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Monday, May 14th 2007

No More Unhampered Wiretapping, Can This Possibly Get Out Of The Senate?

The Schiff Amendment to H 2082, the annual Intelligence Authorization Act, passed. And then the entire bill passed. Right down party lines. Which leaves a slim margin for the bill to get out of the Senate with anything comparable to the Schiff Amendment.

In anycase, the Schiff Amendment reaffirms the FISA as the sole authority under which domestic wiretapping by the federal government can be undertaken. I couldn’t be happier. Here’s what the ACLU had to say,

“Congress has signaled that it will not allow the president to continue the National Security Agency’s illegal eavesdropping,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “Passage of the Schiff/Flake amendment is Congress drawing a line in the sand. This amendment reaffirms that FISA is the law and it needs to be followed.”

The Bill ends plans by the Bush Administration that would give the NSA the freedom to pry into the lives of ordinary Americans.

I Can Put This Thing Away Now Maybe…

In case you’ve forgotten, before the NSA wiretapping scandal broke searches of foreigners for national security purposes were governed by FISA which created the special/slightly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Despite the fact the court hardly ever turns down or modifies federal law enforcements’ requests to perform electronic surveillance on or undertake a physical search of individuals and their property, the Bush administration felt it necessary to just cut them out of the loop after 9/11. Instead they let the NSA wiretap whoever the hell their computer models/data mining told them might be engaged in terrorism.

Because of FISC’s general historical agreement with the vast majority of executive requests to engage in wiretapping, this doesn’t seem like a huge burden on the NSA or the Bush administration. Just go back to the decade old status quo (at the least). And the Schiff Amendment, in direct contrast to the version of the 2008 Intelligence Authorization Act the Bush administration was backing, will hopefully do that.

There are other debates over the bill. Over at The Daily Eclectic, they jumped on the bill for another reason: it calls for an intelligence assessment of global climate change.

The U.S. intelligence community is currently busy with Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Russia, China and other significant and immediate threats around the world. Their ability to do their job has been under attack due to concerns about privacy (NSA taps on foreign conversations), human rights (detention and interrogation methods) and media disregard for official secrets (leaks about various classified programs). The U.S. government is already spending an estimated $6.5 billion on climate change research and assessment by an assortment of agencies including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, agencies with staffing and institutional connections relevant to weather and climate.

It is stupid to burden the intelligence agencies with climate change assessment, even if you believe climate change is an urgent issue. The only reason to do so is political posturing, the only apparent motivation for the Democrats voting for the measure.

I hope H.R. 2082 is killed in the Senate or vetoed.

To say I think the assessment is stupid is an understatement. So, in that way maybe I and The Daily Eclectic see I to eye. However, I roll my eyes at the assessment merely because I think the consequences of Global Warming have been overdramatized to date, and see this as an example of politician’s buying into the “State of Fear” being built up around Global Warming.

The Daily Eclectic’s opposition to the assessment, and the bill as a whole, shows a lack of understanding of the situation.

First, this bill represents the appropriations for the 2008 fiscal year for the entire intelligence community. Its failure (in the Senate or by veto) would require emergency legislation to keep, say, the CIA funded and literally working from day to day. That is a major pain in the ass. So calling for the bill’s veto over some half brained, Global Warming assessment is an overreaction.

Second, I don’t know what sort of resources they imagine the DNI is going to throw at this global warming assessment such that the capabilities of the entire U.S. intelligence operation finally reach a breaking point. I imagine two analysts with unlaminated badges and college degrees which aren’t even dry. Okay, that’s a joke. But to imagine the intelligence community is a) so understaffed and b) working at so near maximum efficiency that yet another assessment will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back is ridiculous.

Third, the assertion that the bill’s party line vote was prompted largely by Republican opposition the call for an intelligence assessment on the effects of Global Warming misses the Schiff amendment and much more important points of contention in the bill. I cannot imagine any Republican voted against H 2082 based on the call for a Global warming assessment (prove me wrong, prove me wrong).

Finally, the Director of National Intelligence supports doing this assessment!

Okay, that little rant aside, I think the intelligence authorization coming out of the Senate will be hard pressed to have something akin to the Schiff amendment in it.

There is hope though. Take Senate hearings on Bush’s version of the bill earlier this month,

For two hours, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, National Security Agency Director Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein and their lawyers tried to parry increasingly dubious and hostile questions. They deferred many answers to a committee session closed to the public.

With little apparent success, they portrayed the administration bill as merely an adjustment to technological changes wrought by cell phones, e-mail and the Internet since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was enacted in the 1970s. Under current rules, McConnell said, “We’re actually missing a significant portion of what we should be getting.”

This statement from Senator Feinstein seems lack support for something along the lines of the Schiff Amendment,

“There is nothing in this bill that confines the president to work within” the surveillance act in the future, said Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif. The same issue was raised by Sens. Ron Wyden (news, bio, voting record), D-Ore., Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and Bill Nelson (news, bio, voting record), D-Fla.

Let us hope so.

[OpenCongress: H.R 2082]