Friday, December 23, 2005

NYT: Trying to track down the backstory on governmental spying/snooping

Chasing down the story of the governmental spying/snooping on American citizens results in several articles in this morning's New York Times.

We'll start with Tim Golden's "Untested Aide Laid Legal Basis For White House Terror Policies." What's to be said of this article? How about: "May we all be so fortunate to have a reporter like Tim Golden assigned to our own profiles"?

Mr. Yoo said he always duly notified Justice Department officials or other agencies about the opinions he provided except when "I was told by people very high in the government not to for classification reasons."

Now for others that statement would come with the verb "claim." But in this puff piece, it's "stated." The Times has additional papers that the public hasn't seen. From what Golden writes, the paper has every reason to treat Yoo with something other than a fawning portrait.
It's been so heavily filtered that we skim over this stint on the Senate Judiciary committee and old Larry Silberman is just a benign sort of Ben Cartwright of the judicial set.

Prepare to pan for news if you wade through this article.

The headline to Adam Liptak's "Little Help From Justices on Spy Program" is minus "With A" so don't expect Lennon & McCartney. From the article:

When the Supreme Court extended the protections of the Fourth Amendment to electronic surveillance in 1967, it specifically declined to say whether its reasoning applied "in a situation involving the national security."
In 1972, the court ruled that a judge's permission was required to satisfy the Fourth Amendment in cases involving domestic intelligence surveillance. But there, too, the court put off a crucial question for another day. Its ruling, Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. wrote, "requires no judgment on the scope of the president's surveillance power with respect to the activities of foreign powers, within or without this country."

That's it for the Court. So legal experts are sought for their opinions.

They don't applaud Bully Boy's actions; however, one feels if there's a problem, it's Congress and that no lawsuits or indictment will come from this. One wonders exactly what his basis for that it (he comes at the end). (We'll pick up on an issue that applies here as we note the next article.)

David Johnston and Neil A. Lewis' "Defending Spy Program, Administration Cites Law" is a rather interesting one. From the article:

The letter to Congress, which was signed by William E. Moschella, assistant attorney general for Congressional affairs, said the administration considered the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the court established through it, "a very important tool" in fighting terrorism and "makes full use" of it.
But the letter, which was sent to the chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, said the system "could not have provided the speed and agility for the early warning system" demanded by President Bush.

Of course they have to toss out the Jamie Gorelick "wall" (non-wall) and of course every article has to mention 9/11. But where's the Times article mentioning this (from Democracy Now!'s "An Impeachable Offense? Bush Admits Authorizing NSA to Eavesdrop on Americans Without Court Approval"):

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.

It was reported on Democracy Now! but apparently some weren't paying attention. It's not in the Times article (which is supposed to determine the administration and its critics' claims). Kind of an important detail, no? The administration (current) is arguing that it is within Bully Boy's powers. That judgement call is based both on the acts passed by Congress following 9/11 and on the way the law was originally intended. But that's not the way the law was intended. And you've got the then attorney general saying that when the law was still a bill. Key piece of the puzzle is left out. (That's the detail that the legal expert or "expert" seems unaware of in the second article we cited.)

Johnston and Lewis report that "the chief judge on the FISA court, Judge Colleen Kollar Koetelly . . . began an effort to arrange a classified briefing for other court members so the administration could explain why it sidestepped the court . . ."

Douglas Jehl offers "Among Those Told of Program, Few Objected." From that article:

Among the options being weighed are parallel inquiries, in which the Judiciary Committee in the Senate would hold open hearings, beginning with testimony by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, while the Senate Intelligence Committee would hold closed hearings to explore the classified details of the intelligence-gathering operation. Another course proposed by some lawmakers would consolidate any inquiry so that it would be conducted jointly by the judiciary and intelligence panels.
Members of Congress who were not previously briefed about the program have been far more vociferous in expressing opposition to it. One of them, Representative Rush D. Holt of New Jersey, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the administration had shown "absolute contempt for Congressional oversight by concealing, for years after the fact and from all but a tiny handful of House and Senate leaders, its use of the National Security Agency to spy on Americans."
The White House has said the dozen or so briefings about the program it provided to a small group of Congressional leaders were intended to provide notification, not to seek the lawmakers' consent. None among the seven Republicans known to have been briefed have expressed any opposition to the program. The three Democratic members of Congress who have said publicly this week that they had objected to the program have said there was no indication that their objections were heeded.

Peter Hoekstra seems to be operating from a different playbook than the administration. While the administration maintains that they nontified, not sought consent, Hoekstra sees something different: "The record is clear; Congressional leaders at a minimum tacitly supported the program."

Jehl's article reports that seven Democrats were in the loop (two are known to have objected in writing, Rockefeller and Pelosi -- Pelosi's waiting for clearance before releasing her letter according to the article). I'm not sure how seven are supposed to be representative but I don't claim to have Hoekstra's 'clarity.'

I'm glad it's clear to him (I'm not so sure anyone else sees the clarity, but good for him if he thinks he does) but 'the record is not clear' to the administration.

Today's scheduled topic on Democracy Now!:

* Don't miss it: The debate between Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz that took place at at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

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