Sunday, December 18, 2005

More Administration Dishonesty: This Time on Surveillance

Bush administration sources have stated that the reason why the president needed to conduct warrantless surveillance of domestic intelligence targets is that it can take too long to get a warrant. According to the Washington Post:

The aim of the program was to rapidly monitor the phone calls and other communications of people in the United States believed to have contact with suspected associates of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups overseas, according to two former senior administration officials. Authorities, including a former NSA director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, were worried that vital information could be lost in the time it took to secure a warrant from a special surveillance court, sources said.
But on Face the Nation today, Sen. Joe Biden explained that existing law allows the President to conduct electronic surveillance of anyone for up to 75 hours. Biden:

I'm the guy that drafted the FISA Act 25 years ago on the Judiciary Committee, one of the three people, and we set it up-- it's a secret court allowing the president to wiretap anybody, intercept anything for up to 75 hours. They can in the meantime go into that court and say, `I needed to do this.' If there's a reason the court thinks is under the Constitution permissible, they're allowed to do it. If it turns out they're not allowed to do it, they have to destroy the evidence.

So I just don't get it. He already has the authority under the FISA court to go in and intercept anything he wants up to 72 hours. This is neither, I think, legal, nor is it necessary what he's been doing. It is a little bit frightening how broadly he asserts his authority as commander in chief, where the guy hasn't shown very good judgment on torture or a lot of other things.
So once again this administration is being dishonest—making it seem as if they need to violate the law in order to protect the public. I hope that Congress has the guts to face down Bush on this one. I also hope that the Washington Post publishes a correction and stops trusting the sources that fed them a line about losing information during the time that it takes to get a warrant.