From the “yeah, but at least they aren’t SHREDDING THE CONSTITUTION!” files
Bring on the changeyness and the hopeitude!:
A closed-door caucus of House Democrats last Wednesday took a risky political course. By four to one, they instructed Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call President Bush’s bluff on extending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to continue eavesdropping on suspected foreign terrorists. Rather than passing the bill with a minority of the House’s Democratic majority, Pelosi obeyed her caucus and left town for a 12-day recess without renewing the government’s eroding intelligence capability.
Pelosi could have exercised leadership prerogatives and called up the FISA bill to pass with unanimous Republican support. Instead, she refused to bring to the floor the bill approved overwhelmingly by the Senate. House Democratic opposition included left-wing members typified by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, but they are but a small faction. The true cause for blocking the bill was the Senate-passed retroactive immunity from lawsuits for private telecommunications firms asked to eavesdrop by the government. The nation’s torts bar, vigorously pursuing such suits, has spent months lobbying hard against immunity.
The recess by House Democrats amounts to a judgment that losing the generous support of trial lawyers, the Democratic Party’s most important financial base, is more dangerous than losing the anti-terrorist issue to Republicans. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the phone companies for giving personal information to intelligence agencies without a warrant. Adm. Mike McConnell, the nonpartisan director of national intelligence, says delay in congressional action deters cooperation in detecting terrorism.
Big money is involved. Amanda Carpenter, a Townhall.com columnist, has prepared a spreadsheet showing that 66 trial lawyers representing plaintiffs in the telecommunications suits have contributed $1.5 million to Democratic senators and causes. Of the 29 Democratic senators who voted against the FISA bill last Tuesday, 24 took money from the trial lawyers (as did two absent senators, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama). Eric A. Isaacson of San Diego, one of the telecommunications plaintiff’s lawyers, contributed to the recent unsuccessful presidential campaign of Sen. Chris Dodd, who led the Senate fight against the bill containing immunity.
Protecting the country’s surveillance capabilities in a time of war? Not so much. Protecting trial lawyers? A party imperative.
As the neo-civil libertarians on the left continue to argue (in between crafting smoking bans and environmental legislation that will have the government, in essence, monitoring your thermostat), their real concern here is that the telecoms not be given immunity for their “illegal activity.” Point out to them that no “illegalities” have been established, and the answer is always the same: if these big corporations have nothing to hide, than why would they need immunity? — an argument that studiously ignores two obvious facts, first, that litigation not only penalizes the telecoms financially (would they go to court or just settle?) while enriching the trial lawyers (who get paid either way); and second, that such a threat of legal liability is also a back door way of keeping risk-averse corporations from cooperating with the government. After all, why cooperate if doing so could open you up to a lawsuit, even if you have assurances that what your are doing isn’t illegal?
Net effect? Well, try this on for size:
It is worth observing that the Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, was the Director of President Clinton’s National Security Agency from 1992-’96. He is not a partisan hack. He was a Vice Admiral in the Navy and is an old intelligence pro.
On Fox News Sunday this morning, McConnell explained that President Bush has been following his (McConnell’s advice) on intelligence reform. As of midnight this morning, intelligence gathering powers are now back to where they were before the Protect America Act was passed in August 2007. At that time, according to McConnell, we had lost about two-thirds of our overseas collection capacity because of the FISA court ruling which, for the first time in history, required court authorization for monitoring foreigners outside the U.S. who contact other foreigners outside the U.S.
The reasoning? Those transmissions — between foreigners speaking on foreign soil — are likely routed through US wires. Which, by FISA’s determination, incredibly requires that the government obtain a warrant, and so necessitates probable cause.
Which I’m guessing is one of the reasons the founders didn’t want wartime powers in the hands of lawyers and the courts to begin with.
The Protect America Act reversed that ruling for six months. It is now expired. We cannot collect on new targets overseas without going to the FISA court and showing probable cause that the target is an agent of a foreign power. As foreigners outside the U.S. have no U.S. legal protection (or at least didn’t until the FISA court ruling), and as the federal courts have no jurisdiction outside the U.S., we are not supposed to have to make any showing whatsoever to collect intelligence overseas.
When you go from no restrictions to no collection absent probable cause, that represents an enormous drop off in capacity. It’s that simple. Democrats who claim that people like McConnell are engaged in partisan fear-mongering are talking nonsense. And as McConnell noted this morning, every day we don’t fix this problem, the problem Ã¢â‚¬â€ the investigative leads you don’t get, the connections you don’t make, the things you don’t learn but which you should know Ã¢â‚¬â€ metastasizes. Intelligence is dynamic: you can’t stop collecting for a day, a week, a month or more and then figure you are picking up right where you left off. What you have lost tends to stay lost.
Sure. But at least the trial lawyers are happy. Fluffy bunnies for FREEDOM!
And besides: the Dems can always count on people like Glenn Greenwald(s) to project fear mongering onto Republicans and classical liberals, even as he engages in purple-prosed hysterics about the loss of our freedoms, conjuring up images of indescript government agents sitting in vans outside “your” house, monitoring “your” downloads of Cabana Boys Gone Wild III: This Time It’s Purrrrrrsonal
For decades now, the Dems have worked (with outspoken exceptions) to weaken US security — either by placing (unconstitutional, in my opinion) restrictions on intelligence agencies (FISA was never supposed to affect military intelligence gathering), or by cutting military spending, or by adopting a cynical tone of moral indignation at the “loss of freedoms” that they know to be a chimera of their own construction.
Which is their prerogative, naturally — but something that John McCain should be outraged by (if only for appearances), and seeking to use as wedge issue by trumpeting his concerns to his buddies in the media. Like a shiny maverick riding to the rescue of a weakened nation.
And who knows, maybe he will. After he’s done extolling the virtues of Hillary Clinton.
Meh. Maybe he and Ann Coulter could get on, after all.
previously, on protein wisdom…