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January 02, 2006

Two Essential Points 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Two essential points about the illegal NSA domestic eavesdropping that hadn't occurred to me before.

First point. If the Bush administration truly is interested in finding and bringing to justice terrorists within our borders, illegal wiretaps hurt that effort, since they produce information that is inadmissible in court. Think Progress:

Today, President Bush attempted to justify his secret domestic spying program:
The NSA program is one that listens to a few numbers, called from the outside of the United States and of known al Qaeda or affiliate people. In other words, the enemy is calling somebody and we want to know who they’re calling and why.

In fact, according to this explanation, the program was not only illegal but unnecessarily puts the American people at risk. [...]

Why? Because evidence obtained by Bush's warrantless domestic spying program is probably not admissible in court. Convictions obtained with evidence from this program may be overturned. Suspected terrorists are already pursuing appeals. [Emphasis added]

Second point. FISA was enacted specifically to prevent the NSA from turning its eavesdropping technology against Americans. This directly refutes White House claims that we're in a new world, one that FISA could not have anticipated. From security expert Bruce Schneier:

Decades before 9/11, and the subsequent Bush order that directed the NSA to eavesdrop on every phone call, e-mail message, and who-knows-what-else going into or out of the United States, U.S. citizens included, they did the same thing with telegrams. It was called Project Shamrock, and anyone who thinks this is new legal and technological terrain should read up on that program. [...]

A lot of people are trying to say that it's a different world today, and that eavesdropping on a massive scale is not covered under the FISA statute, because it just wasn't possible or anticipated back then. That's a lie. Project Shamrock began in the 1950s, and ran for about twenty years. It too had a massive program to eavesdrop on all international telegram communications, including communications to and from American citizens. It too was to counter a terrorist threat inside the United States. It too was secret, and illegal. It is exactly, by name, the sort of program that the FISA process was supposed to get under control.

Twenty years ago, Senator Frank Church warned of the dangers of letting the NSA get involved in domestic intelligence gathering. He said that the "potential to violate the privacy of Americans is unmatched by any other intelligence agency." If the resources of the NSA were ever used domestically, "no American would have any privacy left.... There would be no place to hide.... We must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is an abyss from which there is no return."

Bush's eavesdropping program was explicitly anticipated in 1978, and made illegal by FISA. There might not have been fax machines, or e-mail, or the Internet, but the NSA did the exact same thing with telegrams. [...]

This issue is not about terrorism. It's not about intelligence gathering. It's about the executive branch of the United States ignoring a law, passed by the legislative branch and signed by President Jimmy Carter: a law that directs the judicial branch to monitor eavesdropping on Americans in national security investigations.

It's not the spying, it's the illegality. [Emphasis added]

Interesting that you have to learn stuff like this from blogs.

Posted by Jonathan at January 2, 2006 05:08 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb