May 17th, 2006


It's started.


Update on our domestic surveillance series: the threatened abuses are no longer prospective. They're here.

Two reporters from ABC News have been informed by a sympathetic insider that their telephone records have been obtained, without a warrant, in order to figure out who their sources were on a story.* The FBI has apparently confirmed this, asserting that it relied on a provision of the PATRIOT Act to obtain the records.

(1) So much for the constant refrain that "The PATRIOT Act is only used to go after terrorists." Presumably no one is suggesting that ABC reporters are working with Osama and the boys; the Act is now being used to go after whistleblowers, in this case those who revealed that the U.S. maintains secret prisons in Eastern Europe.** In time, it will doubtless be used to go after anybody else they feel like...which is why groups like the ACLU work so hard to try to stop gross infringements of the Bill of Rights: once established in one area, such infringements always bleed into others.

(2) Understand that reporters' phone records have been given special protections by the courts; as one court put it, when you get a reporter's phone records, you get not one, but many, of his or her sources. I am not sure any court in America would have allowed a subpoena for those records to stand.

No court, or subpoena, was needed. Under the PATRIOT Act, a letter from the FBI is enough, period (and who knows it would even take that, once NSA has every phone record in the country, right?).

(3) The belated denials we're hearing from the telcoms are very weird. One focuses on not allowing "wiretapping" without a court order (not the issue here), and adds that it doesn't give customer records to "law enforcement" without a warrant (NSA is not, of course, a law enforcement agency). For all I know, Hiz Shrubniz has authorized whatever deception is necessary to protect the details of the operation. Which gets us to,

(4) Aware that his nominee to head CIA might now be in a spot of confirmation trouble in the Senate, apparently the prexy is -- several years late -- authorizing a last-minute briefing of the Senate (and House?) Intel Committee(s) on...well, on just what isn't precisely clear; news sources say "the domestic intelligence program," but of course we know they almost never brief on anything you haven't already heard about in the press.*** I assume they're going to do some briefing on both warrantless wiretapping, and data collection. I hope the members pore carefully over what, exactly, they're told: as I've noted here, these guys play with language in quite breathtaking ways. In any case, it's clear that they can't be trusted to be forthcoming on any of these matters.

I keep thinking I'm about done with political posts; maybe this time I just about am. Back to praying for my country.

93 93/93 -- AJ

* Considering all the noisy media handwringing when Judy Miller was forced, after due process in a court of law, to name her sources in the Libby case, are you curious why this far more alarming story isn't getting the same play? It makes ya think.

** Or, rather, used to; apparently the Eastern European secret prisons were closed days before Secretary Rice's European visit, so she could announce that the U.S. "has" no such prisons (leaving out the words "any more"). The prisoners themselves have reportedly been moved to "a location in North Africa." I won't comment further on this, but what a coincidence.

*** Don't be fooled by that "we briefed appropriate [don't you love that word?] members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats." To tell four people, specifically excluding their staffs, and under penalty of an espionage prosecution if they discuss it with anyone at all, is emphatically not to provide appropriate -- indeed any -- oversight. Besides, one gets the persistent feeling that at least some details of the current programs were not briefed even to those four.

There are laws covering oversight. They broke them, like they break every law they don't like...upwards of 750 such laws by the President's own admission. Good morning, and good luck.