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Context of 'August 2, 2007: Senator Lott: Pass Protect America Act and Get Out of Washington Before You Are Killed'

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Following the revelations of the Church Committee’s investigation into the excesses of the CIA (see April, 1976), and the equally revealing New York Times article documenting the CIA’s history of domestic surveillance against US citizens for political purposes (see December 21, 1974), Congress passes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In essence, FISA prohibits physical and electronic surveillance against US citizens except in certain circumstances affecting national security, under certain guidelines and restrictions, with court warrants issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), operating within the Department of Justice as well as with criminal warrants. FISA restricts any surveillance of US citizens (including US corporations and permanent foreign residents) to those suspected of having contact with “foreign powers” and terrorist organizations. FISA gives a certain amount of leeway for such surveillance operations, requiring that the administration submit its evidence for warrantless surveillance to FISC within 24 hours of its onset and keeping the procedures and decisions of FISC secret from the public. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 9/27/2001; Legal Information Institute, 11/30/2004] On September 14, 2001, Congress will pass a revision of FISA that extends the time period for warrantless surveillance to 72 hours. The revision, part of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2002, will also lower the standard for the issuance of wiretap warrants and make legal “John Doe,” or generic, warrants that can be used without naming a particular target. FISA revisions will also expand the bounds of the technologies available to the government for electronic and physical surveillance, and broaden the definitions of who can legally be monitored. [US Senate, 9/14/2001; Senator Jane Harman, 2/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, New York Times, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, US Department of Justice, Church Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

NSA Director Michael Hayden briefs the House Intelligence Committee on the NSA’s efforts to combat terrorism. Though the NSA is already working on a domestic wiretapping program to spy, without warrants, on US citizens (see Early 2002), Hayden does not mention the program to the committee members, but merely discusses the ramifications of President Reagan’s Executive Order 12333 (see December 4, 1981 and September 13, 2001) on NSA functions. He does not mention that Reagan’s executive order forbids warrantless surveillance of US citizens “unless the Attorney General has determined in each case that there is probable cause to believe that the technique is directed against a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.” On October 11, committee member Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will write to Hayden expressing her concerns about the warrantless nature of the NSA wiretaps (see October 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/4/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, House Intelligence Committee, Michael Hayden, Nancy Pelosi, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Nancy Pelosi.Nancy Pelosi. [Source: US Congress]House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) writes to NSA Director Michael Hayden questioning the nature and extent of the apparently illegal warrantless wiretapping of US citizens by the agency. Pelosi and other members of the House Intelligence Committee were briefed on October 1, 2001, by Hayden, whose agency began conducting surveillance against US citizens after the 9/11 attacks (see After September 11, 2001). Pelosi will release the letter on January 6, 2006, three weeks after the New York Times revealed that the NSA had been conducting electronic surveillance of US citizens without warrants since at least 2002 (see December 15, 2005.) Pelosi’s office will also release Hayden’s response, but almost the entire letter from Hayden is redacted.
Letter to Hayden - Pelosi writes in part, “[Y]ou indicated [in the briefing] that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and related statutes, orders, regulations, and guidelines.… For several reasons, including what I consider to be an overly broad interpretation of President Bush’s directive of October 5 on sharing with Congress ‘classified or sensitive law enforcement information’ it has not been possible to get answers to my questions. Without those answers, the concerns I have about what you said on the First can not be resolved, and I wanted to bring them to your attention directly. You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted ] being of foreign intelligence interest. As a result, you were forwarding the intercepts, and any information [redacted ] without first receiving a request for that identifying information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although I may be persuaded by the strength of your analysis [redacted ] I believe you have a much more difficult case to make [redacted ] Therefore, I am concerned whether, and to what extent, the National Security Agency has received specific presidential authorization for the operations you are conducting. Until I understand better the legal analysis regarding the sufficiency of the authority which underlies your decision on the appropriate way to proceed on this matter, I will continue to be concerned.” The only portion of Hayden’s October 18 reply regarding Pelosi’s concerns that has not been redacted reads, “In my briefing, I was attempting to emphasize that I used my authorities to adjust NSA’s collection and reporting.” In January 2006, an NSA official will say that Pelosi’s concerns were adequately addressed in Hayden’s reply, and in a private briefing shortly thereafter. [Washington Post, 1/4/2006; Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006]
Pelosi Unaware of Pre-9/11 Surveillance - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). Pelosi is apparently unaware of any of this.

Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, House Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Vice President Dick Cheney summons the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to the White House for a classified briefing on the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Cheney makes it clear to the lawmakers that he is merely informing them about the program, and not seeking their approval. [Washington Post, 12/18/2005] Officials later say that under any of the previous presidents, such a meeting of this import would involve the president. But the four lawmakers are hustled away from the Oval Office. Instead, “[w]e met in the vice president’s office,” Bob Graham (D-FL), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, later recalls. President Bush has already told Graham that “the vice president should be your point of contact in the White House.” Cheney, according to the president, “has the portfolio for intelligence activities.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007] The leaders are briefed by Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, and NSA Director Michael Hayden. The Congressional leaders will later mostly refuse to comment publicly about what they do and do not learn about the program, even after it is revealed to the public (see December 15, 2005). In 2003, when Senator John D. Rockefeller ascends to the Democratic leadership of the Senate committee, and is himself briefed on the program, he will write to Cheney expressing his concerns over it (see July 17, 2003). [New York Times, 12/15/2005]
'No Discussion about Expanding' NSA Wiretapping - In December 2005, after the program is revealed to the public, one of the Congressmen present at the briefings, Graham, the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will discuss his knowledge of the program. In contradiction to the characterizations of Bush and other White House officials, Graham will say that he recalls “no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of US citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States,” and knew nothing of Bush’s intention to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also known as the FISA court). “I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy,” Graham will recall, using new methodologies to intercept overseas calls that passed through US switches. He thought that NSA eavesdropping would continue to be limited to “calls that initiated outside the United States, had a destination outside the United States but that transferred through a US-based communications system.” Instead, Graham will say, it now seems that Bush decided to go “beyond foreign communications to using this as a pretext for listening to US citizens’ communications. There was no discussion of anything like that in the meeting with Cheney.” A senior intelligence official, who refuses to reveal his identity but says he is speaking with the permission of the White House, will accuse Graham of “misremembering the briefings,” which he will call “very, very comprehensive.” The official will refuse to discuss the briefings in any but the most general terms, but will say they were intended “to make sure the Hill knows this program in its entirety, in order to never, ever be faced with the circumstance that someone says, ‘I was briefed on this but I had no idea that—’ and you can fill in the rest.” Graham will characterize the official’s description as saying: “[W]e held a briefing to say that nothing is different.… Why would we have a meeting in the vice president’s office to talk about a change and then tell the members of Congress there is no change?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who was also present at the meeting as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, will say the briefing described “President Bush’s decision to provide authority to the National Security Agency to conduct unspecified activities.” She will note that she “expressed my strong concerns” but did not go into detail. [Washington Post, 12/18/2005]
Lawmakers Unaware of Pre-9/11 Surveillance - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). In the briefing, Cheney informs the lawmakers of none of this.

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi, John D. Rockefeller, House Intelligence Committee, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Michael Hayden, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senator John D. Rockefeller.Senator John D. Rockefeller. [Source: ViewImages.com]John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, learns of the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program against US citizens (see Early 2002) in a secret briefing for himself, the chairman of the committee, and the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Hours later, Rockefeller sends a handwritten letter to Vice President Cheney expressing his concerns about the potential illegality of the program, concerns he apparently expressed in the briefing as well. Rockefeller will not release the letter publicly until December 19, 2005, four days after the New York Times publishes an article revealing the program’s existence (see December 15, 2005). Disturbed both by the information he was given and the information that was obviously being withheld, Rockefeller writes in part: “Clearly the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues.… Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own [Cheney had prohibited Rockefeller and the three other lawmakers in the briefing from consulting with their staff experts], I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities. As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter’s TIA [Total Information Awareness (see March 2002)] project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance. Without more information and the ability to draw on any independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.” [Democratic Party, 12/19/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 115] Rockefeller also notes that he is not at liberty to do anything about his concerns, since he is legally bound to obey the secrecy rules the White House has invoked, but he wants his concerns noted. [Savage, 2007, pp. 116] It is unclear whether Rockefeller ever receives a reply. Rockefeller is apparently unaware of evidence showing that domestic surveillance may have begun well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).

Entity Tags: New York Times, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John D. Rockefeller, John Poindexter, Total Information Awareness, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Vice President Dick Cheney gives the Congressional leaders known as the “Gang of Eight”—the House speaker and House minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leaders, and the ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees—their first briefing on the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). The Democratic leaders at the meeting are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA), and Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Daschle (D-SD) later recalls the meeting as superficial. Cheney “talked like it was something routine,” Daschle will say. “We really had no idea what it was about.” Unbeknownst to many of the Congressional leaders, White House and Justice Department leaders are locked in a sharp dispute over whether or not the program is legal and should be continued; Cheney is preparing to send White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to persuade the gravely ill, heavily sedated Ashcroft to overrule acting Attorney General James Comey and reauthorize the program (see March 10-12, 2004). The briefing is designed to give the appearance of Congressional approval for the program. While most Republicans in the briefing give at least tacit approval of the program, some Democrats, as Daschle will recall, expressed “a lot of concerns” over the program’s apparent violation of fundamental Congressional rights. Pelosi later recalls that she “made clear my disagreement with what the White House was asking.” But administration officials such as Gonzales will later say (see July 24, 2007) that the eight Congressional leaders are in “consensus” in supporting the program, a characterization that is patently false (see July 25, 2007). Gonzales will also later testify that today’s briefing does not cover the NSA wiretapping program, later dubbed the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP), another apparent falsehood contradicted by Democratic senators such as Rockefeller and Russ Feingold, as well as testimony and notes on the hospital room visit made by FBI Director Robert Mueller and a memo from John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence. Many feel that Gonzales is using the moniker “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” not in use until December 2005, to play what reporter Michael Isikoff calls “verbal parsing” and “a semantic game”—since the NSA wiretapping program is not known by this name at the time of the Congressional briefing, Gonzales will imply that the briefing wasn’t about that program. [Newsweek, 8/6/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 88]
Cheney, Gonzales: Democrats on Board with Illegal Program - In Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, a 2008 book by Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman, Gonzales will claim there is a “consensus in the room” among Democrats and Republicans alike, and according to Gellman’s reporting on Gonzales, “four Democrats and four Republicans, duly informed that the Justice Department had ruled something unlawful, said the White House should do it anyway.” Cheney will confirm this allegation during a December 2008 appearance on Fox News. [Klein, 2009, pp. 88]
Domestic Surveillance Began before 9/11? - Cheney fails to inform the lawmakers that the wiretapping program may have begun well before the 9/11 attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Agency, Robert S. Mueller III, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Tom Daschle, US Department of Justice, Russell D. Feingold, Nancy Pelosi, John Negroponte, John D. Rockefeller, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Jane Harman, James B. Comey Jr., “Gang of Eight”, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004) is gladdened to see the New York Times’s reports on the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005 and December 24, 2005). Klein has known since 2002 that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been using AT&T facilities to illegally eavesdrop on American citizens’ telephone and Internet communications (see Late 2002, January 2003, October 2003, Fall 2003, Late 2003, Late 2003, and January 16, 2004). He has considered going public with his knowledge, but has so far refrained because, he will later explain, “[t]he atmosphere was still kind of scary.” He will later say of the Times report, “They seemed to be talking mainly about phone calls, but anyway, it was revealed that there was an illegal spying program going on, and I thought, ‘Ah, this would probably blow the whole thing,’ and I thought it would all come out, and I don’t need to do anything.” However, Klein is horrified to see the government’s response. He will say: “[W]hat came out was the government turned around and went on the offensive against anybody who would dare to criticize them.… They’re issuing threats: Anyone who has a security clearance and spills any beans here is in for prosecution. That was deliberately said by them several times on TV to intimidate anybody in, say, the NSA who knew the truth, intimidate them so they would not come forward. So that silenced anybody in the intelligence community” (see December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 21, 2005, December 30, 2005, and January 25-26, 2006). In his 2009 book Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It, Klein will write that the Justice Department’s December 2005 investigation into the leak of classified information that led to the Times reports (see December 30, 2005) “was obviously intended to silence Congress, the media, and any potential whistleblowers inside the NSA who might have been tempted to come forward. The administration was manipulating the secrecy oath which people had taken to get security clearances, turning it into a weapon to silence anyone who had knowledge of wrongdoing.” Klein decides that he must come forward. He never received a security clearance, so he cannot be threatened with legal action over violating such clearance. He will explain: “All I had and still have are some company documents and some knowledge of some illicit NSA installation at AT&T’s network. And if anybody—say, Congress—was willing to follow the trail, I can give them all the names they want, and they can go up the hierarchy of AT&T all the way up to Dave Dorman, who was the president back then, and they can go even higher, and they can find out who is responsible for this, and they can ask them under oath and subpoena what the heck is going on here, if they had the will to do it.” Klein later admits to some hesitation and trepidation at undertaking such an effort, and will cite the “McCarthyite” atmosphere he says the government has created in which “dissidents become the target of a lynch mob searching for ‘terrorists.’” But, he will write, he believes the Times stories are “a political indication of a shift at the top of government, a split of some kind which could provide an opening.… Maybe they would publish my material, I thought, and that would provide some protection.” By December 31, Klein writes a preface to his memo from almost two years before (see January 16, 2004 and December 31, 2005). [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 52-53]

Entity Tags: New York Times, AT&T, Bush administration (43), National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), working with a civil liberties group and a reporter to expose the collusion of AT&T and the National Security Agency in pushing the government’s illegal surveillance program (see Early January 2006 and January 23, 2006 and After), contacts the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) at the advice of Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Kevin Bankston. Klein talks to Feinstein’s chief attorney in Washington, DC, Steven Cash. Klein will later write: “I instinctively recoiled at the thought of trying to approach her as my memory of her record told me she was no friend of civil liberties, though she plays one on TV. My instinct was not wrong.” After an initial discussion with Cash, Klein emails him his packet of documentation (see December 31, 2005). On the afternoon of February 3, Cash calls Klein and says he is very interested in his story, though Feinstein’s staff rates the probability of the NSA performing illegal acts at somewhere around “50-50,” according to Klein. Cash promises to get back in touch with Klein on February 6, but fails to do so. Neither Klein nor his attorneys (see Early January 2006) are able to talk to anyone on Feinstein’s staff from here on. Klein later writes: “The silent message was unmistakable: the senator did not want to sully her political skirts by having contact with a whistleblower. And this was a foretaste of her behavior and voting for the next two and a half years. At every turn, she was there pushing for immunity for the telecom companies in the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees; peddling her toothless restatement of the ‘exclusive means’ clause of FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—see 1978] as a substitute for any confrontation with the president over ongoing illegal NSA spying; ushering former NSA Director Michael Hayden through his nomination for CIA director; and backing Michael Mukasey as a clone replacement for the resigning Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales. Moreover, this ultimately turned out to be the attitude of virtually the entire Democratic Party leadership, not to mention the Republicans.” Klein will explain that FISA’s “exclusive means” clause states that FISA should be the “exclusive means” for the federal government to conduct surveillance. Congress’s duty under the law was, Klein will state, to enforce the law against President Bush, “who openly flouted the law.” Instead, Klein will claim, Feinstein uses the “exclusive means” clause to protect the Bush administration and the telecom firms. [Klein, 2009, pp. 57-60]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, Dianne Feinstein, Mark Klein, National Security Agency, Steven Cash, Kevin Bankston

