Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Divine Right of Presidents.

Wait. What?

Congress is demanding to know if phone companies turned over records of their customer's calls to NSA and other intelligence organizations.

The White House says no, the phone companies can't provide that information to Congress because it's a State Secret. It's National Security (cue patriotic Lee Greenwood song and flag waving. Everybody hold up their lighter, it's the flame of Liberty! Oh, I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free, la la la...). We, the citizens of the United States, can not, must not, know what information is being collected on us, because that will compromise our own safety. We, like children, cannot be trusted with our own safety. Only The Decider, with His Benevolent God-like Wisdom(tm), is intelligent enough and wise enough to manage the safety of The Nation. This is for our own good.

Among the questions, posed by the committee on Oct. 2, were what information the carriers gave the administration without a court warrant, whether they were paid for any of it and whether the administration asked them to install equipment to intercept e-mails.

Just so I'm clear on this. No warrant, no just cause, no reasonable suspicion is required for the Executive Branch to data mine my private information and monitor my private communications in direct violation of the 4th Amendment, and there will be no Congressional oversight of this process in direct violation of the Constitution itself? And furthermore, without any Constitutional checks and balances, we are to trust the benevolent judgment of one man, and one man only. A man who has demonstrated his selfless dedication to service. A man who has proven to be a brilliant military commander. A nation builder. A beloved liberator. A crackerjack economist. An educator. An environmentalist. Soldier. Statesman. Friend to the working girl, so to speak. That guy. We should blindly trust that guy's judgment.

And who do we have to blame (besides ourselves) for the fact that our freedoms and rights are brushed aside, for the greater good of "National Security" of course, at the whim of one man?

" Congress approved a temporary measure in July allowing spy agencies to continue intercepting, without a court warrant, phone calls and e-mails of foreign-based terrorists that are routed through the U.S."

That's right. Congress gave the President permission to continue this nonsense. Congress abrogated their Constitutional duty of checks and balances on the abuse of Executive power. Supposedly the intercepts are just phone calling records and emails from "foreign based terrorists." Speaking as a former Intelligence Officer, there are several problems here: first, the White House decides who is a terrorist and who is not, so in actuality Congress' approval of the temporary measure gave the President unlimited authority to decide who will be monitored. Now, since The Great Decider is too busy deciding big important things, he doesn't actually have time to pour over lists and records of un-American Americans, so in actuality it is the recently unfettered intelligence agencies themselves who now determine who and what to monitor. No potential for abuse there. Two, since it is impossible to determine in advance which phone calls and emails are from officially certified, grade-A terrorists - you have to monitor everything and everybody. Everybody, every single person, within our boarders becomes a suspect. Every phone call, every email, is a potential hostile communication. And it doesn't take long for this mindset to become policy and paradigm, i.e. you are a suspect, always. Don't believe me? Try to strike up a friendly conversation with a TSA agent. This is exactly the mindset the Executive Branch has regarding it's citizens. And finally, it's not enough to look solely at phone calling connections, you actually have to listen in to determine content - otherwise if the local Fraternal Order of Police representative, for example, uses his home phone to call a suspected terrorist's phone number, which happens to be in his calling area, soliciting funds - well, then that Cop ends up on the Sooper Sekret Doubleplusungood List. And now we've got to pull his calling records, and the records of everybody he talked to, and then their records and etc. Like some insane looping computer program playing the Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon, eventually all of us are suspects. Unless you listen in, which you have to do in order to filter out false contacts. You have to, otherwise the nodal mapping you're doing is useless. Wire tapping without Warrants violates so many Federal and State laws and regulations that it is impossible to list them all. In essence, Congress' action (or lack of action actually) gave the Executive Branch cart blanc to ignore the law. The director of National Intelligence claims the National Security Act of 1947 gives the President the authority to do this. Hmmm, no, sorry that's just flat out wrong. First, the 1947 Act established a number of Security and Intelligence organizations and gave the Executive some limited powers, subject to Congressional oversight, in specific crisis situations. Title V of The National Security Act clearly spells out the requirement for Congressional oversight. Second, the Act was modified by Congress in 1952 and later by acts in the 1960's, 70's and 80's in response to abuses by intelligence agencies. Anybody remember Watergate? This is specifically why the FISA court was established, along with very specific directives which put very, very specific limitations on domestic intelligence activities.

