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Federal Eavesdropping Scandal

Human rights groups plan to sue the government. Al Gore sees the constitutional design of checks and balances in grave danger. And the European Parliament adopted resolution concerning Echelon eavesdropping in 2001.
 
Fulbright Alumnus Bernhard Lucke recommends a speech by Al Gore on the domestic spying program and the "shameful exercise of power" by President Bush. The former vice president said that he was concerned that America’s Constitution was "in grave danger."
The American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the Administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power. As we begin this new year, the Executive Branch of our government has been caught eavesdropping on huge numbers of American citizens and has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress to prevent such abuses.
Not only had the president conceded the eavesdropping on "large volumes of telephone calls, e-mail messages, and other Internet traffic inside the United States […] he also declared that he has no intention of bringing these wholesale invasions of privacy to an end. A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government." Considering not only the most recent scandal, but also the disrespect for habeas corpus, the authorization of kidnappings and possibly torture in foreign countries, obvious corruption in Washington and the administration's attempts to undermine the Judicative Branch all give the frightening impression of an "unprecedented claim of new unilateral power" by the Bush administration, Gore contends.

You can read, watch or listen to the whole 12-page speech by Al Gore.

According to the New York Times, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as well as the Center for Constitutional Rights want to file lawsuits against the Bush administration over its domestic spying program:
The lawsuits seek to answer one of the major questions surrounding the eavesdropping program: has it been used solely to single out the international phone calls and e-mail messages of people with known links to Al Qaeda, as President Bush and his most senior advisers have maintained, or has it been abused in ways that civil rights advocates say could hark back to the political spying abuses of the 1960's and 70's?
The NYT also reports that according to FBI agents virtually all of the thousands of NSA tips led to dead ends or innocent Americans:
F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency, which was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping on some Americans' international communications and conducting computer searches of foreign-related phone and Internet traffic, that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators. Some F.B.I. officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans' privacy.
Der Spindoktor points out that NSA eavesdropping is not anything new to Europeans.

In July 2001, the European Parliament published a report "on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system)" and adopted a resolution.

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David on :

The issue of unchecked spying on American citizens is generating bi-partisan outrage, as a group of prominent conservatives - Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances - led by former congressman Bob Barr have demanded immediate hearings. One part of Al Gore's speech really resonated with me: "We the people are—collectively—still the key to the survival of America's democracy. We—as Lincoln put it, "[e]ven we here"—must examine our own role as citizens in allowing and not preventing the shocking decay and degradation of our democracy." I wonder if we are up to the task. The signs are not good...

Shawn Beilfuss on :

First of all, no one has proven there has been "unchecked spying on American citizens." Second, Patriots for Checks and Balances is hardly full of prominent conservatives. Every press release on their website is issued from Bob Barr, not even near being a leading conservative and significantly biased by the organization he works for--the ACLU. Rather, he is the Democrats' pet conservative of the moment, just as they have referred to Senators McCain and Hagel in the past when they fall on more moderate sides of issues such as torture. Republicans can pull out someone like Cass Sunstein, a Democrat lawyer who believes the Bush Administrations actions are legal. This is nothing close to bipartisan opposition, let alone "outrage." Al Gore lost credibility a long time ago. In an election year especially, it is important to take what he says for what it is: political posturing for a target audience. Today's leading conservatives and Republicans are fully in support of the President on this issue. If you have concrete incidences of "shocking decay and degradation of democracy" initiated by the Bush Administration in the USA, please present them now. I believe shocking decay and degradation might include: 1. Using violent means to prevent voters from exercising peaceful protest 2. Raiding homes of and jailing of prominent political opponents and activists 3. Closing newspapers critical of the administration and siezing the assets of other news organizations in order to control reporting 4. Segragating non-citizens from citizens into camps designed to degrade and oppress. 5. Siezing the assets of political opponents and activists through blackmail and extortion These are just some of things I would expect to be appropriately outraged about.

David on :

Your comment proves my point: Americans don't have the will to stand up for the Constitution; 35 years ago they (including principled Republicans) did so, and expelled a president who broke the law. Why even have a Congress? Let's simply concede all power to Dear Leader in exchange for protection from those "evil terrorists". This week we celebrated the 300th birtdat of Ben Franklin who said: "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." In terms of "leading Republicans" who support the illegal wiretapping, which ones did you have in mind" Tom Delay, who is facing prison for money laundering and accepting bribes? His protege, Dennis Hastert? Or were you thinking of Bill Frist, who is being investigated for insider trading. While the president was trampling on our rights, the "leading Republicans" were taking bribes from Jack Abramoff.

