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Saturday, December 24, 2005

'Tis the Treason

by CLINTON FEIN

Oh how shocking. What an absolute surprise.

Amidst much fanfare, a New York Times story alerted a dumb, Apprentice numbed America that the Bush Administration resorted to spying on Americans, lifting the veil off the National Security Agency’s classified, top-secret surveillance program.

And the stupid, illiterate terrorists, who were able to thwart United States intelligence to bring down the World Trade Center towers and hit the Pentagon using commercial airliners, would never in a million years have dreamed that the Bush Administration would resort to such tactics.

“Oh my Allah!” they must be exclaiming, “We'd better stop discussing our plans on the phone, and consider using cryptography and stuff. Maybe we can use pseudonyms and aliases. Gee, September 11th changed everything, didn’t it? With their civil liberties down the drain, you just don’t know who you can trust anymore.”

I’m not really the “I told you so,” type. However, I was reminded of a piece that I wrote on September 15, 2001 -- The Second Coming:The Age of bin Laden -- as the rubble of the World Trade Center still burned and smoldered.
War allows governments to get away with things that are not possible in peacetime, where cooler heads and reason prevail. Using the word 'war' to describe something that is not a war, (like America's "War on Drugs" which has been about as successful as the Vietnam War was, if one is to compare it to a real war) diminishes the notion of what a war is and trivializes and mocks genuine patriotism. It threatens the very tenets of freedom. It allows for States of Emergency with unparalleled government powers from eavesdropping, surveillance and ex-parte motions to detention without trial.

It threatens the very tenets of freedom. It allows for States of Emergency with unparalleled government powers from eavesdropping, surveillance and ex-parte motions to detention without trial.
'This is War!" screamed the headlines, TV networks and cable channels, and while we -- vulnerable in our pain, grief, fear and shattered sense of security -- wept over round-the-clock heart-wrenching vignettes of the fallen and their families played to the tune of the national anthem everywhere we turned.

While we mourned and watched and read and listened and cried, an anti-terrorism bill was drafted that rivals South Africa's most draconian at the height of Apartheid. Within just one week of the attacks. Not to mention an almost unanimous vote by both chambers of Congress (save one brave voice of Congresswoman Barbara Lee) to give Bush full authority to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against terrorists linked to the attacks and against those that sponsor them as well as a unanimous $40 billion anti-terrorism package.

Yep. That “all necessary and appropriate force” provision is what the President, Vice President, Attorney General and Secretary of State are now citing as the legal basis for the trashing of constitutional safeguards and the checks and balances in place to ensure them. It was obvious what was about to happen to civil liberties then, before we even began the war in Afghanistan. Why the indignant surprise now?

Even though the involvement of Bush’s hawkish, brutish, torture-loving cabinet is certainly relevant; the seeking of their opinion as to the constitutionality of the NSA programs by journalists is as valuable as Michael Jackson weighing in on age of consent laws, or Judith Miller on the merits of checking the veracity of overly familiar sources.

The sudden display of concern over leaking by this Administration, and Mr. Bush’s not-so-idle threat that the Justice Department investigate who leaked this story to the New York Times seems a little transparent given the response to the leaking of a CIA operative when leaking was in the Administration’s political interests.
The sudden display of concern over leaking by this Administration, and Mr. Bush’s not-so-idle threat that the Justice Department investigate who leaked this story to the New York Times seems a little transparent given the response to the leaking of a CIA operative when leaking was in the Administration’s political interests.

More disturbing than the flagrant abuse and the President’s assertion that he will continue to sidetrack the court, is the attempt by the Administration to paint as unpatriotic -- if not treasonous -- any discussion of the flagrant violations of the constitution, suggesting that terrorists honestly believe that America is not watching them. ''The more we get the exposure of these very sensitive programs, the more it undermines our ability to follow terrorists, to know about their activities," Condoleezza Rice unconvincingly told Fox News. “My personal opinion is it was a shameful act, for someone to disclose this very important program in time of war,” the President told reporters.