Now it gets better, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell "acknowledged the existence of the program in August and said telecommunications companies should be given immunity from lawsuits claiming privacy violations" (emphasis mine). Now, I guarantee you that the DNI's call for immunity is not out of any concern for the telecoms, it is for one reason and one reason only - to keep this entire issue out of the courts. Because if there ever was an issue that is Constitutional in nature, and therefore bound to end up on the Supreme Court docket, it's this one. And while Congress may have been derelict in it's Constitutional duty, it is highly unlikely that the Supreme Court will be.

And that is what the White House fears more than anything else.


  1. I could've sworn we voted in a Democratic Congress so that they would put a stop to all this, not aid and abet him to continue. *head, desk*

  2. As you may have gathered from things I've said recently, I'm not particularly impressed with this Democratic Congress. As my mom used to say: "They're all wind, shit, and excitement." So far they haven't managed to stand up to GWB, not once. All I can say, he must be a lot more intimidating in the Oval Office than he is on TV. I've actually been in The Great Decider's presence, and frankly I thought he was a little wimpy shit. Apparently, that's all it takes to cow Congress though.

  3. I've actually been in The Great Decider's presence, and frankly I thought he was a little wimpy shit.

    I think I could take him. But in a hypothetical sense only. Not in a the-Secret-Service-is-knocking-on-my-door-to-take-me-away-to-Gitmo-because-we-have-no-sense-of-humor-about-such-matters kind of way.

    My personal preference is that he quietly finish his term without opening up another front and then disappear into the obscurity he so richly deserves. Along with the current Democratic Congress.

    I wonder if the above comment will be data-mined, thus earning me a place on the NSA "Hit Parade." Hmph.

  4. I think I could take him.

    Yeah, but remember he doesn't fight fair - or alone. If you ever end up in fisticuffs with him, keep an eye out for a vice presidential 'accidental discharge' or maybe the Secretary of State doing that thing playground bully sycophants do, you know, where they try to trip you so the bully can knock you on your ass.

    But I think if you keep your wits about you, you could probably take all three.

    Maybe that's what's wrong with Congress, they have no wits.

  5. Or Congress inadvertantantly added a "T," and now can't figure out how to get rid of it.

  6. Jim, I've been thinking about this all wekk and I'm glad to see I don't have to write it out on my blog. Why can't most people extrapolate from what these people are saying just what is going on here. "We can't wait to get warrants because of the emergency nature of any terrorist threat we have to be able to intercept their calls," means "We're listening to everything, we cant' get a warrant on everybody, so don't make us get warrants or you'll hamper the system."

    Don't we know who the terrorists are? Can't we do good police work and expand the network. Want to know who Kalid is calling, well, get a damn warrant and you can find out. Get a warrant now before he calls someone and say, "Do it." (or actually, "It's sunny in Boston" which IIRC was the operational go word for 9-11).

  7. And I forgot to mention that we no longer even have to do the casual work around of taking our fellow Brit spy (who works two doors down at Ft. Meade) to lunch in the cafeteria and casually drop what we overheard on our London intercepts (legally, because we aren't subjects of her majesty) and he can drop what he heard on his American intercepts (that he heard legally because he's a foreign national). No longer to we need to keep that pretense up, and the damn Brit can buy his own damn lunch. (can you tell I'm getting all worked up again?).