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see 1978), is introduced in Congress. With limited debate and no committee hearings, it passes both houses with substantial majorities. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Boston Globe, 8/6/2007; House Judiciary Committee, 9/18/2007 pdf file] Congressional Democrats quickly capitulate on the bill, submitting to what the Washington Post later calls “a high-pressure campaign by the White House to change the nation’s wiretap law, in which the administration capitalized on Democrats’ fears of being branded weak on terrorism and on Congress’s desire to act on the issue before its August recess.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007] Indeed, one Republican senator, Trent Lott, warns during the initial debate that lawmakers should pass the law quickly and get out of Washington before they could be killed in a terrorist attack (see August 2, 2007). McConnell tells the Senate, “Al-Qaeda is not going on vacation this month.” And Democrat Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), a supporter of the bill, told his colleagues: “We’re at war. The enemy wants to attack us. This is not the time to strive for legislative perfection.” [Slate, 8/6/2007]
Some Democrats Unhappy - One Democratic lawmaker responds angrily: “There are a lot of people who felt we had to pass something. It was tantamount to being railroaded.” Many House Democrats feel betrayed by the White House; Democratic leaders had reached what they believed was a deal on the bill with the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, only to have the White House throw out the deal and present a new list of conditions at the last minute. Both McConnell and the White House deny that any such deal was reached. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says, “I think the White House didn’t want to take ‘yes’ for an answer from the Democrats.” Representative Jerrold Nadler (R-NY) says lawmakers were “stampeded by fear-mongering and deception” into voting for the bill. Fellow House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) warns that the PAA will lead to “potential unprecedented abuse of innocent Americans’ privacy.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007] The ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson has a succinct explanation of why the Democrats folded so quickly: “Whenever the president says the word terrorism, they roll over and play dead.” [Slate, 8/6/2007]
AT&T Whistleblower: Democratic Leadership Colluded in Passing PAA - AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and December 15-31, 2005) will later write that the Democrats played a far more active role in getting the PAA passed than others acknowledge. He will quote a 2008 column by liberal civil liberties advocate Glenn Greenwald, who will write: “[I]n 2006, when the Congress was controlled by [then-Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-TN] and [then-House Speaker] Denny Hastert [R-IL], the administration tried to get a bill passed legalizing warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, but was unable. They had to wait until the Congress was controlled by [House Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer [D-MD], [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] to accomplish that.” According to Klein, once the Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, they engaged in “pure theater, posturing as opponents of the illegal NSA program while seeking a way to protect the president.” The few principled Democrats to actively oppose the legislation, such as Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), were, Klein will write, “hamstrung by their own leadership.” The PAA passage was accompanied by refusals from the Democratic leaders of “the relevant Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, which were now led by Democrats such as [John D.] Rockefeller, [Dianne] Feinstein (see February 1-6, 2006), and [Patrick] Leahy in the Senate, and John Conyers and Sylvestre Reyes in the House,” who “quickly decided not to launch any serious investigations into the NSA spying.” Klein will later add that at the time of the PAA passage, he was unaware of how thoroughly Democrats had been briefed on the NSA program (see October 1, 2001, October 11, 2001, October 25, 2001 and November 14, 2001, July 17, 2003, and March 10, 2004), “and thus were in on the secret but took no action to stop it.” [Salon, 6/19/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 86-87]

Entity Tags: Trent Lott, Mike McConnell, Protect America Act, Joseph Lieberman, Mitch McConnell, Jane Harman, Jerrold Nadler, Caroline Fredrickson, Bush administration (43), Jan Schakowsky, House Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

During the Senate debate over the controversial Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007), Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) says that the threat from terrorism is so dire, and so imminent, that lawmakers should pass the law and then get out of Washington as soon as they can to save their own lives. (Congress goes into recess in a few days.) Lott says that Congress needs to pass the PAA, otherwise, “the disaster could be on our doorstep.” He continues, “I think it would be good to leave town in August, and it would probably be good to stay out until September the 12th.” Lott provides no information about any predictions of an imminent terrorist attack on Washington or anywhere else. [Roll Call, 8/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Protect America Act, Trent Lott

