As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's Not Like There Would Be Anything Noteworthy In Bill Clinton's Email

Well here we go again.

WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency is facing renewed scrutiny over the extent of its domestic surveillance program, with critics in Congress saying its recent intercepts of the private telephone calls and e-mail messages of Americans are broader than previously acknowledged, current and former officials said.

The agency’s monitoring of domestic e-mail messages, in particular, has posed longstanding legal and logistical difficulties, the officials said.

Since April, when it was disclosed that the intercepts of some private communications of Americans went beyond legal limits in late 2008 and early 2009, several Congressional committees have been investigating. Those inquiries have led to concerns in Congress about the agency’s ability to collect and read domestic e-mail messages of Americans on a widespread basis, officials said. Supporting that conclusion is the account of a former N.S.A. analyst who, in a series of interviews, described being trained in 2005 for a program in which the agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans’ e-mail messages without court warrants. Two intelligence officials confirmed that the program was still in operation.

As Rush Holt, one of the few in Congress who seems to know what he's talking about with this program, “Some actions are so flagrant that they can’t be accidental." In one instance, the NSA accessed Bill Clinton's email:

(An analyst) said he and other analysts were trained to use a secret database, code-named Pinwale, in 2005 that archived foreign and domestic e-mail messages. He said Pinwale allowed N.S.A. analysts to read large volumes of e-mail messages to and from Americans as long as they fell within certain limits — no more than 30 percent of any database search, he recalled being told — and Americans were not explicitly singled out in the searches.

The former analyst added that his instructors had warned against committing any abuses, telling his class that another analyst had been investigated because he had improperly accessed the personal e-mail of former President Bill Clinton.

I'm sure that investigation was completely stringent. And I'm sure that "ban" on explicitly singling out individuals was strictly enforced. Because why would anyone want to know what Bill Clinton's doing?

Don't B.S. us with the fig leaf of "inadvertent overcollection." This happens virtually the same way every time.

Every time new revelations of illegal government spying arise, the same exact pattern repeats itself: (1) euphemisms are invented to obscure its illegality ("overcollection"; "circumvented legal guidelines"; "overstepped its authority"; "improperly obtained"); (2) assurances are issued that it was all strictly unintentional and caused by innocent procedural errors that are now being fixed; (3) the very same members of Congress who abdicate their oversight responsibilities and endlessly endorse expanded surveillance powers in the face of warnings of inevitable abuses (Jay Rockefeller, Dianne Feinstein, "Kit" Bond, Jane Harman) righteously announce how "troubled" they are and vow to hold hearings and take steps to end the abuses, none of which ever materialize; (4) nobody is ever held accountable in any way and no new oversight mechanisms are implemented; (5) Congress endorses new, expanded domestic surveillance powers; and then: (6) new revelations of illegal government spying emerge and the process repeats itself, beginning with step (1).

And if you thought that the Congress or the Justice Department could at least revisit step (5) once step (1) re-occurs over and over again, Attorney General Eric Holder helpfully informs you that telecom immunity and the FISA Amendments Act is settled law, unable to be tweaked or fixed or even investigated. Holder wouldn't even stand by his statement that violating FISA breaks the law - he can't now, because as the Attorney General he would be obligated to act on his words.

FEINGOLD: On another topic, I wrote to the president on Monday about my continued concern that the administration has not formally withdrawn certain legal opinions, including the January 2006 white paper that provided the justification for the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. At the letter was prompted in part by a recent speech that I'm sure you're aware of by the director of national intelligence in which he asserted that the program was not illegal, but he later clarified that.

In a speech to the American Constitutional Society in June 2008, you, sir, set the following. "I never thought that I would see the day when a president would act in direct defiance of federal law by authorizing warrantless NSA surveillance of American citizens."

And the president himself also several times as a senator and during the campaign said the program was illegal. Now that you are the attorney general, is there any doubt in your mind that the warrantless wiretapping program was illegal?

HOLDER: Well, I think that the warrantless wiretapping program as it existed at that point was certainly unwise in that it was put together without the approval of Congress and as a result did not have all the protections, all the strength that it might have had behind it, as -- as I think it now exists with regard to having had congressional approval of it. So I think that the concerns that I expressed in that speech no longer exist because of the action that Congress has taken in regard...

FEINGOLD: But I asked you, Mr. Attorney General, not whether it was unwise, but whether you consider it to be an illegal, because that's certainly the implication of what you said in the quote I read and the explicit statement of the man who is now president of the United States.

HOLDER: Yes, well what I was saying in that speech was that I thought the action that the administration had taken was inconsistent with the dictates of -- of FISA, and I think I used the word "contravention," and as a result I thought that the policy was an unwise one. And I think that the concerns that I expressed then have really been remedied by the fact that Congress has now authorized the program.

FEINGOLD: But did you think it was illegal?

HOLDER: Well, I thought that, as I said, it was inconsistent with -- with the FISA statute and unwise as a matter of policy.

And that sound you hear is the soul of Eric Holder breaking.

The rule of law was nice to have around for a while. But it's completely broken and it's not coming back.

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