Friday, December 30, 2005

Indymedia roundup: government spying/snooping

The domestic spying controversy is a story of immense importance. President Bush, by secret directive a few months after 9-11, allowed the National Security Agency, restricted by law to monitoring only foreign communications, to carry out a domestic spying program as well. This directive, now uncovered, is the latest clear confirmation that the president has been conferring more power on himself--without any checks or balances by Congress or the judicial system.
While previous presidents have at various times claimed the legal right to authorize searches and electronic surveillance without court warrants so as to gather foreign intelligence, those decisions have undergone scrutiny by either courts or congressional hearings.
It's fair to say that Bush had no intention of allowing public scrutiny of his act, since he personally summoned the top executives of The New York Times to a private meeting on December 6 and pressured them not to run the story about the domestic spying. The paper had held the story for a year at the administration's pleading but decided, after second thoughts and more reporting, that its importance required publication. It appeared on the Times' front page on Friday, December 16.
Some Bush supporters have attacked the Times for running the piece. On the other hand, some journalists have attacked the Times for holding it for a year. From where I stand (I'm a Times alumnus), the paper should get credit for digging it out and publishing it. But whatever one's journalistic point of view, the Times' decision-making is not the central story here. The president's secret directive is.
The president and others in his White House said the leak of his decision to bypass existing law was a serious national security matter and hinted at an investigation. They argued that the existing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires court warrants and does not allow domestic spying by the National Security Agency, was not designed for an era of terrorism.
Since 9-11, Bush and his inner circle have insisted vehemently that all of the administration's anti-terrorism acts at home and overseas have been done in accordance with U.S. law and the Constitution.

The excerpt above is from an article noted by Jonah, Sydney H. Schanberg's "Checks and No Balance: The story is Bush's spying, not the story's messenger" (The Village Voice). Thursday (see previous entry), focus on indymedia. In this entry, we're focusing on the spying by the Bully Boy. There were two or three items sent in that will be noted in posts later today (Friday) but they didn't fit the focus of this entry or the previous one. Please remember that suggestions for indymedia stories to spotlight can come in for entries other than the indymedia roundup. We noted something Bonnie found earlier this week in a morning entry. She explained why she thought the story was important (and it was) and that knocked out a compare and contrast entry that was in the process of being completed (the New York Times to the Washington Post -- the Post actually had news in their paper that morning as opposed to the Times). We can always drop something in the Times to note a strong indymedia entry. If there's something important in it or the Washington Post, Democracy Now! will usually catch it that day and, if not that day, the next one. If a member's got comments on something in the Times, to share with the community, we'll note it but if it's just me blabbering on, we can always instead give a link and the time to an indymedia entry. (And we won't have suffered any loss for doing so.)

A point Bonnie made in her e-mail was that there were probably hundreds of sites that would focus on the Times that morning (true) and that it would make a difference if we could drop just one thing and include the article she was noting (also true). It's been over a year now, that The Common Ills has been going on, and there's no reason new members should be expected to go through the archives so let me quickly offer an explanation/background for newer members.

The focus on the Times was originally because I subscribed to it and because, fool that I am, I still have hope for the paper. So it is the skeleton/framework for the morning entries. "Other Items" exists specifically to spotlight, in addition to the Times, things from outside the paper. (And I think Rebecca's the one who figured out that dyslexic me was using "Other Items" as an anagram for "Other Times." Meaning things the paper should be covering and, in a better world, would be.) We're not interested in the obvious here. The Times is our main mainstream source. (Members can and have suggested articles from other mainstream sources.)

We do the Democracy Now! entries because a) it's a program that members should be aware of and b) it's independent media. When Ruth started doing her reports, she focused on NPR because we both felt NPR was getting a pass overall. Media Matters has really beefed up their NPR coverage and is doing a great job of oversight on NPR (and FAIR's always done a good job) so Ruth's been able to instead focus on Pacifica and highlight programs she and other members feel you should know about and discussions and topics that you won't hear on NPR.

