Stop the Spying on
by Joe Auciello
If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier—just as long as I am the dictator.
President George W. Bush, joking to reporters after the 2000 election.
Following the 9/11 attacks, President Bush secretly ordered the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap—without a warrant—American citizens who made phone calls or sent e-mails overseas. The president claims that his role as commander-in-chief allows him to authorize these wiretaps without the permission of any court. He claims, further, that a congressional resolution passed shortly after 9/11 which allows the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force” against the attackers provides him with the authority to eavesdrop on Americans who communicate with people overseas.
President Bush’s argument is an ill-disguised and illegal power grab that diminishes the civil liberties of Americans. Bush’s actions to mandate domestic spying violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a 1978 law passed by Congress after it was revealed that then-President Richard Nixon had improperly ordered the FBI to spy on U.S. citizens, especially those who Nixon considered his political enemies. The law unambiguously states that a judicial warrant “shall be the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance…and the interception of domestic wire and oral communications may be conducted.”
President Bush broke this law. His actions are both illegal and unconstitutional. While claiming that his orders are “crucial to our national security,” Bush committed crimes. Furthermore, in a December 17 radio address from the White House, he announced his intention to continue with his policy of unauthorized domestic spying.
There was no practical necessity for the Bush administration to ignore the courts. The current law allows the White House to obtain secret emergency warrants from the court (created by the FISA) that presides over intelligence operations. In fact, the application of this law has been almost completely favorable to the executive branch of government.
The New York Times reported on Dec. 23: “It is not altogether evident why the government has viewed the FISA court as an obstacle. The annual statistical summary provided by the court shows that the panel has overwhelmingly approved the warrants sought by the Justice Department. From 1995 to 2004, the court received 10, 617 warrant applications, according to figures compiled by the Federation of American Scientists. It turned down only four…”
One point Bush makes, with far more justification, is that his policy was carried out with the knowledge and support of key members of Congress—leaders of the Democratic Party in particular. According to the Dec. 23 Times, “At least seven Democratic lawmakers are known to have been briefed about the program since its inception in 2001,” including top Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Before authorizing the wiretapping and monitoring of conversations, Bush notified the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, (D- Calif.). Following the public exposure and public outcry over the NSA’s actions, both Democrats have since tried to distance themselves from the president’s illegal policies.
Senator Reid, for instance, now calls for a Congressional investigation into the president’s actions. Additionally, three Democratic senators have called for an end to the NSA operations pending a hearing in Congress.
The scope of this domestic spying program is not clear. White House officials have not provided information about the number of people being monitored, though initial reports of hundreds seem to fall far short of the actual number.
In addition to NSA spying, the “war on terror” has been the rationale
for other federal and local agencies to spy on
The FBI, in turn, according to documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union, is collecting information on groups and individuals ranging from animal rights and environmental activists to the Catholic Workers Movement, an antipoverty group that, according to the FBI, “advocates a communist distribution of resources.” Naturally enough, FBI spokesmen deny any wrongdoing and claim that their snooping is connected to investigations of suspected terrorists.
What is ignored in the government’s rationalizations is a fundamental principle of democracy: The government has no right to oversee and gather information on legal political activity, even if it is activity aimed against the current administration.
The Bush agenda, which treats civil liberties as a casualty of war, is hardly limited to illegal use of the National Security Agency and other federal agencies. This administration attempts to use the media as an extension of government. The New York Times finally broke the story on Dec. 16, but it withheld this information from publication for a full year, at the urging of the White House. Even then, according to the Times, administration officials were allowed prepublication review of the article, and cuts were made at official request.
The Dec. 24 New York Times reports that the telecommunications industry has been cooperating with federal agencies and providing the government with massive amounts of communications data, allowing the NSA “to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications.”
In addition, in a number of significant ways, government policies and practices have eroded civil liberties at home and abroad. The USA Patriot Act, initially approved with near unanimity by Congress, increases the scope of legal eavesdropping and allows government agents to obtain bank and hospital records and other personal documents, including information from businesses and libraries about book purchases, book lending, and internet use. The law enables the attorney general to authorize wiretaps before a judge has issued a warrant, if federal agents later present evidence in court.
Further, the Bush government has tried to undermine long-standing
international agreements by claiming that
In addition, The New York Times reported that
Even the presiding judge of the FISA court is asking the Justice
Department to explain in a classified briefing why it has ignored the federal
law which requires that court’s permission before wiretapping can be permitted
These policies on Bush’s part show a clear pattern of domestic and
foreign abuse of civil liberties and human rights. The current revelations
about illegal spying on
The illegal practices of the Bush administration are hardly new in
recent American history. “Domestic intelligence activity has threatened and
undermined the constitutional rights of Americans to free speech, association,
and privacy.” This was the finding thirty years ago of the Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence headed by Sen. Frank Church which investigated FBI
and CIA practices of spying on U.S. citizens. This Senate committee discovered
that the federal government assembled files on thousands of Americans who had
broken no law but who were “suspect” because they had protested the war in
The Bush administration would like to create a situation in the
The battle for democratic rights in