  8. Steve, due to my background, and some of the restrictions I'm still under, I can't discuss everything I know about this process, and wouldn't even if I could. However, with that said, it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to see the implications of what the President and the Intelligence agencies are saying, as you said. Intel work is not like the movies, and there's nothing super natural about it. Nowadays, it's more of a matter of too much information vice too little. Analysts already have more data than they can sort through, yet in the politician's mind what we need is more information. More, more, more. However, Everything we needed to know was available prior to 911, everything. But it was lost in the weeds. What information that was flagged was disregarded by senior Intel Officers. I've asked senior officers, how does warrantless monitoring fix the problems identified following 911? How does more data, fix the rigid mindset of Senior intel officers? One of my major problems with the current push for more data, is that it doesn't make the situation better, it makes it worse. In fact, while I was on active duty I wrote a position paper about this exact thing, i.e. increased monitoring doesn't make us safer, it makes us more blind. In fact, it is of demonstratable advantage to the terrorist, because the increased volume of data, and the limited number of analysts, gives the terrorist more cover, more data to hide in. But, the White House, Congress, and Senior Intel types are convinced that the answer is more, more, more data - even though history has repeatedly shown this is counter productive.

    As to the Constitutional aspect of warrantless wiretapping and monitoring. Of course, getting a warrant is more difficult and time consuming. Law enforcement is always more difficult in a free society. Always. That's why the first step of tyrants is always to remove those freedoms, while claiming that their actions are to ensure those freedoms. Law enforcement is always easier in a dictatorship. Our founders knew this, which is why they put such rigid restrictions on such power.

    Obtaining warrants requires good, solid police work. It requires that you have your ducks in a row and have done the proper groundwork. But it can be done, and done right gives you everything you need to do the job without comprising the constitutional rights of your fellow citizens. I worked under such conditions myself. Not one of my team ever complained about these restrictions, because each and everyone of us had sworn to support and defend the Constitution. We understand, and wanted, those restrictions.

    Warrantless wiretapping is the resort of lazy and stupid thugs. It is no different than kicking in doors and searching the homes of people at random, looking for evidence of wrongdoing. No different. True, you are going to find crimes using this method, but the price of this form of law enforcement is liberty.

    Bush claims that this is only in response to overseas phone calls to and from known terrorists. Hmmm. Members of his staff have talked to the Dali Llama's people. China considers the Dali Llama an international terrorist. By the President's logic, we should now open investigations into his own staff's communications, and they should be put on the no-fly list for consorting with suspected terrorists. As should GWB himself. Just saying.

  9. some good writing here, thanks. I just gained tremendous respect for Senator Dodd who put a hold on the bill and is now vowing to filibuster since Reid is talking about forcing it to the floor despite the hold. What an ass Reid is turning out to be.

    And the supreme court scares the dickens out of me - I think they would rather change the constitution than do anything that may be seen as not what Bush wants.

    I'm totally skeptical about this country now.

    cheers, jd

  10. Jim, thanks, nice to see somebody from Nome at Stonekettle Station.

    I agree with Dodd, I just wish he was a bit more forceful and eloquent. On CSPAN he comes across as a doddering old man - I don't think he is, but he gives that impression. But I sure as hell respect him taking a stand, especially on both SCHIP and this idiot war.

    I think the SCOTUS scares the crap out of the White House, no matter who appoints the Judges, they rarely follow White House orders - at least no enough to rely on for this President.

    So, how's Nome this time of year?

  11. I just stumbled on your blog from my google alerts which I have for the words "nome alaska". It emails me a list of blogs with those words so I get some interesting things.

    I've been in Nome most of my adult life so obviously enjoy it quite well despite its shortcomings. I suppose not only the readily accessible wilderness but the good folks (and the small number of them) that live here.Cost of living and getting down to polite society is toughest part. Cost of living is mitigated by not having to drive a car everyday or very far like some commuters elsewhere.

    Nome is beginning to freeze up though it will take the sea a bit to give up its heat. Keeps us temperate (comparatively) until it freezes. All quiet on the western front.

  12. Jim,

    Excellent. Once the kid is out of school, we'll probably move further north ourselves, getting too dammed crowded around here. Haven't been up north in a while, one of these days though I'm going to make the Iditarod finish, I swear. I never miss the Ceremonial Start and the restart is right down the road from my house.

    Hope you like the blog, by all means, stick around.


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