The Rules Of The Game

Amid a recent al Qaeda “ad” warning the US about an imminent terror attack, it’s no wonder that Bush has struggled to broaden even further the latitude that his NSA warrantless wiretapping program is granted. We must defend ourselves, which of course means that the State must rise to monolithic proportions in its unchecked ability to do whatever the hell it wants.

So long as it keeps us safe from terrorists.

But the FISA court, apparently, wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as Bush, and has just ruled to not broaden the cope of intelligence eavesdropping, but instead rein it in a little. The ruling sought to put a limit on the CIA’s ability to intercept communications, specifically those in which the communications go through US telephone and internet services. The thought process behind this seems to be that once the signal goes through certain junctions, the outcome could be surveillance on unknown persons, possibly putting civil liberties at risk.

To be clear, however, it should be noted that the central issue revolves around sidestepping the already classified rulings of the FISA courts in order to collect information. For some reason that still boggles my mind, the president believes it is a severe threat having to make a valid case to a secret court before proceeding, something made even more confusing when you understand that over the past two years, four thousand cases have been brought up before FISA and of those only one was denied, and even at that only partially.

Which brings into suspect any altruistic or even legal justification for attempting to provide a clause that allows for the circumvention of the FISA court. It’s not like there’s a huge danger they are going to shut you down if you have anything that even appears valid, and as would be the case in this instance, the point of the court appears to largely be to make sure that innocent citizens’ rights are not infringed upon.

Where’s the big deal?

But if you take a closer look at this administration, a pattern emerges. For instance, when we talk about American torture, in the domestic civillian world, testimony gathered from coersive methods is not admissable in court, largely because it is not reliable. Further, we have seen that the FBI’s method of interrogation via “rapport building” has proven far more successful than the CIA’s methodology of interrogation which is widely based on SERE techniques (SERE is essentially torture innoculation or the controlled administration of torture techniques on military personnel to prepare them for torture and abuse should they be caught in the field).

Seemingly to leave that particular sphere completely, if we look at Cheney, in Oregon several years ago, farmers who were suffering from a drought had demanded the opening of flood gates that were kept shut under the direction of the EPA in order to preserve the habitat of an endangered species. Cheney could have easily employed a little used but utterly legal clause to the laws on the books that allowed acting against EPA statues in the instances of extreme economical distress, which were clearly apparent. Instead, Arch Chancelor Cheney enlisted a group of scientists to bless off opening the flood gates, scientists, might I add, that owed their jobs to Cheney. The result was the death of thousands of fish and a severe blow to Oregon’s fishing industry.

Which brings us back to this whole FISA thing. FISA has a record of approving surveillance, a very good record with only one case partially denied out of over four thousand. Further, the court is classified, so bringing cases to it don’t necessarily provide an appreciable risk to sensitive information. Further, the usage of the FISA courts would keep civil liberties loving citizens happy and content, and would further bolster the veracity and integrity of the intelligence in any court and in the court of public opinion.

So why is it so vital we bypass them again?

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