View Full Version : Did Hot Days And Hyped Fears Result In Bush's Spy-Power Expansion?

08-14-2007, 07:45 PM
Did hot days and hyped fears result in Bush's spy-power expansion?


Nick Juliano
Published: Tuesday August 14, 2007

There's no doubt that Congressional members were facing heat as they mulled amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to expand President Bush's spy powers.

With triple digit August weather in Washington already looming, President Bush revved things up even more by threatening to extend the legislative session unless lawmakers authorized additional warrantless wiretapping powers. Over the following two days, the House and Senate passed bills that dramatically increased the Bush Administration's ability to eavesdrop on Americans' communications.

When asked why the broad expansion was adopted so suddenly instead of a narrower compromise Democrats offered, Senate Intelligence Committee spokeswoman Wendy Morigi told RAW STORY, "I could hypothesize they ran out of time. But I don't know. I don't have a good answer."

Some critics say hyped terror fears, classified intelligence leaks, politicized intelligence and legislative bullying by the administration, combined with a looming recess deadline, all allowed the president to profoundly expand his powers and usurp the Constitution.

"I think the PR campaign mounted by the administration ... created a level of pressure and potential for distortion and miscommunication that has not been paralleled in recent years," Center for National Security Studies deputy director Lisa Graves told RAW STORY. "It's a rather undemocratic approach to policy making. … The result is a very bad policy, in fact an unconstitutional policy, that's based on partial truths and whole sets of misinformation."

Running out of time
In the quest to determine why Democrats signed on so quickly to a program they had long bemoaned, some question whether Congress fast tracked legislation under consideration for 18 months in a hurry to get out of town.

Some Democrats in the House were willing to stay in session to fight the president's power grab, E.J. Dionne reports in the Washington Post, but in the end the House decided to sign on to a Senate bill expanding the president's power. Most Democrats in both chambers voted against the bills.

"Could something happen over August?" Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) asked in an interview with Dionne. "Sure it could. What bothered me is that too many Democrats allowed that fear to turn into a demand for some atrocious legislation."

The timing of the passage also happened to coincide with a huge gathering of vocal opponents of the administration's spying on Americans. While Congress scrambled to pass the temporary expansion, nearly 1,500 liberal bloggers and activists -- who later would be outraged at the FISA expansion -- were gathered in Chicago for YearlyKos. The convention also drew presidential candidates and other lawmakers.

The Senate on Friday, Aug. 3, dramatically approved a law modifying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; the House followed with its own bill in a rare Saturday session.

"Give [the Bush administration] points for political gamesmanship, but the outcome of their political gamesmanship is a net loss for the country," David McGuire, a spokesman for the Center for Democracy & Technology, told RAW STORY.

Administration hypes terror fears
From the president's weekly radio address July 27, to reports that emerged late in the week about vague threats of a imminent terror attack on the Capitol, lawmakers were bombarded with Republican warnings that a failure to expand the government's spy power would leave the nation vulnerable.

"I think we have a political system that is operating on the theory, ‘better safe than sorry,’" John Pike, a leading intelligence expert who founded GlobalSecurity.org, told RAW STORY. "And I just don't think you're going to get too many electable politicians to start talking down the threat."

Civil liberties organizations, including the CDT, NCSS and ACLU, opposed the FISA expansion, saying it grants the administration too much power to monitor Americans' conversation without judicial approval.

Various legislative updates to FISA have been floating around Congress since early 2006, just after the New York Times revealed existence of the warrantless wiretapping program, Morigi said.

Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell spent a week on Capitol Hill, meeting with lawmakers to press passage of a FISA expansion before they left for recess. Democrats thought they had the intelligence director's support for their narrower FISA update, and some later accused him of bowing to pressure from the White House in eventually pushing for the broader bill, a charge McConnell disputes.

"I fear that many members did not actually have an opportunity to study the law," Graves said in a phone interview with RAW STORY. Lawmakers did not have "any input from anyone except the politicized DNI about the consequences of these dramatic changes on Americans."

