Bush Admits to Using NSA to Spy

On Friday the New York Times revealed that Bush had authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on people in the United States. This was a re-reviewed authorization that has been renewed on a 45-day schedule thirty times since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Congressional leaders had been briefed over a dozen times that this kind of activity was being authorized.

It is interesting that this information was leaked in the middle of the filibuster against renewal of the Patriot Act provisions allowing closer scrutiny of activities within the borders of the United States. Normally the spy agency is restricted to activities abroad and domestic affairs are rightly the province of the FBI or other Justice Department agencies.

There were scandals involving the NSA in domestic espionage before with a program called Echelon. In that case the accusation was that the NSA was using foreign spy services to obtain information on activities within the US.

There is considerable fear that eavesdropping on people in the the US without oversight violates the rights of US citizens, who have strong protections against unreasonable search. Part of those protections require their being probable cause that a crime has been or will be committed by the person whose privacy is being violated.

In these cases, Bush has asserted that the eavesdropping by the NSA has been limited to international communications of those known to be associated with Al Quaeda. Normally when one party to an international communication is in the United States, the issue has been left up to the FBI.

These are the remnants of the “wall” between the military and domestic intelligence agencies, and the reason it was erected. With the passage of the Patriot Act this wall had been partially breached in order to better coordinate gathering intelligence on terrorists targeting the US. Now that the Patriot Act is up for renewal, and is being filibustered, tactics that were obvious results of the Patriot Act are being leaked in order to scare people against it.

For my part, I am unsure that the Department of Homeland Security has made significant strides in improving our situation when it comes to international agents coming to the US and conducting operations here. Clearly there is a need for an integrated approach to handling this. We can't be constantly shipping files all over Foggy Bottom, Langley, Justice, the Pentagon and back just because Al Quaeda sympathizers in the US are sending email to friends in Pakistan and Syria. Yet, there needs to be oversight of any activities that involve people in the US, because of our strong belief in reasonable protections of their privacy.

I don't know enough about how the Patriot Act, and its proposed renewal, changes things in this delicate balance. All the coverage I've seen is more slant than fact, and leaks such as Friday's only complicate the matter. I'm hoping that my representatives in Washington, DC actually know what they're doing. But, since those representatives think that Al Quaeda builds schools for the underprivileged or that Saddam Hussein wasn't a threat, I have little hope of that.

Josh Poulson

Posted Saturday, Dec 17 2005 08:49 AM

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There are 4 comments on this entry.

There is oversight that has occurred (you mentioned 45 day review in this post) I guess I don't understand what all the fuss is about this whole situation. Well, I do understand what it is about; attempting to embarrass the President and his administration by the Left and the MSM.


Posted Sunday, Dec 18 2005 01:52 AM

Well, I was referring to oversight by the legislature. We certainly know more now, for example the New York Times sat on this information for a year at the request of the White House, the release of this information now is tied to the launch of State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, and that the person that wrote the article for the NYT also wrote the book.

The Patriot Act reauthorization, whatever its warts, didn't really need promotion campaigns from a self-serving author to prevent its honest debate.

Josh Poulson

Posted Sunday, Dec 18 2005 08:42 AM

I don't think it's an effort to promote a book. It's more that the book coming out makes moot the prior decision to comply with the administration request to squash the story. (I.e. not telling the public what was going on during the election, when it might have affected how they feel about having another King George around).

Fact is, this isn't files pushing around Washington because some emails are sent. It is a massive digital hoover, sucking up every communication to or from large areas, possibly entire countries, without any other reason to examine what those American citizens are doing or saying. It's implementing "Total Information Awareness" overseas (using a Foreign Affairs powers theory reminiscent of Iran-Contra) when it was specifically rejected by the Congress.

It's not just "suspected terrorists'" communications they're picking up, it's everyone talking to or from a region or country. Think about it... why else wouldn't they be able to use the post-hoc warrants provisions found in FISA? They have to be 1) taking in information on people they could never get even "resonable basis" review for, and/or 2) spying on so many citizens that the staff could not handle the volume of warrant requests, which are almost never turned down.


Posted Sunday, Dec 25 2005 03:32 PM

Also, the story isn't preventing honest debate about the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act. It seems like there was no debate of the act's provision when it was passed initially (the Republicans named it the "Patriot Act" for god's sake, talk about wrapping yourself in the flag!), and there wasn't going to be much before it was passed (funny thing about unified government, that).

If anything, breaking this story is the only reason there is any debate on the Patriot Act at all. There might have been some ineffiectual noise by those not cowed by the stigma of not supporting something labeled "patriot," but no real debate among those actually writing the law. (Or rewriting it in conference.)


Posted Sunday, Dec 25 2005 03:39 PM

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