President Bush has turned to the cheapest lies in an effort to protect himself from being exposed as a criminal in the ongoing campaign to have the National Security Agency spy at will on Americans.
Claiming-without a scintilla of evidence to back him up-that there are people planning a “much worse attack” than 9-11 on America, he says he must not only have free rein to unleash the NSA spymasters on American telephone and internet communications, but also a grant of complete immunity from prosecution for such spying for the telecom industry.
The Senate, of course, with solid backing from Republicans and critical backing too from a significant number of treacherous Democrats (some of whom, like Intelligence Committee head Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) have gotten significant donations from the telecom industry), has already given the president the bill he wants. It now is before the House, where some Democrats and a few Republicans who still remember there’s supposed to be a Bill of Rights, are resisting passage of the cynically named Protect America bill.
The obvious lie that the president is spreading is made evident by the fact that there is no heightened alert status-not at airports, not at the border, not at city police and fire departments.
But furthermore, if nothing were passed, it would have no impact at all on the NSA’s current spying and monitoring activities. If there really were evidence of some kind of attack in preparation, the NSA would already be monitoring it under existing authority, and would be able to continue that activity without a warrant at least until next September! And even if the authority to monitor without a warrant were not granted at that point, the administration has from now until then to obtain a warrant, which it could do anytime it wants to by going to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
So the president’s false drama of staying home from his trip to Africa is just a sham. There is no urgency to this at all.
Then there’s the whole insistence on retroactive telecom immunity. The White House claims that if immunity for past, current and future warrantless spying by the telecom industry on behalf of the NSA is not granted, it would deter the industry from cooperating with the NSA in the future.
That is yet another fraud. If the White House or NSA were to obtain a warrant for its spying, no telecom executive would or even could refuse to comply. It’s the warrantless spying that one or two phone companies, notably Quest, had objected to in the past. The answer is easy: the NSA should seek warrants for its spying. The only explanation for the administration’s refusal to seek warrants from a court that since 1978 has only rejected a handful of requests out of hundreds of thousands submitted to it, is that it knows its request would be rejected-and that should tell us all we need to know about what he is up to.
What is really clear is that the administration has done some things that it really does not want the public to know about. That is the reason it’s seeking retroactive immunity. What it fears is that class action lawsuits, some of which have already been filed, against the phone companies, will lead to discovery which would reveal who it was actually spying on over the last eight years (and this illegal spying program, we now know, began in early 2001, shortly after Bush and Cheney took office, and well before the 9-11 attacks).
The claim that such discovery could lead to release of information that could alert terrorists to the fact that they are being monitored is laughable. No federal judge would allow such a thing to happen. The federal government would only have to assert such a threat, and any judge in the federal court system would agree to review the evidence before releasing it in open court.
So what is it that the White House and the NSA have been up to all these years that Bush and Cheney are so frightened to have outed?
The answer seems painfully clear, especially given that we know the program began before Sept. 11, 2001-a period when Bush and Cheney were famously uninterested in investigating terrorism.
They had to have been spying on us-most likely on the groups that had protested Bush’s election fraud, the Democratic opposition, possible leakers in his own administration, and then, in the wake of 9-11, the questioners of the official story of that tragic event, the growing anti-war movement, the impeachment movement, critical journalists, etc.-in short, the same kinds of people that President Nixon, back in the 1970s, unleashed the NSA on, and which led to passage of the FISA law and the FISA court in the first place.
There is a growing shrillness to the president’s lies and to the administration’s efforts to get this protective legislation passed. With a Democratic blowout possible this November, he has to worry that all this nefarious activity could come pouring out next year, leaving both him and Vice President Cheney, by then out of office and without protection from prosecution, open to attack from both criminal prosecutors and citizen lawsuits for damages.
The House, which has been a shameless lapdog of the administration for the past year since the Democrats took control of that body, has a chance here to show it still has at least one vertebra left in its severely decalcified spine, It should refuse to pass any extension of NSA warrantless spying authority, and should refuse immunity for the telecom industry.
Let the president dangle in the wind on this one. Call your representative (202-225-3121) and let her or him know you want them to really protect America, by not passing the so-called Protect America bill!
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His n book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s newest book is “The Case for Impeachment“, co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org