Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Details on Surveillance Released by Administration

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the White House has bowed to pressure from Congress and will release various surveillance related documents. Of course there is still major work to be done by Congress - tabling the offer to give telecomm companies retroactive immunity comes immediately to mind.

Evan Perez writes:

The report, which accompanies and explains the reasons behind the Senate Intelligence Committee’s approval of an update to the law that oversees government intelligence surveillance activities, gives incremental new details of how the White House deployed a now contentious program run by the National Security Agency without seeking court warrants. The committee’s update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, contains a clause granting legal immunity to telecom providers that assisted the program, a measure that has met with strong opposition from other members of Congress.


The reference to the letter not endorsed by the attorney general may refer to a period in 2003 when several Justice Department lawyers, including James Comey, then deputy attorney general, refused to sign off on aspects of the NSA program because they believed it was illegal. Mr. Comey ended up having a confrontation with Andrew Card, former White House chief of staff, and Alberto Gonzales, then White House counsel and later attorney general, at the hospital bedside of John Ashcroft, over his refusal to approve the program. The report’s description suggests that the administration may have sent letters containing only White House legal endorsement while it quelled the uprising at the Justice Department.

It appears to me that there are really two distinct programs being discussed here, or at least two distinct lengths the Administration would go to circumvent the Consititution and wiretap Americans. There's the program that we generally know, which is illegal in itself, and then there's the program that was shot down by Ashcroft and Comey on his "deathbed". This attempt by the administration to pressure Ashcroft into supporting this yet to be known "plan" led to a near mass exodus of Justice Department employees.

Clearly then, we have yet to scratch the surface of how far this administration was trying to go...and what privacy rights would have been lost if they were successful. The question is when, or if, we'll ever get to find out exactly what they were asking Ashroft to sign off on that night in the hospital.

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