We're not interested here in giving links to the right wing. They have enough sites to do that on the right and from the center. We are of the left and we don't pretend otherwise. We are not a "blog" here. It could have been that way. When this site started, we did allow comments and I was writing about whatever I wanted to. But we picked up members (who make contributions via topics to cover and things to highlight -- there isn't a fee or membership dues nor or any contributions taken) and they were members and not readers because they were so vocal and "own" this site as much as I could.

Our best entries result from members bringing up topics. So what we are now, and have been since before the end of the first month of this site, is a resource/review. Trying to make sure that just because Matthew Rothschild's not on Meet the Press or Margaret Kimberly's not giving weekly commentary on NPR's Morning Edition, you are aware of them and others. Some voices may not speak to you and that's fine. But hopefully, you'll find some voice that does. Maybe it's a website, maybe it's a program, maybe it's a magazine or a columnist or a reporter . . . But you'll find out about a voice you didn't know about or you'll reconnect with one that you'd forgotten or weren't aware was still out there.

To use the obvious example, we were all not of one mind after 9/11. Not everyone felt the Bully Boy had suddenly become God-like. Nor did everyone think that terror alerts and preying upon people's fears was a healthy answer. But the mainstream media in the United States drowned out alternative voices (as they would continue to do in the leadup to the invasion/occupation of Iraq). People felt disconnected and alone which is how that sort of propaganda works. You think, "Well, it's just me" and shrug. (Especially if the few voices speaking up, Susan Sontag for instance, are being trashed -- in Sontag's case, that included trashing from the "left.")

So that's why we're a resource/review. We hear to note voices that hopefully are being noted by many other left sites and, hopefully, a few that you aren't seeing as often. The mainstream media is a dominant force because it's a point of reference. It shouldn't be the only point of reference. There should be a wide range of discussion and debate. That can't happen if we're only getting the right-leaning mainstream. So if you see something that speaks to you, e-mail (use the private address, especially on weekends) and write a line or two explaining why this is important to you. Don't think I'll quickly read through the copy and paste in your e-mail as I try to pull together an entry and catch what stood out. Even if I'm not rushing and/or don't have a headache, I can easily miss something.

Bonnie did that and I deleted the compare and contrast aspects of that morning's entry (Times to Post) and instead hurried to get Bonnie's highlight in and the entry up. There have been very few times that we've noted something in the Times that wasn't noted in many other places (and we can always count on Democracy Now! to cover it if it's important) (If there is something important to you in the Times, note why because I may miss it. Also note, Juan Forero gives me a headache and most morning's I'm not up to dealing with his "reporting." Last year, Francisco dubbed Forero "the littlest Judy Miller" and it still applies.) This a members' site. That's what determines our focus.

(And sidebar, Beth had to deal with someone in her last ombudsman column for the round-robin who felt I was intentionally ignoring a voice that spoke to them. As Beth noted, I know the person that spoke to them -- and ___ is a great writer -- I'm not sitting around trying to think of how to highlight people I know. If I note someone I know without a member bringing it up, I do the disclosure of "I know . . ." But if you feel someone's being overlooked -- and on any given day, there's a huge number of people that are because, despite the mainstream media's inability to find left voices, they do exist -- note it in an e-mail. The member whom Beth was replying to, noted it and we did highlight that voice this week.)

So that's what we are and that's what we try to do here. And what we're trying to do with this entry is to note the Bully Boy administration that feels it's okay to spy on American citizens.

Which brings us to Cindy's highlight, "ACLU Seeks Information about Government Spying on Anti-War Groups" (San Francisco Bay Indymedia):

The ACLU announced on December 21st that it is seeking records held by CATIC and the CIB (Criminal Intelligence Bureau) on the ACLU California affiliates and chapters, Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, United for Peace and Justice, Food not Bombs, Code Pink, UC Santa Cruz Students Against the War, Fresno State Campus Peace and Civil Liberties Coalition, Peace Fresno, War Resisters League West, College Not Combat, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, as well as a number of police documents. Under the California Public Records Act, the agencies have 10 days to respond.

