Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Democracy Now: Government spying on domestic groups, John Conyers; Gary Hart, Dahr Jamail, Arkan Hamed, Stephanie (Democratic Underground) ...

Surveillance Court Judge Resigns in Protest of Bush Spy Program
This news on the Bush administration’s domestic espionage program: the Washington Post is reporting a judge has resigned from the country’s top spy court in protest of the secret program in which the National Security Agency has eavesdropped on Americans without court-approved warrants. U.S. District Judge James Robertson, one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, submitted his resignation Monday. The court is regarded as the only authority to authorize wire-taps for domestic espionage.
Bush in 2004: "Wiretap Requires A Court Order"
President Bush has argued eavesdropping without court-approved warrants is legal under authority granted by Congress shortly after 9/11. But in April of last year President Bush told reporters wire-taps were only conducted with court approval.
  • President Bush, April 20, 2004: “Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so.”
The White House is now claiming Bush was referring only to actions taken under the Patriot Act.
Report: Espionage Monitored Purely Domestic Communications
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting the espionage program monitored communications that were entirely domestic -- despite recent assurances from top administration officials that one end of the intercepted communications came from abroad. Government officials told the Times the intercepts were “accidental.”
Earlier this week, former NSA director Gen. Michael V. Hayden, currently the second-ranking intelligence official in the country, told reporters: "I can assure you, by the physics of the intercept, by how we actually conduct our activities, that one end of these communications are always outside the United States."
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales made the same claim: "People are running around saying that the United States is somehow spying on American citizens calling their neighbors. [Its] very, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States."
The above three items are from today's Democracy Now! Headlines and were selected by Heath, Vince and LyndaDemocracy Now! ("always worth watching," as Marcia says):
Headlines for December 21, 2005

- New York Transit Strike Enters Second Day
- Report: Deal-Breaking MTA Demand Would Have Saved Only $20M
- Surveillance Court Judge Resigns in Protest of Bush Spy Program
- Bush in 2004: “Wiretap Requires A Court Order”
- Report: Espionage Monitored Purely Domestic Communications
- Cheney: Spy Program Enacted To Strength Presidential Authority
- Indonesian Pilot Convicted of Killing Munir Thalib
- Stanley Tookie Williams Laid To Rest in Los Angeles
Mayor Bloomberg Condemns New York City Transit Strike, MTA Workers Hold Firm

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg condemns a strike by 33,000 transit workers that has shut down the country's largest public transportation system for the first time in 25 years. We play an excerpt of Bloomberg's press conference, hear New York City commuters and transit workers explaining their reasons for the strike and we speak with Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez who has been closely covering the strike. [includes rush transcript - partial]
A Debate on the New York City Transit Strike

We host a debate on the New York City transit strike with Stanley Aronowitz, Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and Nicole Gelnias, contributing editor at the Manhattan Institute's City Journal.
New Documents Show FBI Spying on Domestic Activist Groups

Newly released documents show counterterrorism agents at the FBI have been monitoring domestic organizations active in causes as diverse as peace, the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief. The documents came as part of a series of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. We are joined today by members of three groups under FBI surveillance: Greenpeace, PETA and the Catholic Worker.
Note: Guests and organizations for this segment:
  • Matt Daloisio, of the New York Catholic Worker.
  • John Passacantando, Executive Director Greenpeace USA.
  • Jeff Kerr, General Counsel of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
First Step Towards Impeachment? Conyers Introduces Bills to Censure Bush and Cheney

