Gov. Spitzer’s bust should give pause to those in Congress who are ready to hand President Bush a free pass to continue his six-yearcampaign of warrantless spying on Americans.
We now know from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article that the spyingBush has been doing through the National Security Agency since early 2001 has included vast computer sweeps of not just internet and phone activity,but also bank and credit card transactions. These are sweeps of ordinary everyday people, with computers looking for odd transactions, or for code words, or for transactions involving specific targeted organizations or addresses.
What nailed Spitzer, we now learn, was a series of bank transactions he had with the bank account of the Emperor’s Club VIP call girl operation.
Now reportedly, this particular probe was being conducted by theIRS, which allegedly was investigating the Emperor’s Club. Once the IRS discovered it had caught the New York governor in its web, it forwarded thecase to the US Attorney General’s Office, where it was pursued by the FBI, apparently on the instructions of AG Michael Mukasey. The investigation moved from monitoring the bank to monitoring phones, and Spitzer was captured talking to the Emperor’s Club dispatcher. Bingo. Promising Democratic political career ruined.
Now the monitoring of the Emperor’s Club was reportedly done with acourt-ordered warrant. That’s fine.
But this case shows us how people can get caught up by this kind ofinvestigation really quickly.
Now imagine that instead of a call-girl operation, this had been a mosque oran international charity organization, and suppose you were someone who hadmade a call to ask about making donations to help the victims of the last earthquake in Indonesia? If that mosque, or charity, happened to be on thelist of outfits being monitored by the NSA’s computers, your call might well have been picked up. Then the focus would shift to your phone and your internet server, and conceivably every communication you made would bewatched.
This is the America we now live in. According to the Wall Street Journal,after a wave of national outrage forced the Bush administration to shut down its Total Information Awareness project at the Pentagon, Bush and Cheney simply moved their scheme to subject all telecommunications and bank transactions to computer monitoring over to the NSA.
Since none of this spying activity is subject to court supervision andwarrant requirements, we are left having to trust the personnel at the NSA,the so-called Justice Department, and the president and his administration, not to abuse it.
Right. And think of the temptations!
Want to know what the House leadership strategy is regarding renewal of the NSA wiretap authorization? Want to know whether the Congress is serious about imposing a time limit on troops in Iraq? Just start monitoring their emails and phones.
Want to make sure Democratic members of Congress go along with a war onIran? Just monitor their phones and emails and catch them in conversations that are suitable for a little blackmail.
Is this kind of thing happening? Well, I keep marvelling at the cowardlybehavior of leading members of Congress like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and HouseJudiciary Chair John Conyers. Maybe something is being held over theirheads.
We know that the prosecution and conviction of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman was an administration hit on a popular Democratic official. Siegelman is now in jail. Ditto Wisconsin state employee Georgia Thompson. These blatant political prosecutions certainly weigh on the minds of allDemocratic elected officials.
Who, after all, is safe in this kind of environment, where the Bill of Rights has been set aside?
Spitzer no doubt made use of phone taps himself in his day, and was ruthless as New York’s attorney general in bringing down many of his own targets. But the way he was ensnared, via the secret monitoring of a bank’s activity, and via phone taps, should put us all on guard.
With that kind of power, unchecked in the hands of an intensely politicaladministration, it’s almost a certainty that it is being used and used inappropriately for political ends.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latestbook is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net