Coming at the spying from the angle of "what can Congress do?" is the highlight Stan found, "Bush Bash" (Metro Times Detroit):

Add to that list Bush's authorization of apparently illegal wiretaps, which The New York Times exposed earlier this month.
The Conyers report says there's evidence the president and members of his administration violated a number of federal laws, with the charges "clearly" rising to the level of impeachable conduct. But, "because the Bush Administration and Republican-controlled Congress have blocked the ability of members to obtain information directly from the Administration concerning these matters, more investigatory authority is needed before recommendations can be made regarding specific Articles of Impeachment." To address that problem, Conyers is calling on Congress to "establish a select committee with subpoena authority to investigate, and then report back" to the Judiciary Committee.
Conyers is also pressing Congress to censure Bush and Cheney. Censure, essentially, is a formal reprimand that, aside from the embarrassment, carries no punishment.
At this point, unless we missed the news flash reporting that hell's been buried in a blizzard, that’s not going to happen. Like Conyers says, the GOP has a lock on Congress. But can anyone say "midterm elections"?

Turning to the topic of the spying itself, Heath notes David Sirota asking a key question: "Why Not Get Warrants? It's the most important question in the president's domestic spying scandal" (The Memphis Flyer):

Meanwhile, Bush is portrayed as the tough fighter of terrorism, willing to make the tough choices to defend America's national security. In short, his crimes are portrayed as badges of honor.
There's just one problem: This isn't a question of whether America supports domestic surveillance operations against terrorists or not. This is a question of whether America supports those operations without requiring a warrant.
Domestic surveillance operations happen all the time. They are a regular topic of television shows and movies (think Serpico or Stakeout). But they are also governed by the Fourth Amendment, which explicitly protects citizens against "unreasonable search and seizures" and requires the executive branch to obtain a warrant from the judiciary branch in order to do surveillance operations.
So the question reporters should be asking the White House isn't why the president thinks there should be domestic efforts to track and stop terrorists. The vast majority of Americans support such efforts. The question they should be asking is, Why did the president order domestic surveillance operations without obtaining constitutionally required warrants? That is behavior that most Americans who believe in the Constitution likely do not support at all.
This is especially important, because under the Patriot Act's weakened standards, the government can now circumvent the traditional (and more rigorous) judicial system and obtain a warrant directly from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, which is almost completely skewed in favor of the government. As Slate correctly noted, getting a warrant from a FISA court judge requires "no need for evidence or probable cause," and the judge has almost no authority to reject the government's request for a warrant unless the government's requests are extraordinarily outlandish. The government's own data shows that the FISA court has rejected only four government applications for warrants in the past 25 years. It is also why members of Congress of both parties have tried to repeal the Patriot Act sections that allow the administration to use FISA warrants for domestic surveillance.

Finally, In Dallas highlights David Lindorff's "Bush's NSA Spying Jeopardizes US National Security" (This Can't Be Happening):

Now it appears that besides massively violating the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure, this illegal spying may have put the U.S. at risk by undermining the prosecution of possible terror suspects. By illegally snooping on people's email and phone conversations, without first making a showing to a judge of some probable cause for the monitoring, the administration has opened the door for defense attorneys to seek new trials for their clients based upon a claim of improperly obtained evidence. Other cases that have yet to be brought to trial may end up being thrown out on the same grounds.
"The infection of these cases by the NSA spying scandal raises the spying to a new level," says John Bonifaz, a constitutional law expert, founder of the organization, and author of the book Warrior-King: The Case for Impeaching George W. Bush."
"What this means is that George Bush, by violating the rules on domestic surveillance by the NSA, has compromised national security," says Bonifaz. "This scandal effectively prevents the prosecution of people, some of whom may actually be culpable as terrorists."

Now in case I run out of steam (it's now an all nighter) and forget, today (Friday) on Democracy Now! the topic will be the year 2005 in review so be sure to listen, watch or read. The e-mail address for this site is