Congress has failed. This is no easy thing for me to say as I fully admit being at least a little bit shill-like for my party, but to express the indignation that I have in the past over the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program while Republicans were in charge, and then turn a blind eye when the Democrats gain power; that would be hypocrisy.
The language of the law passed is disturbing, relying on the parsing of definitions, and far too much on subjective opinion. As NYT puts it:
Today, most international telephone conversations to and from the United States are conducted over fiber-optic cables, and the most efficient way for the government to eavesdrop on them is to latch on to giant telecommunications switches located in the United States.
By changing the legal definition of what is considered “electronic surveillance,” the new law allows the government to eavesdrop on those conversations without warrants — latching on to those giant switches — as long as the target of the government’s surveillance is “reasonably believed” to be overseas.
As White House spokesman Tony Fratto explains, “What you want to make sure is that you are getting the foreign target.” Funnily enough, however, most conversations are two way. We may not necessarily be obliged to protect the privacy of foreigners, but that responsibility is clearly evident in regards to our own citizenry.
Our folks aren’t just calling over there and sitting around and listening to someone else jabber on. Further, even if they are, it is well within their rights to do so without having to worry if someone else is on the line listening in.
Also disturbing is the lack of terrorism and intelligent context. I’m left rather underwhelmed with motivations offered that would require the initiation of eavesdropping, the decision to do so ultimately made the responsibility of the Attorney General, the current one considered so untrustworthy that Congress will consider impeaching him upon return from their current recess, and the NDI.
In this new legislation, the role of the FISA courts has been minimized; turned into an after the fact check for legality. Whereas once the intent of the court was, like any court that would issue or deny a warrant, to determine the legality of a warrant ensuring that the rights of citizens were protected, they are now not required to review the circumstances until after the eavesdropping has been completed, after the damage has already been done.
I see no point in this, and under this type of legislation the existence of the FISA court is for the most part worthless; placing its part in the process at the end prevents it from doing its primary job, that being to stop illegal surveillance before it begins.
And all of this ostensibly to fight terrorism. Though, there is a flaw in this logic, one that outlines the very reason why a strong contingent of people vehemently opposed the warrantless wiretapping program from the start.
What must not be forgotten is that terrorists are, among a horde of other things, political foes. Terrorism is, in fact, the practice of using violent and terror inducing tactics in order to alter the political landscape.
If we look at the nature of this, let us take, for instance, Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda, the organization is rooted on a set of religious tenets and political aspirations entwined with those tenets. The communications from one member to another, therefore, may include terrorist activity planning and talk of plots and bombings of the past, however, they are also likely to be heavily laden with religious and political talk.
The result is that the line between what could be useful terrorist information and merely political talk becomes a little blurry. The two coexist. Put into the application of warrantless wiretapping, the government now has the power to essentially tap any communications that go outside the country, one assumes in pursuit of terrorists.
But with the line blurred, the latitude is widened in the government’s favor. One thing now should be made clear; Anti-American sentiment is perfectly legal, it’s legal to be discussed here, and legal to be discussed with foreign nationals. And so what we see there is now a groundwork for the government to eavesdrop on those American’s excercizing their right to free speech by expressing Anti-American dissent with a foreign national.
The chain continues as such until the final effect is that it’s a short hop, skip, and a jump from only listening to terrorists, to listening to any political rival, a truth that hamstrings the very basis of our rights and laws.
This was the FISA court’s role. To prevent this. To ensure that there was a solid case for each incident of eavesdropping to be placed only on those who were suspected of terrorism or those who could provide information about terrorists. This is what we gave away.
Further, it’s important to note their is a widening gap between what we consider legal and valid within our borders and outside of them.
That’s to say that, our criminal laws are geared towards protect the rights of the citizenry, and ensuring fairness in trial. This is something we hold dear, and is one of the principle guiding ideals of the country. We have laws on the books about how to interrogate criminals because coerced information is not reliable information, and could put an innocent person in prison. Likewise, we have stringent controls over wiretapping to ensure that people are not persecuted unduly. Considering that to this day we still have people wrongly accusing others based on the color of their skin, the stringency placed on our legal machinery is a necessity.
Though flawed, it makes the best efforts to ensure that the guilty are truly guilty and the innocent are free.
But our attitude towars chasing terrorism is rapidly falling away from these ideals, yet allowing this to happen doesn’t change the outcome. If we relax the stringency on all of our methods of combating terrorism, just because its terrorists we’re going after doesn’t mean that doing so will not result in innocent people being captured and held and tried as terrorists. It doesn’t mean that innocent Americans will have their rights infringed upon.
Even though we change the laws, some of the rules stay the same.
And this is what my party has helped to facilitate. Glenn Greenwald puts up a great post about the specific failure of the Democratic Congress. It’s the same old story, in trying to sound and appear strong, the Democrats essentially come off weak and sycophantic.
Their failure, in his eyes, is on not standing on principle, and the Gun Toting Liberal points to the grotesquely low approval rating of an unreleased poll to back their failures up.
Yes, my party has failed us, they failed me. Perhaps to them, like so many other people in this country right now, the true “foreign target” the one concept they don’t seem to understand is the erosion of the American Spirit.
One of the most shameful things of the America I live in today is this weakness, this group will to hand over our rights for the sake of protection.
You look on any major news site and what do you see? You will see hordes of terrorism based news stories. Every whackjob with an ideology and a handful of tough words now gets top billing with most news organizations.
The Foreign Target here is that we still don’t understand the concept of terrorism. On September 11th, 2001 we really did lose. Osama bin Laden truly was successful, and not just because he succeeded in murdering three thousand Americans.
He was successful because now his and other terrorist organizations flood American news cycles day after day. He was successful because we have not only abandoned the scrutiny and passion with which we protect our rights, but instead we are debating them away to protect from another terrorist attack such as that. He was successful because due to our influence a nation that once was under the rule of a secular dictator is now a hotbed for radical Islamic terrorism.
If terrorism truly is an attempt to affect the political sphere through the use of violent and terrifying acts, then Osama bin Laden was incredibly successful, as my party has just proved.