Thomas on :

I think wiretapping the few Americans who talk with terror suspects abroad is fine. US judges are not stupid, but patriots. They would approve any reasonable wiretapping request by the NSA within an hour or how long it takes them to read a few sheets of paper... I still don't understand why the Bush administration did not go to the courts. The only answer I can come up with is that they do not like checks and balances, but want more power to executive and less to the judicative (and legislative branch). This sounds very unamerican to me.

At the Zoo on :

Thomas, At first I wondered, too. Here's the answer. Two reasons. First, this is just the president pushing back against Congressional encroachments on executive power. (See my other comment below.) Second and most important, Congress has oversight of FISA, and there was fear of leaks through Congressional committee members. This was as important a secret as our having broken the German and Japanese codes during World War II. Terrorists had no idea we were reading their messages. To minimize the chances of a leak (and to make it easy to find WHO leaked if there was a leak), only a handful of Congressional leaders were informed about about the program. This included the Democratic leaders. If they think the program is so horrible, why didn't they "blow the whistle" years ago? Now terrorists know how we are catching them, thanks to the damned New York Times. -- Kathy K

At the Zoo on :

Gore is telling boldfaced lies. Because his speech is political and thus so closely protected by the First Amendment, he is virtually free to shout any lie he wants. FACT: INCOMING electronic messages from OUTSIDE the United States are passed through a filter that detects certain tags. These tags profile them as possibly from terrorists. The tags may be the particular server they come from or certain combinations and/or frequencies of words. Whatever -- messages that fit the profile are snagged and examined by the NSA. Not the FBI. Not the CIA. The NSA, which is an office of the president and has no authority to act on anything. It just passes on whatever intelligence it gains. We don't know whether any American citizen's messages are being eavesdropped on. Maybe a few recievers of these international messages are American citizens. But common sense tells you that most must be messages to aliens residing in the US. No messages originating IN the US are being eavesdropped on -- at least not without the appropraite warrant from a FISA court judge. Since I am not receiving overseas email from terrorists, I don't care! Fine! Great! Good, that's why we haven't been attacked in four years! Sheesh. So Gore is playing fast and loose with words to deceive people. He' just a Chicken Little crying, "The Republic is falling! The Republic is falling!" As a former Democrat, I am sorry to say that that's all the Democrats can do anymore, which is why the far left wing has taken over the party and has made it so obnoxious. It isn't the executive branch of our government that has been over-reaching. It's the legislative branch. It has been encroaching on the power of judicial branch too. Ever since Nixon, understandably, the Congress has tended to to try to encroach on presidential power. Anyone president at this time would have to push back. That's all that's happening. This type of turf battle between the three branches of government has been going on nonstop since 1789. It's really no big deal and will be settled by the courts. The President may well be upheld in saying that Congress cannot interfere with his control of the NSA, because it's not an "independent" agency like the FBI and CIA, which are wisely set up to be immune to political pressure from the White House. -- Kathy K

Tom P on :

I watched the speech. It was long, tedious and made solely for the benefit of partisans in the Democratic Party. It was nice of Osama to issue a rebuttal to Gore's speech.

joe on :

It is amazing how little some people know about the US constitution.

At the Zoo on :

I need to correct something I said in a comment above. It's not just messages from OUTSIDE coming into the into the US that are being snagged and examined. Some messages originating IN the US going out to suspected terrorists abroad are also being snagged and examined. Not that this makes any difference to me, because I'm not calling or emailing terrorists. And I want Uncle Sam breathing down the neck of anyone, citizen or not, who is! The Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate agreed to the need for this program and were briefed 12 times about it since September 2001. That's one of those lies of ommission the Democrats tell. Joe, yes. Also notice that he called for a "truce." Does that mean he's just waging isolated "crimes" or a war? Yup, even HE admits it's a war. Therefore our prisoners are unlawful combatants without the rights of lawful combatants as prisoners of war. -- Kathy K

Martin on :

Kathy, are you sure that "our prisoners are unlawful combatants"? How do you know? Are you sure that you arrest the right guys all the time? I am surprised how little americans know about their war on terror. The think all guantanamo detainees were caught on the battlefield. Stupid MSM. Stupid blogs. They are all so bloody naive and ignorant. They still haven't learned that US intelligence is of low quality. This is really surprising because US intelligence agencies fail all the time: The agencies did not know anything about the break up of the USSSR beforehand, didn't prevent 9/11 and they thought Iraq had WMD. And now you guys still believe that your civilian and military intelligence agencies predominately arrest the right guys. Wake up!