It would be an easier sell if the President was as committed and resolved to punishing those – aside from Scooter Libby -- responsible for the outing of a CIA operative as he appears to be a whistleblower concerned about illegal and unconstitutional violations by the Administration.

Further, if there was anything at all to learn from September 11th, it was that a glut of information is in and of itself entirely useless unless it is parsed, assessed and analyzed. The simple act of seeking a retroactive warrant from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, may not protect Joe America from being eavesdropped upon, but may, at the very least, ensure that the data being captured is not being abused or slipping through the cracks owing to information overload.

If accurate information, strategic risk assessment and informed decision making is the result of oversight, evaluation and accountability in a democracy that cherishes freedom of expression at its core, the challenge we face is how to mitigate our risks and limit our exposure through transparent actions, rather than masking them through censorship, smoke, mirrors, puffery and self-delusion.

From the East Room of the White House on December 19, 2005, the President told the nation that his "obligation to protect you" from attack justified shredding your constitutional safeguards.
The President not only violated his oath of office, but also the constitution of the United States. President Bush, asserting his “absolute” authority to authorize domestic spying, like his prosecution of the War on Iraq, lied to America about his justification, and the media and many Americans bought it hook, line and sinker.

From the East Room of the White House on December 19, 2005, the President told the nation that his "obligation to protect you" from attack justified shredding your constitutional safeguards. “As president and commander in chief, I have the constitutional responsibility and the constitutional authority to protect our country."

“First of all, right after September the 11th, I knew we were fighting a different kind of war. And so I asked people in my administration to analyze how best for me and our government to do the job people expect us to do, which is to detect and prevent a possible attack. That's what the American people want.”

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 prescribes procedures for requesting judicial authorization for electronic surveillance and physical search of persons engaged in espionage or international terrorism against the United States on behalf of a foreign power. In the case of urgent exceptions requiring the “speed and agility” the President claims is behind the violations, the executive branch can wiretap first and is not required to get a warrant until 72 hours after the fact. The FISA court has only turned down five out of 19,000 requests ever.

If the Administration’s best defense is that the willful dismissal of the separation of powers defined by the constitution and the virtually dictatorial usurpation of power by the Executive branch of government is to achieve the purpose of protecting Americans and all we’re supposedly fighting for, the President and all those supporting the NSA’s domestic spying program need to answer to the following.

Many of the professionals we're discharging are fluent in languages such as Farsi and Arabic, who are able to intercept communications, interpret messages and in essence, make sense of the intelligence that it so important it requires pissing on the constitution to acquire it.
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), the national, non-profit legal services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and related forms of intolerance, estimates that by the end of 2005 it will have answered 900 calls for assistance made by military personnel. Of those, it intervened to save three dozen military careers in 2005.

Many of the professionals we're discharging are fluent in languages such as Farsi and Arabic, who are able to intercept communications, interpret messages and in essence, make sense of the intelligence that it so important it requires pissing on the constitution to acquire it. All the while, the Pentagon admits to a shortage in these fields, and is having the toughest time ever meeting recruitment goals in all branches of the service.

Not only that, last week, NBC reported that newly leaked Pentagon documents have confirmed the military has been monitoring and collecting intelligence on anti-war groups across the country, including student groups opposed to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual military personnel. The report prompted SLDN to announce plans to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to learn if it has also been monitored by the Pentagon.

That the President and his defenders can turn around and look the American people in the eye and claim to be protecting them, when this Administration shamefully continues to discharge and punish vital and accomplished warriors in its War on Terror for their sexual orientation and their private, constitutionally protected conduct, does not just make President Bush a cheap liar. He is aiding and abetting the enemy while spying on the people who supposedly elected him. Let’s cut the bullshit and call it what it is.

Treason.

Clinton Fein can be emailed at clinton@annoy.com


 
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