running the Constitution through a shredder, as long as it’s hurting Democrats?

Of course, Mr. Goldstein has managed to bullshit himself that “case law” supports Bush’s warrantless wiretaps; Scott at Lawyers, Guns and Money says otherwise. But you know righties; they could get a memo from God saying the warantless wiretaps are unconstitutional, and they’d just write off God as a terrorist sympathizer.

Update: See also Glenn Greenwald.

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When Film Reviews Bite

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entertainment and popular culture

Like most people I’m a sucker for “best of” and “worst of” lists. But on my personal “worst” list are reviewers whose “Best Films of the Year” lists are made up of bleeping indy and foreign films I’ve never heard of, much less seen. Here’s one example, but this year we’ve had a bumper crop of them, seems to me.

I’m also seeing films on the “best” lists that got so-so reviews when they were released, like The Skeleton Key. Annoying.

I’d have a hard time coming up with a “Best Films of 2005,” because I’d have to list every new film I saw in theaters in 2005. But I didn’t see any films I didn’t like, so they can all go on the list —

    1. Good Night and Good Luck — the best.
    2. Batman Begins — dark and gritty, like a superhero movie should be
    3. A History of Violence — I hated the ending. I loved the ending.

[Update: I forgot Syriana! And it’s really good! Put it at number 4 and bump everything else down one. ]

    4. Madagascar — The New York City segments were priceless.
    5. Kingdom of Heaven — Would have been better if they hadn’t killed off Liam Neeson so fast, but still good.

[Update: I forgot Walk the Line. If Kingdom of Heaven is now #6, then Walk the Line is #7 and SW is #8

    6. Star Wars: Revenge of the SithAlmost redeemed the dreaded episodes I and II.
    7. The Legend of Zorro — I’m a sucker for swashbucklers.
    8. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — entertaining, even though I already knew how it ended
    9. King Kong — ditto. Some scenes went a little long, though.
    10. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — The book was better, but the film was still pretty good.

In addition to these I saw Aliens of the Deep in 3D, which was nice. I also saw Constantine on TV. Have forgotten it already.

There are no doubt lots of really good films I didn’t see, which is why they are not on this list. But at least these are all red blooded, all-American major theatrical releases, by gawd. None o’ that smartypants indy or foreign stuff!

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Probable Cause

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Bush Administration, Civil Rights, criminal justice, War on Terror

In the aftermath of September 11 —

Surveillance applications poured in. A flood of new FBI agents, not trained in FISA law, added another complication. It was critical that the government satisfy the FISA law’s “probable cause” requirement that the target was a foreign agent.

“You’d have an FBI agent screaming, ‘I need this warrant and I need it now,'” Lesemann recalled recently. “He’s screaming, ‘People will die unless you go to court.’ Or an agent would say, ‘This is a bad person, we need to move on this,’ and I’d say, ‘Yes, this is a bad person, but there’s no ‘foreign power’ here.'”

The snip above was taken from an article in the New Jersey Star-Ledger on August 21, “Changes in the law put spotlight on a shadowy court,” by Mary Jo Patterson. Dana Lesemann, quoted in the article, was a Department of Justice lawyer with top-secret national security clearance. She had been with the DoJ since 2000. “Her job involved collaborating with intelligence agents to prepare applications for the FISA court — and making sure the government justified the intrusive surveillance,” Patterson wrote.

This article was written before Wiretapgate became public, but it reveals that the FBI and Bush Administration were frustrated by the “foreign service” requirement. As we learned a couple of days ago, the FISA court has been challenging Bush Adinistration applications at an unprecedented rate, in spite of the fact that FISA standards were lowered by the Patriot Act. Patterson wrote,

In time, the [FISA]court came to be seen as the enforcer of “the wall,” a collection of laws and administrative policies that sought to keep national-security surveillance separate from domestic law enforcement.

FISA required that foreign-intelligence gathering be “the” purpose of any surveillance. Unlike conventional wiretaps, FISA surveillance did not require federal agents to show probable cause to believe a crime had been, or would be, committed. FISA required only that the government certify it had probable cause to believe that targets were agents of a foreign power.

The Patriot Act lowered the standard for a FISA warrant. Rather than stipulating that foreign-intelligence gathering be “the” purpose of surveillance, Section 218 of the act required that gathering such intelligence be “a significant” purpose.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft interpreted that provision to mean law enforcement officers, not just intelligence agents, could initiate and manage FISA investigations. As a result, “the wall” virtually disappeared.

But it didn’t disappear enough to satisfy the FBI and the Bush Administration, apparently. As the opening quote indicates, many were frustrated by the “foreign intelligence” requirement.

