Thursday, December 22, 2005

Indymedia roundup: government spying/snooping

Last Thursday, President George W. Bush struck a deal to accept Senator John McCain's ban on the torture of U.S.-held detainees. But by the weekend, all the shoddy rationales his administration had previously put forward to justify inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment were back in play—this time to justify the unauthorized surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Agency, which is empowered only to spy on foreign agents abroad.
Here, as with the official approval of brutal interrogation methods, Americans were told that the urgent and dramatically new nature of the war on terror made unilateral executive action the exclusive order of the day. There has been no regard for fussy procedural niceties such as observance of the law or constitutional checks on Presidential power. Speaking to his Saturday radio audience on a rare live-TV feed, filmed beneath a rough-riding portrait of Theodore Roosevelt, the President made with his own big stick.
"In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation," he said, "I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to Al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations …. This is a highly classified program that is crucial to our national security. Its purpose is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the United States, our friends and allies."
Then, as administration officials have done with nearly every public report damaging to the White House's credibility, the President proceeded to argue that the real crime lay in the act of exposure.
"Yesterday, the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports after being improperly provided to news organizations,” Mr. Bush claimed. “As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have. And the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies and endangers our country."

The above, sent in by Mia, is from Chris Lehmann's "It's for Your Own Good! Tapping, Torturing and Secrets" (New York Observer). Still Thursday (check the clocks) and we're doing the Indymedia roundup. We'll be utilizing a Democracy Now! report throughout. For instance, right now. From "An Impeachable Offense? Bush Admits Authorizing NSA to Eavesdrop on Americans Without Court Approval:"

AMY GOODMAN: So, your response when you heard about what the National Security Agency has been authorized to do by the President?
CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Not terribly surprised, but the one piece of it that amazes me is that the President admitted that he personally ordered the National Security Agency to violate a federal statute. Now, he has no Constitutional authority to do that. The Constitution says he must take care that all laws be faithfully executed, not just the ones he likes. The statute says it's, as you said at the beginning of the program, that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is the exclusive law governing these international intercepts, and he violated it anyway. And the law also says that any person who violates that law is guilty of a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. By the plain meaning of the law, the President is a criminal.

By the plain meaning of the law, the Bully Boy is a criminal. (A paraphrase. As members know, I just have a block when it comes to Bully Boy having a title.) Who is Christopher Pyle (the man Amy Goodman is speaking to in the excerpt above)? "Christopher Pyle, Professor of Politics at Mt. Holyoke. In 1970 Pyle disclosed the military's surveillance of civilian politics and, as a consultant to three Congressional committees, worked to end it."

Rachel e-mails to note Todd Anderson's "Big Brother Bush and the NSA Spying on Domestic Groups" (NYC Indymedia):

The spying activities of big brother Bush, and the NSA have greatly exceeded al Qaeda, Hamas, or Arab insurgent groups operating within the US. The FBI was also used multiple times under Ashcroft to illegally spy on activist groups. The groups that the FBI, and NSA have spied upon include: Indymedia, PETA, Green Peace, Catholic Workers, ELF, ALF, and several other groups. Only one of these groups the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) has any kind of blatant criminal history. Eric Lichtblau reported in the New York Times on December 20, 2005 that:
"For more than a year, the A.C.L.U. has been seeking access to information in F.B.I. files on about 150 protest and social groups that it says may have been improperly monitored.
The F.B.I. had previously turned over a small number of documents on antiwar groups, showing the agency's interest in investigating possible anarchist or violent links in connection with antiwar protests and demonstrations in advance of the 2004 political conventions. And earlier this month, the A.C.L.U.'s Colorado chapter released similar documents involving, among other things, people protesting logging practices at a lumber industry gathering in 2002.
The latest batch of documents, parts of which the A.C.L.U. plans to release publicly on Tuesday, totals more than 2,300 pages and centers on references in internal files to a handful of groups, including PETA, the environmental group Greenpeace and the Catholic Workers group, which promotes antipoverty efforts and social causes."
The shocking revelations about the FBI surveillances have occurred just as the NSA's illegal wire tapping, and spying scheme that was approved by Bush has become salient. The domestic spying has blatantly intruded upon at least 150 activist groups without any affiliation with international terrorists that the Bush Administration has labeled as enemies to the radical right, and conservative neocons within the Bush Adiminstration. The US Constitution has been blatantly disregarded and violated with a virtually Gestapo like precision that is reminiscent of the Nixon Administration.

Back to Democracy Now!'s "An Impeachable Offense? Bush Admits Authorizing NSA to Eavesdrop on Americans Without Court Approval:"

AMY GOODMAN: Martin Garbus, you say this is an impeachable offense.
MARTIN GARBUS: Yes, I agree that it is a crime, that it is an impeachable offense. The question is: What will happen? The mere fact that it’s impeachable doesn't necessarily mean that the Supreme Court will find that, and it doesn't mean that he will necessarily be impeached. He should be impeached, but he is claiming, for the first time, that he has the authority to do this, even though FISA is there, because he has relied on counsel. He has relied on John Yoo. He has relied previously on Ashcroft, and he’s now relying on Gonzales. And all of these people are telling him that it's legal. All these people are telling him that the President's powers can be expanded, even though FISA is there. And the President has come up with an excuse, which I don’t see how anybody can buy. In FISA, you can get a warrant in five minutes. You just go before the FISA court and you get your warrant, and that's all there is to it. There's no argument --
AMY GOODMAN: Hasn't the criticism been that FISA gives them too easily?
MARTIN GARBUS: Surely. Your statistics were correct. Namely, that out of some 15,000 warrant applications, there were eight that were denied since 1978, so it's basically a rubber stamp. Now, what Bush said is, 'I don't have the time,' he says, 'to go to FISA.' Now, everybody has had the time to go to FISA. It doesn't take any time at all. So, that the argument that he has the right to avoid FISA, I think, is a false argument.

