Thursday, August 23, 2007

What McConnell Didn't Say about the FISA Debate

Pictured above: some of the story McConnell left out.

The El Paso times has published an interview with National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell about FISA and the Terrorist Surveillance Program. The McConnell interview paints a picture of an administration that has attempted to work within the system: it has proposed new legislation and submitted processes to FISA for approval; perhaps a few corners were cut, but that was only to protect us from the dire threat of the terrorists. This picture is entirely false of course. What is remarkable in the interview is not so much what was said as what was left out:

  1. The Terrorist Surveillance Program was submitted to the FISA Court only recently. The program existed for years without any Court approval or oversight.
  2. Likewise changes to FISA were proposed only recently while existing FISA laws were ignored. The administration previously argued that FISA did not need any updates at all.
  3. The TSP that was submitted to the FISA Court was a stripped-down version that had been altered due to the threat of mass resignation from top administration officials. The previous version was even more illegal.
  4. TSP was submitted to the FISA court and FISA changes were proposed only because investigative reporting exposed the illegal program and a Democratic Congress was elected in 2006.
  5. TSP is just one of many programs. We know very little about the others, including whether or not they are also illegal.

Rather than an administration trying to abide by the rules, the accurate portrait is of an administration petulantly breaking the law for years until exposed. Then, only when caught with hand firmly in cookie jar, did the administration grudgingly begin following the proper process.

The notion that the administration had to spring into immediate action and didn't have time to follow the law is blatantly false. The TSP was in place for years without proposed changes to FISA or submission to the FISA Court. Equally empty is the defense put forth by Bush Administration defenders that the FISA laws need fixing and that following them would have exposed us to danger. Again the administration had years to propose fixes to FISA and did not, actively arguing that FISA did not need updating. (Whether or not FISA needs "fixing" or not and whether administration proposals actually "fix" it is another subject)

Bush defenders want to convey the fiction that our government was for years in a mad 24 Jack Bauer-style scramble, rushing at breakneck speed to protect Americans while slamming through those pesky laws that serve only as hurdles. The reality is that the administration lawbreaking was casual and would have continued indefinitely if not for the work of journalists and whistle-blowers.

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