Josh Marshall is trying to get his head around the reason that the President and the NSA went around the FISA hearings to spy on Americans.
How can this be true?
If I’m understanding this correctly, this program allowed the president to conduct warrantless wiretaps in cases where he could have conducted the same wiretaps with warrants by seeking a warrant from the FISA Court. If the wiretaps were against the “international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations” then the FISA Court certainly would have issued the warrants.
From perusing a few headlines it seems the White House and some editors are taking to arguing that surveillance or domestic wiretapping is necessary for national security, that it saves lives.
Of course, it does. What a stupid thing to say, or for the White House, what a disingenuous thing to say.
Wiretaps are conducted around the country every day. The FISA Court alone approves something like a half a dozen a day in highly classified national security or espionage related cases.
Hm… why would the Bush administration want to go around the oversight hearings so that they could spy on people suspected of terrorism here in the US? Especially when it’s so easy to get a warrant?
Perhaps they’re not just spying on terrorism suspects. These NSA intercepts, I would wager, are of the communications of peace activists. I believe that they’ve been spying on Americans who were exercising their 1st Amendment Rights. I think that they believed that the FISA hearings might have rejected the President’s request to monitor the American Friends Service Committee and Pax Christi International, as well as people like Josh Marshall and Atrios.
I would suggest that if we’re going to keep asking why they did it, we need to state the most obvious theory and let them deny it (though I doubt they’ll be able to).
::UPDATE:: Ezra Klein and I agree on this one:
there are really only two logical answers. One is a desire for increased executive power and the other is that the FISA Courts wouldn’t have approved his targets. Neither is particularly comforting.
I said as much in an email to Josh Marshall earlier today:
If it’s so easy to get a warrant to spy on terrorism suspects, then why indeed would they feel a need to go around that process? Several possible explanations exist, not least of which is the expansion of executive power for expansion’s sake. (I wouldn’t put it past them.) I have my own suspicions, however, and I feel certain that it has occurred to you, as well: I suspect that these wiretaps and surveillances were conducted against domestic peace activists.