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Hullabaloo


Saturday, December 31, 2005

 
Constitutional Thuggery

by digby

Mark Kleiman makes a point about the NSA sping scandal that I think is essential:

Of course the Rasmussen Poll purporting to show 64% support for the Bush secret eavesdropping policy is an artifact of artful question design.

But, unlike some of my liberal friends, I don't think the answer would be much different if the phrase "without a warrant" had been included. The key missing word was "illegally."


The word wiretapping should always be preceded by the word illegal. That's the qualifier. Nobody thinks that wiretapping is always wrong and nobody knows from warrants. I have little doubt that most people assumed the government was wiretapping terrorists suspects and their suspected friends. What we didn't assume was that the president would consciously break the law to do it --- and that he believes himself immune from all laws during "wartime," (which he alone defines.)

Kleiman goes on to say that the issue should be framed as "rule of law" rather than civil liberties and I slightly disagree with that. I think you must do both. The frame of civil liberties is important for our party's long term health because it is a fundamental value --- and we need to be willing express those even when the country as a whole might not agree. Right now a good many people think that the only things we believe in are gay rights and abortion, and they have no concept of the fundamental values that undergird our positions on those issues. Liberals should not be afraid to wave around the Bill of Rights any more than the right waves around the only amendment it cares about (the second.)

I do not think that conflicts with the argument that America is a land of laws not men. Indeed, I would suggest that the two messages go quite well together. If you want to go all "originalist" on us, the belief that the president cannot violate the laws and the Bill of Rights whenever he feels like it is as fundamental as it gets.

As I listen to the Bush apologists on Fox and elsewhere, it's become clear to me that they are hinging their argument solely on the idea that the president was "protecting" us infantile Americans and was only monitoring the "bad guys." This shows the weakness of their argument. They are not standing up and saying "yes, even if they did illegally listen in your phone calls, comrade, it's the least you can do to keep the homeland safe" or "if you have nothing to hide you won't mind if the government illegally spies on you." The ramifications of data mining aside, they are saying that only guilty people were monitored. Sure.

As Kleiman points out, there is already one excellent example of using the power of the federal government for political purposes in a post 9/11 environment:

The ability to spy on domestic conversations is obviously abusable. And we already know that Tom DeLay tricked the Department of Homeland Security into tracking the whereabouts of Texas Democratic legislators who had fled to Oklahoma to try to block a quorum for DeLay's redistricting scheme. And we know that DeLay got away with it. So if the question on the table is "Will the Republicans abuse domestic-security powers for political purposes?" we know that the answer is "Yes."


Governor Bill Richardson, who isn't exactly shrill (he's running for president as a centrist) is very suspicious that the NSA illegally tapped his domestic calls to Colin Powell regarding the North Korean crisis --- and then illegally gave the transcripts to John Bolton:

"The governor is upset that his conversations with Secretary Powell would be intercepted since most of them were domestic calls," said Richardson spokesman Billy Sparks. "The governor felt his calls about North Korea were confidential."



This is where the Plame scandals and the NSA illegal spying scandals intersect. It's the ethics, stupid. These people are partisan thugs. They used journalists to leak classified information for political purposes. They are now going to try to destroy both whistleblowers and journalists for political purposes. And if that doesn't tell you that they are willing to illegally monitor citizens for political purposes then you are absurdly naive. In fact, this government is the poster child for the division of power and the rule of law. They were written into the constitution with these guys in mind.



Update: I don't know how reliable Wayne Madsen usually is,(Michael Froomkin says he's not a nut) but in the course of writing that post, I came upon this:

December 30, 2005 -- More on Firstfruits. The organization partly involved in directing the National Security Agency program to collect intelligence on journalists -- Firstfruits -- is the Foreign Denial and Deception Committee (FDDC), a component of the National Intelligence Council. The last reported chairman of the inter-intelligence agency group was Dr. Larry Gershwin, the CIA's adviser on science and technology matters, a former national intelligence officer for strategic programs, and one of the primary promoters of the Iraqi disinformation con man and alcoholic who was code named "Curveball."

Gershwin was also in charge of the biological weapons portfolio at the National Intelligence Council where he worked closely with John Bolton and the CIA's Alan Foley -- director of the CIA's Office of Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) -- and Frederick Fleitz -- who Foley sent from WINPAC to work in Bolton's State Department office -- in helping to cook Iraqi WMD "intelligence" on behalf of Vice President Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby.

In addition to surveilling journalists who were writing about operations at NSA, Firstfruits particularly targeted State Department and CIA insiders who were leaking information about the "cooking" of pre-war WMD intelligence to particular journalists, including those at the New York Times, Washington Post, and CBS 60 Minutes.

The vice chairman of the FDDC, James B. Bruce, wrote an article in Studies in Intelligence in 2003, "This committee represents an inter­agency effort to understand how foreign adversaries learn about, then try to defeat, our secret intelligence collection activities." In a speech to the Institute of World Politics, Bruce, a CIA veteran was also quoted as saying, "We've got to do whatever it takes -- if it takes sending SWAT teams into journalists' homes -- to stop these leaks." He also urged, "stiff new penalties to crack down on leaks, including prosecutions of journalists that publish classified information." The FDDC appears to be a follow-on to the old Director of Central Intelligence's Unauthorized Disclosure Analysis Center (UDAC).

NSA eavesdropping on journalists and their sources is sending chills throughout Washington, DC and beyond.

Meanwhile, WMR's disclosures about Firstfruits have set off a crisis in the intelligence community and in various media outlets. Journalists who have contacted WMR since the revelation of the Firstfruits story are fearful that their conversations and e-mail with various intelligence sources have been totally compromised and that they have been placed under surveillance that includes the use of physical tails. Intelligence sources who are current and former intelligence agency employees also report that they suspect their communications with journalists and other parties have been surveilled by technical means.


Scroll down to December 28th to get the first story on "Firstfruits." Bob Baer mentioned this tracking of journlaists on Hardball a week or so ago too, causing Andrea Mitchell to blink hard a few times.

For a primer on the meaning of the biblical word "Firstfruits" try this. Feel free to speculate in the comments as to why you think they chose it to describe a surveillance program.

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