Retroactive Blackmail

by digby

Glenn Greenwald has more on the bizarre ramblings of Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell that I discussed yesterday. He points out that McConnell seems to be somewhat obsessed with the fact that the private companies must, at all costs, be given immunity for their past cooperation by the government.

It turns out that while McConnell was in the private sector he worked with all these companies. Indeed, he may have been the point man on the outside of the government for the program for all we know. In any case, there's a serious conflict of interest.

This is another example of this government using "you can believe me or you can believe your lyin' eyes" logic. In the Hepting v. AT&T class action case, they have argued over and over again that the existence or non-existence of such programs is a state secret so they cannot confirm or deny anything. The Judge in the case didn't buy it and allowed it to proceed but when it was presented to the 9th Circuit, they again refused to acknowledge even the existence of the program, much less whether any private sector companies were involved and whether the FISA law was followed.

Meanwhile, McConnell made a huge point that private companies should receive retroactive immunity:

A: The issue that we did not address, which has to be addressed is the liability protection for the private sector now is proscriptive, meaning going forward. We've got a retroactive problem. When I went through and briefed the various senators and congressmen, the issue was alright, look, we don't want to work that right now, it's too hard because we want to find out about some issues of the past. So what I recommended to the administration is, 'Let's take that off the table for now and take it up when Congress reconvenes in September.'

Q: With an eye toward the six-month review?

A: No, the retroactive liability protection has got to be addressed.

It's not obvious to me why the government would feel the need to write a law giving retroactive "liability protection" to communications companies if communications companies hadn't been involved in something they need liability protection for. I guess it's more of that "trust me" style of governance we now live under.

Theoretically, I suppose it could just be a generous gift to save them the trouble of having to defend themselves against "frivolous" lawsuits. But let's just say the head of National Intelligence lobbying the congress very hard to give these private companies immunity looks a little bit fishy on a number of levels. People will have to excused for speculating that these communications companies might be telling Uncle Mike than unless he wipes the slate clean on all their dirty dealings since 9/11, they won't be cooperating. (Or perhaps he's just corruptly helping out his former bosses and colleagues.)

Either way, it doesn't pass the smell test.

Update: Speaking of "trust me", this snide op-ed from yesterday's NY Times on the wiretapping pretty much sums it up exactly that way:

In Robert M. Gates, the defense secretary, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, and Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of central intelligence, we have about as good a team as it is possible to imagine. Most people in Congress know that. Why not assume they are proposing a solution to a real problem? Developments in technology are forcing a long-overdue statutory change — and those developments will be with us long after the politics of the moment have passed.

Just trust Bob, Mike and Mike. The people in congress know they are good men. Why don't you?