Umbrella Warrants? Is That Supposed To Be an Improvement?

The WaPo’s Ellen Nakashima reported yesterday that after long and careful thought, Congressional Democrats have decided to respond to the criticism of their disemboweling of the FISA system, as demanded by Cheney BFF Mike McConnell, by replacing it with an annual “umbrella warrant” – a misnomer since it would basically allow the govt to eavesdrop without bothering to get a warrant.

House Democrats plan to introduce a bill this week that would let a secret court issue one-year “umbrella” warrants to allow the government to intercept e-mails and phone calls of foreign targets and would not require that surveillance of each person be approved individually.


“Some conservatives want no judicial oversight, and some liberals oppose any notion of a blanket order,” said James X. Dempsey, Center for Democracy and Technology policy director. “So the challenge of the Democratic leadership is to strike a balance, one that gives the National Security Agency the flexibility to select its targets overseas but that keeps the court involved to protect the private communications of innocent Americans.”

Uh-huh. And how would it do that? Why, by having the Justice Department checking up to make sure it isn’t taken advantage of. Now, doesn’t that make you feel better?

The bill would require the Justice Department inspector general to audit the use of the umbrella warrant and issue quarterly reports to a special FISA court and to Congress, according to congressional aides involved in drafting the legislation. It would clarify that no court order is required for intercepting communications between people overseas that are routed through the United States. It would specify that the collections of e-mails and phone calls could come only from communications service providers — as opposed to hospitals, libraries or advocacy groups. And it would require a court order when the government is seeking communications of a person inside the United States, but only if that person is the target.

(emphasis added)

In other words, Cheney gets everything he wanted McConnell to get from the Democrats, and the Democrats get to pretend they’ve protected civil liberties by supplying the illusion of judicial oversight without the reality of actual court involvement. Except once a year when they rubber-stamp the next year’s “umbrella”. And all of it to be “overseen” by a DOJ in disarray and politicized beyond hope of redemption. (No, putting it in the IG’s office doesn’t make it OK.)

It’s another goddamn Democratic scam. They’re “protecting” us by supposedly preventing wiretapping on entities like “hospitals, libraries or advocacy groups.” Right. How? By “restricting” the warrants to “communications service providers”, in other words, the telecommunications companies that are furnishing phone and internet hook-ups to the hospitals, libraries and advocacy groups. This is a bit like promising to protect you from a murderer but not from somebody he hires to do it for him.

The only Good News in this disaster is that the Democrats’ proposed bill doesn’t include immunization from prosecution for the telecommunications corporations which DNI McConnell demanded on behalf of his form’s clients – telecommunications corporations. But not to worry. The goddamn Democrats are working on it.

In the Senate, Democrats are working with Republican colleagues on a bill to be introduced this month that probably will contain some form of relief for telecom companies — an issue that was sidestepped in August to help win passage of the Protect America Act.

The “Protect America Act”, indeed. It would seem that our conservative, authoritarian Democratic leadership has learned from the conservative, authoritarian Republican leadership that came before them how to use the same Orwellian titles the Bushies are so famous for.

2 Responses to “Umbrella Warrants? Is That Supposed To Be an Improvement?”

  1. matttbastard says:

    Pure fucking Kabuki as usual. The circular path is still being followed. So, tell me again how Nov ’06 changed anything, other than Republicans suddenly rediscovering their love affair with the filibuster?

    “Meet the new boss,” indeed.

  2. matttbastard says:

    From the NY Times:

    Although willing to oppose the White House on the Iraq war, [Democrats in Congress] remain nervous that they will be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence.


    Caroline Frederickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she was troubled by the Democrats’ acceptance of broad, blanket warrants for the security agency rather than the individualized warrants traditionally required by the intelligence court.

    “The Democratic leadership, philosophically, is with us,” Ms. Frederickson said. “But we need to help them realize the political case, which is that Democrats will not be in danger if they don’t reauthorize this Protect America Act. They’re nervous.

    There’s a ‘keep the majority’ mentality, which is understandable,” she said, “But we think they’re putting themselves in more danger by not standing on principle.

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