As the Senate prepares to hold hearings on Monday on domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, old Washington hands see a striking similarity to a drama that unfolded three decades ago in the capital.
In 1975, a Senate committee led by Senator Frank Church of Idaho revealed that the N.S.A. had intercepted the phone calls and telegrams of Americans. Then, as now, intelligence officials insisted that only international communications of people linked to dangerous activities were the targets, and that the spying was authorized under the president's constitutional powers. Then, as now, some Republicans complained that the government's most sensitive secrets were being splashed on the front pages of newspapers, while Democrats emphasized the danger to civil liberties.
Both in 1975 and today, officials defending the N.S.A. operation said it had prevented terrorist attacks. And Dick Cheney, who as vice president has overseen secret briefings for selected members of Congress on the N.S.A. program, was in the White House then, too, serving as a deputy to President Gerald R. Ford before succeeding Donald H. Rumsfeld as chief of staff.
The recent debate about the security agency "does bring back a lot of memories," said Walter F. Mondale, the former vice president, who served on the Church Committee as a Democratic senator from Minnesota. "For those of us who went through it all back then, there's disappointment and even anger that we're back where we started from."
Later, after becoming vice president under Jimmy Carter, Mr. Mondale helped usher a into law a major committee recommendation -- that no eavesdropping on American soil take place without a warrant. That became the basis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, the law that critics say is being violated by President Bush's decision to authorize eavesdropping without court warrants on people in the United States linked to Al Qaeda.
The above is from Scott Shane's "For Some, Spying Controversy Recalls a Past Drama" in this morning's New York Times. Spotlight entry for the day, noted by Erika, Brad, Micah, KeShawn, Eli, Zach and Billie. Brad writes it's "the best historical perspective" the paper's done on this while Erika feels it's the best article on the NSA spying "since the paper broke the story." KeShawn says read it with the Church Committee entry we did here last week.
Here's another excerpt from Shane's article:
Former Senator Gary W. Hart, a Colorado Democrat who served on the Church Committee, believes views such as Mr. Cheney's have set the clock back 30 years.
"What we're experiencing now, in my judgment, is a repeat of the Nixon years," Mr. Hart said. "Then it was justified by civil unrest and the Vietnam war. Now it's terrorism and the Iraq war."
Rachel reminds us that today, Pacifica Radio broadcasts the hearings on the warrantless spying from nine in the morning (eastern standard time) to six in the evening (eastern standard time) live. If, like Rachel, you have a Pacifica Radio station in your area, you can just turn on the radio; however, if you don't and would like to listen in, remember that you can listen online via Pacifica Radio (free, no charge to listen).
Zach was the first to note Robert Parry's "'Talkin' Texan' Means Lyin' Big" (Consortium News):
On Feb. 1, the day after his State of the Union Address, George W. Bush stood on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and delighted his audience by talking "Texan," which in Bush's lexicon must mean lying big.
Bush's biggest lie that day was his claim that his warrantless wiretaps inside the United States were needed to intercept calls in which "one of the people making the call has to be al-Qaeda, suspected al-Qaeda, and/or affiliate."
The President said, "Let me put it to you in Texan: If al-Qaeda is calling into the United States, we want to know." His listeners laughed and applauded.
With his folksy style, Bush again got away with his false assertion that existing law wouldn't let U.S. intelligence intercept these al-Qaeda telephone calls when, in fact, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 set up procedures for just such intercepts and even let the Executive tap first and get approval from a secret court later.
But "talkin' Texan" is apparently like telling tall tales about Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill, except Texas-sized.
Bush's wiretap lie was abetted a day later, when Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden refused to divulge to the Senate Intelligence Committee -- even in closed session -- how many Americans were subjected to Bush's warrantless wiretaps.
By keeping the scope of the operation secret, Hayden protected Bush’s account, since the President had depicted the eavesdropping as "limited," affecting only a "few" people who supposedly were in direct touch with al-Qaeda operatives.
If Hayden had admitted the truth -- that many thousands of Americans had been spied on under Bush's warrantless wiretaps and few, if any, had any links to al-Qaeda -- Bush's story would collapse.
Eddie just noted it a few minutes ago. But also reminds that Parry was a guest on KPFT's The Monitor (January 22nd broadcast, as Ruth pointed out in her latest report that went up yesterday). (KPFT is a Pacifica Radio station and one of the stations you can listen to over the airwaves in Houston, TX or online to hear this morning's hearings. Note that they and Berkeley's KPFA are interupting their fund raising drive to air the hearings live.)
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