Washington Roundup Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (Republican, Pennsylvania) has crafted proposed legislation, pre-approved by the White House, enabling the FISA
star chamber court to rubber-stamp the NSA's massive, warrantless wiretap program, and decide that it is constitutional. Clearly, the Republicans don't want the Supremes to get their hands on this one, although it is hard to imagine them letting the FISA court have the last word.
The proposal will also enable roving wiretaps of terror suspects, offer the administration the opportunity to ignore a seven-day window to obtain a retroactive warrant instead of the three-day window that it is currently ignoring, and exempt from regulation any foreigner-to-foreigner communications that happen to travel along US lines. The president has indicated that he will sign the bill so long as the eight or so civil-rights freaks in Congress don't muck about with it.
During a press conference, Specter characterized the secret court's secret review of the secret eavesdropping program as a "balance" between "the interests in security to fight terrorism" and "the privacy interests which are involved". The White House characterized it as a
"slam dunk" "very positive development for us".
The Bushies have also spent considerable time on the Hill this week demanding that Congress rubber-stamp their bogus military tribunals for Gitmo prisoners, since the Supremes inconveniently declared them illegal. While the Court gave rather clear guidance that the Geneva Conventions and the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) provide the proper mechanisms for trying prisoners in military custody, the administration prefers that Congress should retro-actively legitimize the unconstitutional practices already in play.
DoD legal beagle Daniel Dell'Orto testified that it would be in everyone's interest if Congress would simply endorse the administration's kangaroo courts and be done with it. Applying the UCMJ would give terrorist scum immensely too many rights, he explained. DoJ shyster Steven Bradbury, a former clerk for renowned legal genius Clarence Thomas, concurred.
But there was a bit of confusion when US Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) announced that national security advisor Stephen Hadley had told him in private that the White House was willing to comply with the UCMJ. Which it is pretty much going to have to do, unless it would like to see its Congressional rubber stamp shot down by the Supremes in a year or so.
According to a review by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, the National Asset Database, to which DHS refers for insight in allocating counterterrorism pork, is a complete mess. Thanks to the report, the department is now struggling to explain its efforts to protect from terrorists such national treasures as Old MacDonald's Petting Zoo in Alabama, the Amish Country Popcorn Factory in Indiana, and the Sweetwater Flea Market in Tennessee.
Incredibly, Indiana turns out to be the most target-rich state in the nation. But DHS has attempted to de-emphasize the extent to which it relies on the database, calling it a "useful tool".
Still, a recent New York Times article observes that: "Montana, one of the least populous states in the nation, turned up with far more assets than big population states including Massachusetts, North Carolina and New Jersey."
House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra (Republican, Michigan) sent a rather mean-spirited letter to the president recently, complaining that Congress has not been informed of certain secret spy programs that have not yet leaked to the media.
"I have learned of some alleged intelligence community activities about which our committee has not been briefed," Hoekstra wrote. "If these allegations are true, they may represent a breach of responsibility by the administration, a violation of the law, and, just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the members of this committee."
The letter, dated 18 May, was made public this week. Hoekstra declined to hint at what else the Bushies might be up to, besides their massive warrantless phone and internet surveillance program, and their international banking data-mining program, so we will have to find out when some patriotic whistleblower decides enough is enough.
It's important to note that Hoekstra's reference to a violation of law might be confined to the White House's failure to inform Congress, and might not indicate that the programs themselves are illegal, although the wording is ambiguous.
It's also important to note that Hoekstra is an angry crank with an axe to grind, still miffed that former Republican House colleague Porter Goss was forced out of CIA, and quite insistent that the rotting collection of chemical shells found in Iraq, which Saddam's government had undoubtedly forgotten about a decade ago, proves that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction after all. ®
Supremes axe Gitmo kangaroo courts (29 June 2006)
NY Times accused of treason (26 June 2006)
CIA defends unaccountable snooping (18 May 2006)
Protection from prying NSA eyes (17 May 2006)
DoJ intervenes in 'warrantless' wiretapping lawsuit (15 May 2006)
NSA data trawl furore (12 May 2006)