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congressional Democrats attempt to short-circuit the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) currently under debate. They introduce their own bill, the Improving Foreign Intelligence Surveillance to Defend the Nation and the Constitution Act, that would address the administration’s concerns that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act imposed unwieldy limitations on the NSA’s ability to electronically monitor foreign communications that were transmitted through communications networks inside the US. The Democrats’ bill redefines “electronic surveillance” to allow the NSA to monitor such communications without a FISA warrant if it “reasonably believes” the targets of those communications to be outside the US. This would give the NSA new surveillance powers, so the Democrats’ bill provides for oversight by the FISA Court, audits by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, and restrictions on domestic surveillance. However, the Bush administration does not want the bill to become law. President Bush announces that he opposes the bill, and threatens to hold Congress in session past its August adjournment date until he can get the Protect America Act passed. The Democrats’ bill dies before ever coming up for a full vote in Congress. [US House of Representatives, 8/3/2007 pdf file; Slate, 8/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, Protect America Act, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Mitch McConnell.Mitch McConnell. [Source: US Senate]President Bush signs the controversial Protect America Act (PAA) into law. The bill, which drastically modifies the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 (see 1978), was sponsored by two Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Christopher Bond (R-MO), but written by the Bush administration’s intelligence advisers. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007] It passed both houses of Congress with little debate and no hearings (see August 1-4, 2007). “This more or less legalizes the NSA [domestic surveillance] program,” says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. [New York Times, 8/6/2007] Slate’s Patrick Radden Keefe adds ominously, “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is now dead, and it’s never coming back.” [Slate, 8/6/2007] The PAA expires in six months, the only real concession Congressional Democrats were able to secure. Though the Bush administration and its allies in Congress insist that the law gives the government “the essential tools it needs” to conduct necessary surveillance of foreign-based terrorists while protecting Americans’ civil liberties, many Democrats and civil liberties organizations say the bill allows the government to wiretap US residents in communication with overseas parties without judiciary or Congressional oversight. Bush calls the bill “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law” that needs to be expanded and made permanent by subsequent legislation. The administration says that the lack of judiciary oversight in the new law will be adequately covered by “internal bureaucratic controls” at the National Security Agency. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Reining in FISA - The PAA allows FISA to return “to its original focus on protecting the rights of Americans, while not acting as an obstacle to conducting foreign intelligence surveillance on foreign targets located overseas.” Before the PAA, the White House says, FISA created unnecessary obstacles in allowing US intelligence to “gain real-time information about the intent of our enemies overseas,” and “diverted scarce resources that would be better spent safeguarding the civil liberties of people in the United States, not foreign terrorists who wish to do us harm.” The PAA no longer requires the government to obtain FISA warrants to monitor “foreign intelligence targets located in foreign countries” who are contacting, or being contacted by, US citizens inside US borders. FISA will continue to review the procedures used by US intelligence officials in monitoring US citizens and foreign contacts by having the attorney general inform the FISA Court of the procedures used by the intelligence community to determine surveillance targets are outside the United States.”
Allows Third Parties to Assist in Surveillance, Grants Immunity - The PAA also allows the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to secure the cooperation of “third parties,” particularly telecommunications firms and phone carriers, to “provide the information, facilities, and assistance necessary to conduct surveillance of foreign intelligence targets located overseas.” It provides these firms with immunity from any civil lawsuits engendered by such cooperation.
Short Term Legislation - The White House says that Congress must pass further legislation to give telecommunications firms permanent and retroactive immunity against civil lawsuits arising from their cooperation with the government’s domestic surveillance program. [White House, 8/6/2006]
Temporary Suspension of the Constitution? - Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says: “I’m not comfortable suspending the Constitution even temporarily. The countries we detest around the world are the ones that spy on their own people. Usually they say they do it for the sake of public safety and security.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mitch McConnell, Al-Qaeda, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Kate Martin, Patrick Radden Keefe, Rush Holt, Protect America Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Ryan Singel.Ryan Singel. [Source: Wired]According to Ryan Singel of Wired, the new Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) gives the Bush administration “the power to order the nation’s communication service providers—which range from Gmail, AOL IM, Twitter, Skype, traditional phone companies, ISPs, internet backbone providers, Federal Express, and social networks—to create possibly permanent spying outposts for the federal government.” He adds: “These outposts need only to have a ‘significant’ purpose of spying on foreigners, would be nearly immune to challenge by lawsuit, and have no court supervision over their extent or implementation. Abuses of the outposts will be monitored only by the Justice Department, which has already been found to have underreported abuses of other surveillance powers to Congress.” In addition, Singel says the PAA redefines any monitoring of US citizens’ telephone and Internet communications “reasonably believed” to be outside the country as not surveillance, allows telecommunications firms to target both foreign and domestic parties for surveillance, and forces those firms to give assistance in secret, without informing Congress or the targeted parties. [Wired News, 8/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, Ryan Singel, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Protect America Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Aziz Huq.Aziz Huq. [Source: American Prospect]Aziz Huq, an author and the director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, writes that the Protect America Act (PAA-see August 5, 2007) came about as a result of what he calls “the most recent example of the national security waltz, a three-step administration maneuver for taking defeat and turning it into victory.” Step one is a court defeat for the administration, for example regarding detainees at Guantanamo (see June 28, 2004), or the overruling of military commissions in 2006 (see June 30, 2006). The second step, which comes weeks or months later, is an announcement that the ruling has created a security crisis and must be “remedied” through immediate legislation. The third and final step is the administration pushing legislation through Congress, such as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) or the Military Commissions Act, that, Huq writes, “not only undoes the good court decision but also inflicts substantial damage to the infrastructure of accountability.”
Step One: FISC Refuses to Approve NSA's Surveillance Program - In January 2007, the administration announced that it was submitting the NSA’s domestic surveillance program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the secret court that issues FISA warrants for surveillance (see May 1, 2007). This was due to pending court cases threatening to rule the program in violation of FISA and the Fourth Amendment; the administration wanted to forestall, or at least sidestep, those upcoming rulings. In June, FISC refused to approve parts of the NSA program that involved monitoring overseas communications that passed through US telecom switches. Since a tremendous amount of overseas communications are routed through US networks, this ruling jeopardized the NSA’s previous ability to wiretap such communications virtually at will without a warrant. The administration objected to the NSA having to secure such warrants.
Step Two: The Drumbeat Begins - Months later, the drumbeat for new legislation to give the NSA untrammeled rights to monitor “overseas” communications, which not only traveled through US networks, but often began or ended with US citizens, began with appearances in the right-wing media by administration supporters, where they insisted that the FISC ruling was seriously hampering the NSA’s ability to garner much-needed intelligence on terrorist plots against the US. The White House and Congressional Republicans drafted legislation giving the NSA what it wanted, and presented it during the last week of the Congressional session, minimizing the time needed for scrutiny of the legislation as well as reducing the time available for meaningful debate.
Step Three: Passing a Law With Hidden Teeth - The legislation that would become the Protect America Act was carefully written by Bush officials, and would go much farther than giving the NSA the leeway it needed to wiretap US citizens. Instead, as Huq writes, “the Protect America Act is a dramatic, across-the-board expansion of government authority to collect information without judicial oversight.” Democrats believed they had negotiated a deal with the administration’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, to limit the law to addressing foreign surveillance wiretaps, but, Huq writes, “the White House torpedoed that deal and won a far broader law.” The law removes any real accountability over domestic surveillance by either Congress or the judiciary. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that the PAA provides “unlimited access to currently protected personal information that is already accessible through an oversight procedure.” The law is part of the administration’s continual attempts to “eviscerat[e]” the checks and balances that form the foundation of US democracy.
Ramifications - The law includes the provision that warrantless surveillance can be “directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.” Huq writes that this is a tremendously broad and vague standard that allows “freewheeling surveillance of Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” He adds: “The problem lies in the words ‘directed at.’ Under this language, the NSA could decide to ‘direct’ its surveillance at Peshawar, Pakistan—and seize all US calls going to and from there.… Simply put, the law is an open-ended invitation to collect Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” The law does not impose any restrictions on the reason for surveillance. National security concerns are no longer the standard for implementing surveillance of communications. And the phrase “reasonably believe” is uncertain. The provisions for oversight are, Huq writes, “risibly weak.” Surveillance need only be explained by presentations by the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to FISC, which has little room to invalidate any surveillance, and furthermore will not be informed of any specific cases of surveillance. As for Congress, the Attorney General only need inform that body of “incidents of noncompliance” as reported by the administration. Congress must rely on the administration to police itself; it cannot demand particulars or examine documentation for itself. The law expires in six months, but, Huq notes, that deadline comes up in the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign, with all the pressures that entails. And the law allows “the NSA to continue wielding its new surveillance powers for up to a year afterward.” The law, Huq writes, “does not enhance security-related surveillance powers. Rather, it allows the government to spy when there is no security justification. And it abandons all but the pretense of oversight.” [Nation, 8/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Detainee Treatment Act, Bush administration (43), Aziz Huq, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Military Commissions Act, National Security Agency, US Supreme Court, Philip Giraldi, Protect America Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean considers the newly passed Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) a dire threat to American civil liberties. Dean writes that the ire of rank-and-file Democrats with their Congressional leadership is well earned, that the Democrats meekly lined up and voted it into law after some pro forma protestations. Dean notes that editorialists from around the country, and organizations as politically disparate as the ACLU (see August 6, 2007), the Cato Institute, and the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) all agree that the new law is a serious threat to civil liberties. They all agree that the law violates the Fourth Amendment while at the same time hides its operations under the rubric of national security secrecy. Dean notes, “Congress was not even certain about the full extent of what it has authorized because President Bush and Vice President Cheney refused to reveal it.”
Executive Power Grab - Dean writes that as much of a threat as the PAA is to citizens’ privacy, it is more threatening because it is another step in the Bush administration’s push for enhancing the powers of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches, a move towards a so-called “unitary executive.” Bush and Cheney have worked relentlessly “to weaken or eliminate all checks and balances constraining the executive,” Dean writes, pointing to “countless laws enacted by the Republican-controlled Congresses during the first six years of the administration, and in countless signing statements added by the president interpreting away any constraints on the Executive.” The new law “utterly fails to maintain any real check on the president’s power to undertake electronic surveillance of literally millions of Americans. This is an invitation to abuse, especially for a president like the current incumbent.”
Repairing the Damage - Dean is guardedly optimistic about the Democrats’ stated intentions to craft a new law that will supersede the PAA, which expires in February 2008, and restore some of the protections the PAA voids. Any such legislation may be quickly challenged by the Bush administration, which wants retroactive legislative immunity from prosecution for both US telecommunications firms cooperating with the government in monitoring Americans’ communications, and for government officials who may have violated the law in implementing domestic surveillance. Dean writes: “[B]efore Congress caved and gave Bush power to conduct this surveillance, he and telecommunication companies simply opted to do so illegally. Now, Bush will claim, with some justification, that because Congress has now made legal actions that were previously illegal, it should retroactively clear up this nasty problem facing all those who broke the law at his command.” Dean writes that Democrats need only do one thing to “fix [this] dangerous law: [add] meaningful accountability.” He continues: “They must do so, or face the consequences. No one wants to deny the intelligence community all the tools it needs. But regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, no Congress should trust any president with unbridled powers of surveillance over Americans. It is not the way our system is supposed to work.” [FindLaw, 8/10/2007]

