Thursday, January 19, 2006

NYT: "Report Questions Legality of Briefings on Surveillance" (Scott Shane)

A legal analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service concludes that the Bush administration's limited briefings for Congress on the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping without warrants are "inconsistent with the law."
The analysis was requested by Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who said in a Jan. 4 letter to President Bush that she believed the briefings should be open to all the members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

[. . .]
The Congressional Research Service memorandum, sent to the Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, explores the requirement in the National Security Act of 1947 that the committees be kept "fully and currently informed" of intelligence activities. It notes that the law specifically allows notification of "covert actions" to the Gang of Eight, but says the security agency's program does not appear to be a covert action program.
As a result, the memorandum says, limiting the briefings to just eight members of Congress "would appear to be inconsistent with the law."

The above is from Scott Shane's "Report Questions Legality of Briefings on Surveillance" in this morning's New York Times. Spotlight story for today selected by Eli, Kara and Charlie.

On the same topic, Martin e-mails to note Werther's "Nixon Taped the White House; Bush Taped the Entire Nation: The Liberties of the Subject" (CounterPunch):

First, not only is "the president's program" (as the warrantless intercepts are called in the chaste corridors of the West Wing) an obvious example of lawbreaking, but so is the Patriot [sic] Act itself, which some observers profess to view as a legally authorized and legitimate vehicle for government intrusion into the live of private citizens.
Section 215 of the Act addresses so-called National Security Letters, which involve a government search of libraries, credit agencies, health care providers, or any organization that keeps records on citizens. The organization served with such a letter is prohibited from speaking about it to anyone. This is the so-called "gag order," much discussed in House and Senate proceedings but thus far hardly discussed in terms of its ramifications.
A plain reading of the gag order shows it to be a clear violation of the right in Amendment I of the United States Constitution to "petition the Government for a redress of Grievances," which is commonly interpreted as the right to communicate with one's Member of Congress or Senator. This fact has somehow escaped the Blackstones and Perry Masons who populate the law commentary bailiwicks of the newspaper and television.
Second, given the scope of "the president's program," we are entitled to wonder how recess appointment to the position of United Nations ambassador John Bolton was so keenly interested in signals intelligence, and why the White House was so adamant in refusing the Senate access to documentation in relation to this fact.
Equally puzzling is the fact that in the campaign season of 2004, the White House knew every detail of the CBS story about the incumbent president's air national guard service and had a detailed refutation/cover story ready to be released as the story aired. Similarly surprising was how presidential advisor Karl Rove was able to develop a complex alibi to dodge a perjury indictment: almost as if he knew exactly what special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald knew.
Third, we are entitled to speculate (as U.S. citizens, are we not?) about the manifold increase in signals traffic that "the president's program" has vacuumed into the ravening maw of Fort Meade. Is there anyone there to translate it, assuming that it concerns speakers of Arab dialects, Farsi, Pashtun, and other exotic tongues? Are the putative translators competent or even loyal, or are they engaged in off-line operations to assist international arms smuggling and other black arts, as former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds attempted to tell us before her voice was stilled by government ukase?
Fourth, when asked in December by the press about examples of terrorist plots foiled by his program, President Bush declined, citing classification. Can anyone remember the last time the administration failed to take credit for capturing an alleged al Qaeda "kingpin," or neglected to hype even questionable cases like that of Jose Padilla? Perhaps "classified" means, in this context, that it does not bear scrutiny.

And Brad forwarded this for highlighting, from

On Monday, former Vice President Al Gore gave a speech about President Bush's recent admission that he's wiretapping American citizens without the warrants required by law. In the speech--which was sponsored by a coalition of progressive and conservative groups--Gore said it plainly:
"What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compells the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law, repeatedly and persistently."
Breaking the law to spy on American citizens is a very serious abuse of power, but many members of Congress think people will let it slide. So we're launching a petition today to make it clear that we expect action.
The petition asks the Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor--like Patrick Fitzgerald--to find out the facts, and asks Congress to hold a real investigation into what happened.
Can you help us reach 250,000 signers before we deliver it at theCongressional hearings on Bush's wiretaps in early February? Just go to:(
We seldom send you speeches to read or watch, but this address is very important. It's powerful, inspiring, and "reality-based"-- Gore cuts throughthe spin to explain why it is vital that we defend our system of checks and balances and the rule of law. At a time when politicians talk about balancing freedom and safety, Gore makes the case that open democracy and freedom are essential for security. You can watch, listen to, or read the speech here:(
President Bush has admitted that he personally authorized thousands of apparently illegal wiretaps, and he doesn't plan to stop. In his address Al Gore asked, "If the president has the power to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?"
Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are outraged. Even the non-partisan Congressional Research Service released a report indicating that the White House program "conflicts with existing law." Republican Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter said he plans to look at the programclosely at hearings in Congress next month.
Gore's speech is already making President Bush nervous. The White House is in a full-blown spin campaign trying to defend against it. They're in deep trouble on this--and they know it. As former Republican Congressman Bob Barr recently pointed out, the president had full Constitutional authorityto legally spy on terrorists. We need to know why he chose to go around it.
The more pressure we can add, the less Congress and the White House will be able to sweep this problem under the rug. Can you take a moment to sign our petition calling for a special prosecutor now?(

Rod passes on today's scheduled topic for Democracy Now!:

Former British diplomat Craig Murray joins us in our firehouse studio to discuss his removal from his post as ambassador to Uzbekistan after speaking out against human rights abuse and the British and US policy of accepting information extracted through torture by the Uzbek government.

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