Congress has attempted to attach FISA updates to the last two intelligence authorization bills, but committees were hampered in writing new legislation because the administration would not provide requested documents outlining details of the wiretapping program and the legal justifications behind it, Senate Intelligence Committee spokeswoman Morigi said.

The FISA law was updated in spite of the White House's continued refusal to hand over new documents. Last Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy imposed a "final deadline" of Aug. 20 for the administration to comply with Congressional subpoenas, as RAW STORY previously reported.

The move to expand the law's provisions seemed to take on new urgency after Bush urged Congress to update FISA "immediately" in his July 28 radio address. He said the intelligence community was "hampered in its ability to gain the vital intelligence we need" when the United States faced a "heightened threat environment."

"I ask Republicans and Democrats to work together to pass FISA modernization now, before they leave town," Bush told radio listeners. "Our national security depends on it."

Three days after Bush's address, House Minority Leader John Boehner revealed details about a classified FISA court ruling during an interview on Fox News. Boehner said that the court had "over the last four or five months" ruled that the NSA could not intercept purely foreign conversations that were routed through the US. Some have charged he broke the law in revealing a classified court ruling.

Two days after Boehner's interview, Roll Call, a newspaper whose primary focus is Congressional coverage, reported of a vague new threat of an attack on the Capitol between early August and Sept. 11.

"America faces a heightened threat of attack. ... The time for foot-dragging is over," Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), who sponsored the House FISA bill, warned in a statement last Thursday.

Morigi, the Senate Intelligence Committee spokeswoman, said congressional leaders had been negotiating with the administration on the approved bill since mid-June.

After the National Intelligence Estimate last month showed al Qaeda was growing stronger, "you had this increased threat environment" that necessitated a fix to the law before Congress left town, she said. Morigi denied that the Roll Call report on a possible attack had any direct impact, but she said she couldn't say whether the story was picking up on information members of Congress already were receiving in their classified briefings.

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott "ominously advised" that Congress needed to update the law when the report of a threat on the Capitol emerged, although he did not cite any specifics.

"The disaster could be on our doorstep" if the law were not updated, Lott warned. He also advised leaving town for a month: "I think it would be good to leave town in August and it would probably be good to stay out until September the 12th."

The Senate's bill passed the day after Lott's comments appeared.

Even Democrats agreed the NSA should be able to spy freely on conversations that happen strictly between foreigners outside the United States. Republicans seized on the gap in foreign-to-foreign surveillance as their main justification for passing the law. Senate Republicans blocked a narrowly focused Democratic proposal that would have fixed just that problem, in favor of a law that allows the US to eavesdrop on Americans talking to anyone abroad, not just terror suspects, without FISA-court oversight.

Some Democrats were then forced to choose between approving the broad expansions backed by nearly all Republicans or to leave open the loophole everyone wanted closed. Fourteen Democratic Senators and 41 House Democrats supported the expansion.

"Congress and the administration had the opportunity to pass legislation that would've permitted legitimate, worthwhile foreign to foreign surveillance without impacting the privacy of Americans," McGuire said in a phone interview with RAW STORY this week. "And instead they passed on that alternative and passed this grossly overbroad piece of legislation."

08-14-2007, 08:31 PM
"The disaster could be on our doorstep" if the law were not updated, Lott warned. He also advised leaving town for a month: "I think it would be good to leave town in August and it would probably be good to stay out until September the 12th." A very ominous quote. Does Trent know something we don't? So since it was passed, we're safe right? I mean, now nothing can happen in DC. And alls we hadda do was give up a bit more freedom? Bravo!

08-14-2007, 08:36 PM
Maybe he fears the protesters that are merging.

08-14-2007, 08:48 PM
These guys could give two shits what ANY of us think. They fear us no more then we fear cattle. At least cattle can unexpectedly stampede. No worry of US doing that...