Entity Tags: John Birch Society, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Protect America Act, Cato Institute, American Civil Liberties Union, John Dean, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence, writes an op-ed for the New York Times pushing for Congressional immunity for US telecommunications firms over their cooperation with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Under August’s Protect America Act, McConnell writes, the country is “safer” from terrorist attacks while the privacy of US citizens is protected (see August 5, 2007). The government has “greater understanding of international [al-]Qaeda networks, and the law has allowed us to obtain significant insight into terrorist planning.” But the Act expires in two months, and McConnell wants it re-enacted and significantly expanded “if we are to stay ahead of terrorists who are determined to attack the United States.” Echoing the arguments of Bush administration officials, McConnell attacks the “outdated” Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as significantly hindering the government’s “ability to collect timely foreign intelligence.” McConnell complains: “Our experts were diverted from tracking foreign threats to writing lengthy justifications to collect information from a person in a foreign country, simply to satisfy an outdated statute that did not reflect the ways our adversaries communicate. The judicial process intended to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans was applied instead to foreign intelligence targets in foreign countries. This made little sense, and the Protect America Act eliminated this problem.” McConnell calls for new legislation that would obviate the need for intelligence agencies such as the NSA to seek warrants to monitor US citizens’ telephone and e-mail communications: “The intelligence community should spend its time protecting our nation, not providing privacy protections to foreign terrorists and other diffuse international threats.” He also calls for retroactive immunity for “private parties”—i.e. the US telecommunications companies—that are subject to lawsuits over their cooperation with the NSA in monitoring US communications. “The intelligence community cannot go it alone,” he writes. “Those in the private sector who stand by us in times of national security emergencies deserve thanks, not lawsuits.” Two days later, new Attorney General Michael Mukasey will write a virtually identical op-ed for the Los Angeles Times (see December 12, 2007). [New York Times, 12/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Bush administration (43), Mike McConnell, New York Times, Protect America Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The House of Representatives votes to hold White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress. Bolten and Miers have refused to testify to a House committee investigating the firing of several US attorneys. Many House Republicans walk off the House floor before the vote is cast, ostensibly because they want to work on reauthorizing the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) rather than deal with the contempt citation. Minority Leader John Boehner complains, “We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition, but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us.” [Associated Press, 2/14/2008] “We will not stand for this, and we will not stay for this. And I would ask my House Republican colleagues and those who believe we should be protecting the American people, to not vote on this bill. Let’s just get up and leave.” [Think Progress, 2/14/2008] (Before they walk out, Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) attempts to disrupt the memorial service for the recently deceased Tom Lantos (D-CA), taking place in Statuary Hall just a few steps from the House chambers, by calling for a procedural vote during the memorial service. An MSNBC reporter says Diaz-Balart’s action is apparently the result of “pique.”) [MSNBC, 2/14/2008] The contempt citation will be forwarded to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. The two resolutions passed hold Bolten and Miers in contempt, and allow for the House to file a civil suit against the Bush administration to compel the aides’ testimony. “I hope this administration will realize this Congress is serious about its constitutional role of oversight,” says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi says she “had hoped that this day would never have come,” and adds that if the White House instructs Justice Department attorneys not to prosecute the contempt citations, “we will have power to go to federal court and seek civil enforcement of our subpoenas.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
White House Conditions 'Beyond Arrogance' - The White House has already said it will not allow the Justice Department to pursue the contempt charges, claiming that the information is off-limits because of executive privilege, and that Bolten and Miers are immune from prosecution. House Democrats such as Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) had tried for months to work with the White House to win its approval for the aides’ testimony, but were unwilling to accept the White House’s restrictive conditions—investigators would not have been allowed to make transcripts of the testimony, to copy documents presented in the testimony, or to seek any more information after the single session. Pelosi said of the White House’s conditions, “This is beyond arrogance. It’s hubris taken to the ultimate degree.”
Republicans Say Testimony Would 'Undermine' Power of Executive Branch - Republicans such as David Dreier (R-CA) warn that such a case might “undermine the power of the first [executive] branch of government.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
Miller: Bush Attempting to 'Decide by Decree' - Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) says during the deliberations, “The president cannot decide by decree. The president cannot announce with absolute unreviewable authority what information the administration will provide or withhold. The framers of our Constitution had just fought a war against an autocratic king. It is inconceivable that they intended to create an executive branch with the power the Bush administration now claims and that the minority now supports.” [Speaker of the House, 2/14/2008]

