In a letter to the editor in today’s St. Louis Post-dispatch, our esteemed Senator Kit Bond once again shows himself to be an unapologetic water-carrier for the Bush administration. He resorts to the worst–if somewhat stale–excesses of fear-mongering rhetoric in order to persuade the poor, impressionable citizens of Missouri that the sky will surely fall if we don’t force our representatives to give almost unlimited spying capacity to Emperor Bush (although he sticks to the fiction that only known Evil Terrorists will ever be targeted).
He is equally concerned that we grant immunity to the poor, maligned telecoms who just wanted to protect U.S. citizens by helping our government break the law–and maybe make a buck in the process, since, by all accounts, the eavesdropping deals were quite lucrative. Predictably, he baits his argument with the tired old evocations of 9/11 and the changes it surely wrought in the reality of the universe:
Anyone who saw the smoke from the Pentagon or Twin Towers knows that we entered a new world on Sept. 11, 2001. The Post-Dispatch’s claim in the editorial “Burden of proof” (Feb. 17) that talking about the consequences of an obsolete terrorist surveillance law is “fear-mongering” denies that important reality
No fear-mongering there for sure.
In addition to this blatantly hysterical rhetoric, Senator Bond also resorts to the tried-and-true Republican strategy of falsification:
The bill does not expand the government’s power to listen in on or read Americans’ phone conversations or e-mails. In fact, this does more to protect Americans’ civil liberties than the old law and allows our intelligence operators to listen in on foreign terrorists plotting attacks.
The facts though, as Senator Russ Fengold has noted, are just the opposite. The Intelligence Committee Legislation that Senator Bonds wishes to promote permits:
… the government to come up with its own procedures for determining who is a target of surveillance. It doesn’t need advance approval from the FISA Court to ensure that the government’s targets are actually foreigners, and not Americans here in the United States. And, if the Court subsequently determines that the government’s procedures are not even reasonably designed to wiretap foreigners, rather than Americans, there are no meaningful consequences. All that illegally obtained information on Americans can be retained and used. [my italics]
Second, even if the government is targeting foreigners outside the U.S., those foreigners need not be terrorists. They need not be suspected of any wrongdoing. They need not even be a member or agent of some foreign power. In fact, the government can just collect international communications indiscriminately, so long as there is a general foreign intelligence purpose, a meaningless qualification that the DNI has testified permits the collection of all communications between the United States and overseas.
The real gist of Bond’s dishonesty, though, lies in his assertions about telecom immunity:
This protection is needed to ensure companies’ continued cooperation in acquiring communications of foreign terrorists planning to strike at us here at home
In fact, under provisions of the Protect America Act that were left intact in the House legislation, the telecoms not only have prospective immunity for aiding the government, but were required do so when presented with a properly acquired warrant. Hence, there was no need at all, at least before the Republicans refused to extend the Protect America Act, for immunity for past illegal activities to insure cooperation.
And indeed, Glenn Greenwald recently observed (2/23/2008), that in spite of the White House claims that Senator Bond dutifully trumpets, that telecoms are balking, the opposite seems to be true:
The claim … that telecoms aren’t cooperating now turns out to be completely untrue since, as The Washington Post reports, “administration officials told lawmakers that the final holdout among the companies had relented and agreed to fully participate in the surveillance program.”
If Telecoms should refuse to cooperate with the Government spying requests in the future, however, the fault can hardly lie with the Democrats in congress who sought to extend the Protect America Act while the debate on amending it continued, but rather with the Republicans in Congress and the White House who preferred to go to the mat to protect the financial interests of the telecoms rather than protect the American people by allowing the legislation to be extended.
My real concern, though, in writing this blog post is to ask how do we, that is those of us who don’t want, in the words of some commentator whose name I can’t remember, to see the Flush the 4th Amendment down the Toilet Act passed, respond to counter this rhetorical offensive by the offensive Senator Bond? Can we flood the Post-Dispatch and other Missouri newspapers with letters to the editor decrying Senator Bond’s perfidy? Describe how important we think our 4th amendment protections are, and how sad we find this effort to use fear to increase executive power at our expense? Perhaps we can phone Senator Bond next week and tell him what we think and how we are going to proselytize against quislings who betray our principles? We can certainly work hard to find a serious challenger for his Senate seat.