Today Armando at Kos quotes testimony by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2004. It’s clear the FBI was, literally, all thumbs when it came to FISA requests. Bottlenecks developed, but the bottlenecks were in the FBI, not the court. One suspects the “flood of new FBI agents, not trained in FISA law” that Patterson wrote about was a big part of that problem. And the clueless wonder, Ashcroft, was slow to fix the problem. I would think FBI Director Robert S. Mueller bears some responsibility also.

But problems between the FISA court and the FBI did not begin with the Bush Administration. During the tenure of Director Louis Freeh, for example, according to Patterson:

It was not that the court was opposed to intelligence agents’ passing information along to criminal prosecutors. It just wanted to manage and be part of the information flow.

This uneasy relationship between the FBI and the court would later be blamed for the FBI’s reluctance to work up a FISA surveillance warrant application for Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, during the runup to 9/11.

FBI field agents arrested Moussaoui on Aug. 15, 2001, in Minnesota, where he was enrolled in a flight school. Although the agents suspected he was a terrorist, he was detained on an immigration violation.

The agents desperately wanted a FISA warrant to search his laptop. FBI headquarters, however, was not satisfied that Moussaoui was an agent of a foreign power and threw up “roadblocks,” according to a 2002 letter to FBI director Robert Mueller from Coleen Rowley, chief counsel in the FBI’s Minneapolis office.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, the government got its search warrant; Moussaoui was arrested and prosecuted. In April of this year he was convicted of participating in the 9/11 conspiracy.

Although this episode is sometimes held up by righties as an example of the “cumbersome” nature of working with the FISA court, the problem was actually within the FBI bureaucracy, not with FISA. And, as I said above, the Patriot Act made the standards for obtaining a warrant even lower. According to Patterson, in 2002 the FISA court rejected Ashcroft’s contention that Section 218 of the Patriot Act granted criminal investigators wide access to intelligence material and the authority to run FISA investigations. However,

Ashcroft appealed the decision to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. This court, made up of three additional federal judges, had existed since the beginning of FISA, but had never been convened before.

In its first-ever ruling, the review court reversed the FISA court.

Ashcroft’s procedures remained in place.

Yet, in spite of this unprecedented laxity, the Bush Administration has had applications bounced, and Bush decided FISA was too much bother. Who needs oversight when you talk to God? But considering that the “foreign” part of “foreign intelligence” was a big hangup, one wonders how careful the Bushies have been to separate “foreign” from “domestic.”

Well, actually, I don’t wonder. I just don’t have proof.

That the White House uses the NSA as its own personal toy is a given — we know they used the NSA to snoop on UN delegates and Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA, for example. And we have learned that the NSA has been tracing large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in the United States. Do we think for a moment that the Bushies have any scruples whatsoever regarding “domestic” snooping? And for non-security-related purposes? Puh-leeze …

In other wiretap news, today we learn from Lichtblau and Risen at the New York Times that “Defense lawyers in some of the country’s biggest terrorism cases say they plan to bring legal challenges to determine whether the National Security Agency used illegal wiretaps against several dozen Muslim men tied to Al Qaeda.” We don’t know if any of them were subject to illegal wiretaps, and I suspect if they were the Bushies will find ingenious ways to stonewall investigations. For more commentary, see “Meet the Fan” by ReddHedd at firedoglake.

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Why They Snoop

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Bush Administration, Civil Rights, Condi Rice, Iraq War

Jason Leopold of Raw Story reports that Condi Rice authorized a plan to use the NSA to spy on UN delegates in 2003.

President Bush and other top officials in his administration used the National Security Agency to secretly wiretap the home and office telephones and monitor private email accounts of members of the United Nations Security Council in early 2003 to determine how foreign delegates would vote on a U.N. resolution that paved the way for the U.S.-led war in Iraq, NSA documents show.

Two former NSA officials familiar with the agency’s campaign to spy on U.N. members say then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice authorized the plan at the request of President Bush, who wanted to know how delegates were going to vote. Rice did not immediately return a call for comment.

The former officials said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also participated in discussions about the plan, which involved “stepping up” efforts to eavesdrop on diplomats.

This is actually old news; the NSA angle was reported in the Observer in March 2003, before the Iraq invasion.

The United States is conducting a secret ‘dirty tricks’ campaign against UN Security Council delegations in New York as part of its battle to win votes in favour of war against Iraq.

Details of the aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the emails of UN delegates in New York, are revealed in a document leaked to The Observer.

The disclosures were made in a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency – the US body which intercepts communications around the world – and circulated to both senior agents in his organisation and to a friendly foreign intelligence agency asking for its input.

See also Shakespeare’s Sister.

I recall that in 2004 the NSA was also used to wiretap Mohamed ElBaradei, of the International Atomic Energy Agency and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Bushies were pissed at ElBaradei for trying to warn them prior to the Iraq invasion that Saddam Hussein was not a nuclear threat.

Now, I don’t know offhand if these wiretaps would have required warrants. But it does show us that the Bushies have no qualms about snooping for purely political purposes.

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