And Martin Garbus is who? "Martin Garbus, a partner in the law firm of Davis & Gilbert LLP. Time Magazine calls him 'one of the best trial lawyers in the country,' while the National Law Journal has named him one of the country's top ten litigators." We're highlighting the Democracy Now! report again. We've noted it before this week but it's worth noting again and it is indymedia.

Jonah e-mails to note James Ridgeway's "Bush Impeachment Not Out of the Question" (The Village Voice):

Tuesday, in a stopover in Pakistan, Cheney argued Bush administration was seeking broader executive powers in an era following Vietnam and Watergate--a period he described as "the nadir of the modern presidency in terms of authority and legitimacy."
(Of course Cheney and other conservatives now in power long have argued for a return of all federal power to the states, and have vigorously opposed measures aimed at extending the reach of the presidency and federal government. So, his arguments now seem a bit
John E. Sununu, the Republican senator, from New Hampshire told the
Washington Post, "The vice president may be the only person I know of that believes the executive has somehow lost power over the last 30 years."
Bush is faced with an open split in Republican ranks in Congress, with Arlen Specter, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, calling for a joint investigation of Congress into the spy program. Both Nebraska's Chuck Hagel and Maine's Olympia Snowe are openly critical of the Bush
Meanwhile James Robertson, a federal district judge sitting on the secret FISA court,
resigned from that position. He gave no reason, but associates were quoted in the Washington Post this morning as saying he felt the spy program information might have been used to obtain FISA warrants. Colleen Kolla-Kotelly, the federal judge who chairs the panel expressed similar misgivings in 2004. "They just don't know if the product of wiretaps were used for FISA warrants--to kind of cleanse the information," one source told the paper. "What I've heard some of the judges say is they feel they've participated in a Potemkin court."

Now we go back to "An Impeachable Offense? Bush Admits Authorizing NSA to Eavesdrop on Americans Without Court Approval:"

AMY GOODMAN: James Bamford, if you could explain how exactly the surveillance happens, how does it work at the NSA? What was allowed before, in terms of monitoring overseas conversations, and where are these listening devices?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, before I get into that, just one other comment on what we just have been talking about. When the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was created in 1978, one of the things that the Attorney General at the time, Griffin Bell, said -- he testified before the intelligence committee, and he said that the current bill recognizes no inherent power of the President to conduct electronic surveillance. He said, 'This bill specifically states that the procedures in the bill are the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance may be conducted.' In other words, what the President is saying is that he has these inherent powers to conduct electronic surveillance, but the whole reason for creating this act, according to the Attorney General at the time, was to prevent the President from using any inherent powers and to use exclusively this act.
Now, the way the NSA actually does its eavesdropping, is it -- if you think about the FBI being sort of a retail eavesdropper, they will go from house to house or put a bug on a central telephone company’s office for where a person happens to have their junction box, or whatever. The NSA, on the other hand, does it wholesale, where they take entire streams of communications coming down from satellites, which can contain millions of communications, and they sort of intercept those communications with large dishes and filter the information through very quick computers that are loaded with names of people, words that they're looking for, and at one point they -- one listening post in the central part of England, for example, they intercept two million pieces of communications an hour. So that's emails, faxes, telephone calls, cellular calls and so forth. So, it's an enormous amount of eavesdropping, and Senator Frank Church, back in the mid-70s, when he was conducting his investigation of NSA, said that if NSA's technology were ever turned on the American public, there would be no place to hide.

"In other words, what the President is saying is that he has these inherent powers to conduct electronic surveillance, but the whole reason for creating this act, according to the Attorney General at the time, was to prevent the President from using any inherent powers and to use exclusively this act."

Take a moment to let that absorb because it's a point made on Democracy Now! Monday but not one that's seeped into the mainstream media. It certainly wasn't to be found in Eric Lichtblau and James Risen's article in the New York Times Wednesday. So grasp that Bully Boy is claiming that he is granted the rights to a power that, when FISA was created, it was specifically stated that this wasn't an inherent power that Bully Boy or anyone in the oval office could claim.

Who is James Bamford? "James Bamford, investigative journalist and author of several books including the first book ever written about the National Security Agency called 'The Puzzle Palace : Inside America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization.' He is also author of 'Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency'; and most recently, 'A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies.'"

We're seeing a story that hasn't drifted out of everyone's mind. That's partly because the Bully Boy (and his new handler?) are screwing up with their attempts at spin. But this is starting to take hold. Running into the grocery store for more items for the Sunday meal, I was surprised to hear three people (one man, two women) discussing this issue loudly. I jumped in (it was easy, all three were outraged by the Bully Boy's spying) and I hope that's the case when members encounter the topic as well. This is indymedia spotlight and don't forget that we are our own media. (That may be a paraphrase of Robert McChesney and John Nichols, but it's a paraphrase of someone.) Some members, not all but some, will be with families and friends Sunday. I hope this is an issue you will raise.

Erika asked that we note Letty Pogrebin's quote from Ruth Rosen's The World Split Open, page 259, again:

The important fact is that they tailed us and invaded our privacy, both psychic and physical. They snooped. They pressed their candid camera against a one-way mirror to our private lives. It seems impossible not to feel outrage at these flagrant violations of the rights of free speech, association and assembly. The FBI conducted a criminal investigation against women who were not accused of any crimes. This activity is unthinkable in a democracy.

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