The elephant in the reading room

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.

and here:

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.


  1. Or political enemies maybe?

    Someone I know thinks the whole issue will be ignored by the public…UNLESS we find out that Bush authorized spying on a white person. As long as its brown-skinned people or Muslims, he’s probably safe vis-a-vis public opinion.

  2. Darren

    First, let me preface all of this by saying that perhaps I have too much faith in the American people to value their freedom; after the last few years, it’s not a very wise bet.

    I almost commented yesterday to say that I don’t think we need to start supposing who or why Bush & Co were spying on Americans without warrants. If everyone on the left is screaming the worst-case scenarios like you’ve set out, Patrick, then it allows Bush to say, “no, it wasn’t that bad . . . look at this budding terrorist we spied on . . . it wasn’t about Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, or the Kerry campaign . . . y’all are all a bunch of paranoid wackos.” We don’t need to set up another straw man for them to knock down; in short, the facts as they stand are bad enough. Basically, let them hang themselves trying to explain what we already know. So I was going to say something along these lines, then . ..
    Yesterday Bush comes out and says this is all cool. It’s necessary. We stand behind this policy, and we’re going to keep doing it.
    Maybe four years ago, or even two years ago, this play would have worked. But now a majority of americans believe that Bush is a liar, and they’re starting to wake up to the fact that we’ve been stripped of many civil liberties without the protections we were promised in return. I don’t think that Bush can just dig in his heels and save face over this warrantless spying. Let them hang out there for awhile, just keep asking questions about exactly why it was done and how it worked.

    Like I said, perhaps I’m putting too much faith in the American people to be offended.

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