Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Surveilling more than terrorists

As details emerge about the new surveillance law passed by Congress and signed by Bush last week, it's becoming more apparent that it's much more extensive surveillance than advertised, and the whatever we might say about the competence of the Bush administration, it snookered the Democrats almost completely.

Probably the best MSM post-mortem was in the WashPost Sunday. It makes it clear that Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, despite a Novak column suggesting he emerged bruised from the process, is a canny political infighter.

The basic issue that prompted the administration full-court press was a ruling by the secret FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978) court that a warrant was required even for foreign-to-foreign communications that went through fiberoptic hubs in the United States. That's how the court interpreted the law -- correctly in my view -- and it created a backup. "We needed thousands of warrants but the most we could do was hundreds," one official said.

The impression most of the MSM created while the bill was under debate that the administration wanted essentially a fix for that problem -- authorization to do unwarranted surveillance on foreign-to-foreign terrorist-related communications that happened to pass through a U.S. communications hub. But it wanted and got a lot more. McConnell apparently never gave in on the demand for surveillance "not only of terrorist suspects outside the country, but of all foreign intelligence targets" on any topic of interest to foreign policy. And the new law allows surveillance "directed" at people believed to be outside the country -- which could include U.S. businessmen and tourists on trips -- and in some circumstances "concerning" such people, which is hardly a limitation at all. We' could be talking about billions of intercepts, with little or no judicial oversight -- Alberto Gonzales as the watchdog(!) for legality and constitutionality.

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