Entity Tags: Harriet E. Miers, Bush administration (43), John Boehner, Joshua Bolten, Brad Miller, US Department of Justice, Tom Lantos, Nancy Pelosi

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Admiral Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, admits during a radio interview that the main issue over the renewal of the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007) is not the security and safety of the nation, but the need to extend liability immunity to the nation’s telecommunications firms. In recent days, President Bush has said that unnamed terrorists are planning attacks on the US that will make 9/11 “pale by comparison,” and the only way to stop those attacks is to renew the PAA with new provisions that will grant telecommunications firms such as BellSouth, Verizon, and AT&T retroactive immunity from prosecution. Those firms are accused of illegally aiding the government in electronically monitoring the telephone and e-mail conversations of US citizens (see February 5, 2006). The PAA expires on February 16, but the government can operate under its provisions for another year. McConnell tells a National Public Radio reporter that the biggest issue surrounding the legislation is liability protection for the telecom firms. “We can’t do this mission without their help,” he says. “Currently there is no retroactive liability protection for them. They’re being sued for billions of dollars.” They did not break the law, McConnell asserts, but the lawsuits are curtailing their willingness to cooperate with the government. “The Senate committee that passed the bill examined the activities of the telecom companies and concluded they were not violating the law,” he says. By not extending retroactive immunity, McConnell says, “we’d lose the capability to protect the country.” [National Public Radio, 2/15/2008] Two days later, McConnell echoes his unusually frank admission. Interviewed on Fox News, he says: “Let me make one other point just—very important. The entire issue here is liability protection for the carriers. And so the old law and extended law are an expired law if we don’t have retroactive liability protection for the carriers. They are less inclined to help us, and so their support.… And therefore, we do not have the agility and the speed that we had before to be able to move and try to capture [terrorists’] communications to thwart their planning.” He also implies that the argument against granting immunity—if the telecoms’ actions were legal in the first place then they wouldn’t need immunity—is valid. Interviewer Chris Wallace says: “Isn’t the central issue here that you’ve lost your power to compel telecommunications companies to cooperate with you and also your ability to offer them legal immunity? Again, the Democrats would say, ‘Look, if the cooperation is legal, they don’t need legal immunity.’” McConnell replies: “Exactly right. The issue now is there’s uncertainty because the law has expired and the law of August, the Protect America Act, allowed us to compel—compel—support from a private carrier. That’s now expired.… [T]he private sector, although willingly helped us [sic] in the past, are now saying, ‘You can’t protect me. Why should I help you?’” Interestingly, after all of the talk of imminent terror attacks, when Wallace asks, “Do you believe al-Qaeda is more of a threat now than any time since 9/11?” McConnell says flatly: “No. Following 9/11, al-Qaeda’s leadership and operatives were degraded probably two-thirds or three-quarters.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) responds that the administration’s attempt to tie the renewal of the PAA into the threat of future terrorist attacks is “wrong, divisive and nothing but fear-mongering.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) adds that McConnell’s “latest comments show yet again the shamelessness of the administration’s tactics.” [Fox News, 2/17/2008]