We speak with Congressman John Conyers (D - MI) introduced measures to censure President Bush and Vice President Cheney for misleading lawmakers on the decision to go to war in Iraq. Conyers is also seeking the creation of a select committee to investigate the Administration's possible crimes and make recommendations regarding grounds for impeachment.
We have three items to note on government spying.  We'll start with Sam who says
"a great place to pick up on last night's entry" is Gary Hart's "Intelligence Abuse Deja Vu" (The Huffington Post):
Three weeks after I took the oath of office in the Senate in 1975, then-Majority Leader Mike Mansfield appointed me to a newly created committee -- the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, which soon came to be known as the "Church Committee," after its chairman, the late Sen.
Frank Church of Idaho. Out of 11 members, I was by far the youngest.
The Senate had impaneled the committee because of increasing reports of abuse of authority by the country's myriad intelligence agencies under the Nixon administration as well as previous administrations. For two years, the committee investigated broadly -- the CIA, FBI, DIA and NSA were all within its purview -- and finally, in 1976, it issued a series of recommendations designed to prevent future abuses.
Today, one has only to consider the behavior of the Bush administration during the Iraq war to appreciate how soon we forget, how little we learn and how pervasive is the tendency to violate civil and constitutional liberties in the name of war. Virtually all of the reforms recommended by the Church Committee -- many of which were passed into law -- have been evaded, ignored or violated in the name of the "war on terrorism."
It is often said that the first victim of war is the truth. In fact, the first victim of American war is the liberty of Americans.
During our investigations of intelligence abuse, we discovered that the government had engaged in widespread surveillance of a very large number of American citizens. Civil rights leaders were monitored. Antiwar groups were under surveillance. Domestic phones were tapped. Mail was opened. The FBI conducted warrantless "black bag" break-ins of private residences and offices. We wrote an entire report on warrantless electronic surveillance by the FBI -- exactly what the NSA has now been authorized to do by the president.
One particularly egregious program, code-named COINTELPRO, went beyond the mere collection of intelligence on domestic groups to actually trying to "disrupt" or "neutralize" target groups. The excuse given by the FBI and others was, "We are at war, and we need to do everything we can to defeat our enemy." Sound familiar?
Also on governmental spying, Cindy notes "A President Above the Law?" (Minneapolis Star Tribune):
The question is whether the president, alone and without independent review, gets to make that call.
Congress weighed this question carefully some 25 years ago and decided that the answer is no. In the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act it decided that the president must present evidence to a judge and obtain a court warrant before having the NSA eavesdrop domestically. In recognition of security needs, Congress established a secret and speedy tribunal to handle such requests. Justice Department statistics suggest that the process works: From 1979 to 2002, no warrant application was rejected; retired Adm. Bobby Inman says the judges typically rule within two days.
One might imagine a chief executive so wise and omniscient that ordinary Americans would trust him to waive their civil liberties in a national emergency. But that would not be this chief executive -- the one who heeded John Yoo rather than John McCain on the question of torture and who trusted a defector named "Curveball" over veteran intelligence officers on the issue of Saddam's weapons.
Now the White House is in furious spin mode. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says Bush has the constitutional authority to use the NSA this way. But four previous presidents, Republicans and Democrats, didn't think so. The president says the Times and its sources have revealed vital secrets to the enemy. But the leak never would have happened and the surveillance would have remained secret if the president himself had followed the law.
From that editorial, we'll move to Carl's highlight of past problems J-Ass had with FISA, Stephanie's "FISA Court Ruled Ashcroft's Policy Violated Right to Privacy in 2002" (

DUer nashuaadvocate has brought up a very pertinent point that needs more attention. The timing of Bush's illegal orders conforms perfectly to this 2002 ruling:

FISA Court Opinion

On May 17, 2002, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court ruled that portions of guidelines issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft on intelligence sharing violated federal law. The court said the policy established by Ashcroft, who cited the Patriot Act for his authority, shortcut the Constitution and FISA by replacing existing surveillance requirements used for criminal prosecution with the more lax FISA requirements.

In its ruling, the court cited the constitutional right to privacy of U.S. citizens, saying Ashcroft's policy "was not reasonably designed or 'consistent with the need of the United States to obtain, produce, or disseminate foreign intelligence information'" as mandated by FISA. Prior to the Patriot Act, FISA had been interpreted by attorneys general and the FISA Court as having mandated a "wall" between the criminal and intelligence sides of an investigation. In this ruling, the FISA Court felt that the new procedures issued by the attorney general had illegally dismantled that wall.
[. . .]
nashuaadvocate's discussion and analysis here:

The Smoking Gun: Why Bush Issued His Illegal Executive Order in 2002
Turning to Iraq, Charlie notes Patrick Cockburn's "Iraq Election Spells Total Defeat for US" (CounterPunch):
The election was portrayed by President George W. Bush as a sign of success for US policies in Iraq, but in fact means the triumph of America's enemies inside and outside the country. Iran will be pleased that the Shia
religious parties whom it has supported, often for decades, have become the strongest political force.
Ironically Bush is more than ever dependent within Iraq on the goodwill of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for all his maverick reputation. It is the allies of Iran who are growing in influence by the day and have now triumphed in the election. The US will hope that Tehran will be satisfied with this. Iran may be happier with a weakened Iraq in which it is a predominant influence rather than see the country entirely break up.
Another victor in the election is the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr whose Mehdi Army militia fought fierce battles with US troops last year. The US military said at the time it intended "to kill or capture him." Mr Bush cited the recapture of the holy city of Najaf from the Mehdi Army in August 2004 as an important success for the US army. Al-Sadr will now be one of the most influential leaders within the coalition.
All the parties which did well in the election have strength only within their own community. The Shia coalition succeeded because the Shia make up 60 per cent of Iraqis, but won almost no votes among the Kurds or Sunni each of whom is about 20 per cent of the population. The Sunni and the Kurdish parties won no support outside their own communities.
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