By Nat Parry
August 15, 2007
A little over a year ago, I wrote an article called “Washington’s Orwellian Consensus,” which faulted Congress for rubberstamping many of George Bush’s sweeping assertions of presidential power, particularly his claimed right to spy on some American citizens without warrants.
The article noted that “the near-term outlook appears to be for a consolidation of George W. Bush’s boundless vision of his own authority” – but added the caveat, “at least until the November elections.”
It now seems that the caveat was not necessary. The implication that a Democratic victory in the 2006 congressional elections might rein in the authoritarian inclinations of the Bush administration appears to have been unfounded.
Despite some attempts at more stringent oversight of the Executive Branch – on issues such as the administration’s no-bid contracts to Halliburton, its politically motivated firing of nine U.S. attorneys, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of football-star-turned-war-hero Pat Tillman – Congress continues to capitulate to the President’s demands for evermore authority on some of the biggest constitutional issues of the day.
The most recent example was the hasty pre-recess passage in the House and Senate of a bill revising the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The “Protect America Act of 2007” amends FISA by lowering the standard by which the President’s subordinates can issue a surveillance order.
The new rules permit the nation’s vast intelligence apparatus to conduct surveillance without a court order against anyone who is “reasonably believed” to be outside the borders of the United States.
“Notwithstanding any other law,” the bill states, “the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General may for periods of up to one year authorize the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning persons reasonably believed to be outside the United States.”
The bill’s proponents insist the targets are foreign terrorists. But the word “terrorist” is nowhere in the legislation, whose broad language simply grants the Executive Branch power to spy on communications of anyone “reasonably believed” to be abroad, including calls and e-mails to the United States.
No Judicial Oversight
Former constitutional law litigator Glenn Greenwald noted the significance of the bill’s vague language on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” As Greenwald explained, the law allows the government to “listen to our conversations, read our e-mails, with no connection to terrorism, with no proof that anyone has ever done anything wrong” – with no judicial oversight.
The implication is far-reaching, according to Greenwald. “The government can monitor every single phone call that London is making to you in Washington, D.C.,” he noted. “They can listen to every single international call that you make or receive, every e-mail that you write, and e-mail that you receive, in complete and total secrecy.”
With the Bush administration’s track record of targeting those it considers its political opponents or obstacles to its ideological agenda – most recently demonstrated in its firing of U.S. attorneys deemed insufficiently loyal – it’s baffling that Democrats in Congress would cede such sweeping new powers.
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