At the Zoo on :

Yeah we waste our time on noncombatants. Just because we're so ___ fill in the blank with whatever name-calling you want. Which is why they get due process immediately and and an annual hearing to consider them for later release. Your kind are why America is done with Europe and consider it nothing but an echo chamber of self-righteous noise. -- Kathy K

Bernhard on :

there was a famous theater play in Germany by a Hungarian director (don't remember his name right no) shortly after WWII. I was about Jews being deported and killed in the concentration camps, but it wasn't clear from the play that these things had taken place in Germany shortly ago. At the end a women got up in tears and said: what a shame! The fuehrer [hitler] would never have allowed that! (indicating she wished the leader back to stop all the nasty things happening under intellectuals and democrats) The Hungarian director told even years later that this was his most stunning experience and nearly made him quit. you should watch some NS propaganda if you have time. it is so similar to the war-on-terror-propaganda but, as we all know, the leader would never allow that the wrong guys are caught! wouldn't he!!

joe on :

Martin, A most interesting point. Which world intelligence agencies do you feel are first rate?

David on :

Here's a letter to Congress by fourteen scholars of constitutional law: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18650 Their conclusion? The president broke the law. (Excerpt)"If the administration felt that FISA was insufficient, the proper course was to seek legislative amendment, as it did with other aspects of FISA in the Patriot Act, and as Congress expressly contemplated when it enacted the wartime wiretap provision in FISA. One of the crucial features of a constitutional democracy is that it is always open to the President—or anyone else—to seek to change the law. But it is also beyond dispute that, in such a democracy, the President cannot simply violate criminal laws behind closed doors because he deems them obsolete or impracticable."

joe on :

David, Then this should make an interesting court case. The Constitution vs the ACLU. Hope the Trotten Doctrine does not prevent it.

Shawn Beilfuss on :

Powerline has posted on General Hayden's clarification of the NSA program and its context: [url=http://powerlineblog.com/archives/012915.php]National Press Club Speech[/url] To me this isn't a "scandal" but a difference in legal opinion and will, if necessary, be argued before the Judiciary.

joe on :

Shawn, Would tend to agree with your position. Equally it is a bit of a power struggle between two branches of the US government. As FISA related to the executive branch ever President beginning with Carter have said they will not in essence be bound by this act when it comes to taking necessary action to protect the US. All of this I find to be very interesting. While David, who I do not know if he is an American or not, seems to be in a minority with the larger American public on this issue. That to is a bit telling in individual points of view on this. Again FISA is limited and has nothing to do with demostic wiretaps which fall under a very strict set of rules. You also probably noted all of this is specialation and for the most part has been driven by the NYT story. Equally it is possible the NYT might be in a lot more trouble from a legal perspective than they have ever realized before. At the end of the day it is quite possible the POTUS acted within his authority and the NYT broke the law in the publication of classified information. For some like David that would be a serious shock and blow to their position.

At the Zoo on :

Shawn and joe, I tend to agree. The issue seems headed for the Supreme Court, and we will just have to await the judgement. Both sides have a case, and you can make a case for the Congress being the branch of government running amuck and upsetting the system of checks and balances by hamstringing the executive. I trust the courts and have no strong opinion either way. But I do object to the Chicken Little Act put on by Gore. He was stretching the NSA program to the outer limits of deep space = lying. Just to help his party "occupy" the White House by demonizing the political opposition. I detest politicians harming the reputation of their country for the sake of their political party. I don't call that "patriotism." -- Kathy K

Shawn Beilfuss on :

52% also approve of the way President Bush is handling the war on terror. Go figure. :P

David on :

Joe - I am American and actually happen to be in the majority in my opinion here. Latest from Gallup:"The poll, conducted Jan. 20-22, finds half of Americans (51%) believe the Bush administration was wrong in wiretapping terrorist-linked telephone conversations without first obtaining a court order, while 46% say it was right."

Shawn in Tokyo on :

Latest from Times Poll: Fifty-three percent of those surveyed said they approved of President George W. Bush's decision to authorize eavesdropping without prior court approval "in order to reduce the threat of terrorism," The Times reported. Shows you how reliable polls are. This will need to be looked at over the long term.

Thomas on :

AMERICAblog: Because a great nation deserves the truth "This is huge. In 2002, Bush administration OPPOSED legislation to make it easier to wiretap under FISA by John in DC - 1/25/2006 11:54:00 PM The Bush Administration opposed legislation that would have given them the very power they now claim they needed, power they now claim they didn't have under FISA. It's because they didn't have this power, they now claim, that they had to break the law and spy without a warrant. But this law would have given them much of the legal power they wanted. Yet they said they didn't need it, and worse yet, that the proposed legislation was likely unconstitutional. But now we know they did it anyway. And it was all discovered by a blogger, and now it's a big story in Thursday's Washington Post and LA Times. Amazing. And when you read through the story, below, note what the administration NOW says. They claim the new legislation wouldn't have gone far enough. Really? First, the administration said at the time that the legislation went too far and wasn't needed, so bull." http://americablog.blogspot.com/2006/01/this-is-huge-in-2002-bush.html

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