Entity Tags: Protect America Act, BellSouth, Al-Qaeda, AT&T, Chris Wallace, George W. Bush, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Verizon Communications, Steny Hoyer, Mike McConnell

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) expires today. Congress has refused to pass a reauthorization of the legislation that contains a provision to grant retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms to protect them from lawsuits arising from their previous cooperation with government eavesdroppers (see February 5, 2006). President Bush has warned for days that by refusing to reauthorize the bill, Congress is leaving the US “more in danger of attack.” The surveillance elements of the PAA will continue in force for another year after its passage even as the PAA itself expires, so the government’s capability to use electronic surveillance against suspected terrorists and citizens alike continues unabated through August 2008.
Republican Reaction - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) warns, “This is a grave problem, and the Democrat leaders ought to be held accountable for their inaction.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The companies have been waiting for six months for retroactive liability” protection. “They are under pressure from their directors, pressure from their shareholders, and you’re jeopardizing the entire existence of the company by continuing to do this.”
Democratic Reaction - But House Democrats seem to be in no mood to give in to Bush’s rhetoric. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush is “misrepresenting the facts on our nation’s electronic-surveillance capabilities.” “There is no risk the program will go dark,” says Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Many Democrats accuse the administration of putting the interests of telecom firms over national security—accusations that intensify after Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, admitted that the real issue behind the reauthorization is the immunity for telecoms (see February 15-17, 2008). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says that the entire argument is “nothing more than a scare tactic designed to avoid legal and political accountability and keep Americans in the dark about the administration’s massive lawbreaking.” House member Tim Walz (D-MN) says, “Coming from a military background, I sure don’t downplay that there are threats out there, but the president’s demagoguery on this is the equivalent of the boy crying wolf.” And Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the head of the House Democratic Caucus, says bluntly: “This is not about protecting Americans. The president just wants to protect American telephone companies.”
Previous Depiction - When the law was signed into effect August 5, 2007, it was portrayed by the White House as “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate needs of the intelligence community to protect the country.” Now it is being portrayed by Bush officials as the cornerstone of the nation’s terrorist-surveillance program. The issue is sure to resurface when Congress returns from a week-long break in late February. [Associated Press, 2/14/2008; Washington Post, 2/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Mike McConnell, John Boehner, George W. Bush, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Mitch McConnell, Protect America Act, Rahm Emanuel, Silvestre Reyes, Tim Walz

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush again demands that Congress reinstate the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), with new provisions providing the nation’s telecommunications industry retroactive legal immunity from criminal and civil prosecution for possible crimes committed in the administration’s domestic wiretapping program (see May 12, 2006). Bush says that without such immunity, US telecom firms will be reluctant to help the administration spy on potential terrorists. The PAA is a central part of the legislative update of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see 1978) which mandates that any wiretaps must receive the approval of the FISA Court. Bush insists that he will veto an update to FISA without the immunity provisions, even as he asserts the country is at risk of further terrorist attacks without the FISA updates, and after letting the PAA lapse without signing an extension of the legislation into law. However, Bush blames Congress for not passing the FISA update with an immunity clause: “Congress’ failure to pass this legislation was irresponsible,” he says. “In other words, the House’s refusal to act is undermining our ability to get cooperation from private companies. And that undermines our efforts to protect us from terrorist attack.” He explains why the Democrats don’t want his bill: “House leaders are blocking this legislation, and the reason can be summed up in three words: class action lawsuits.” A spokesman for Congressional Democrats retorts: “They cannot have it both ways. If it is true that the expiration of the [surveillance law] has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and Congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law.”
Democrats Put Trial Lawyers Before National Security? - Bush says: “The Senate bill would prevent plaintiffs’ attorneys from suing companies believed to have helped defend America after the 9/11 attacks. More than 40 of these lawsuits have been filed, seeking hundreds of billions of dollars in damages from these companies.… It is unfair and unjust to threaten these companies with financial ruin only because they are believed to have done the right thing and helped their country.” The lawsuits (see June 26, 2006) seek damages based upon violations of FISA, the Wiretap Act, the Communications Act, and the Stored Communications Act, among other laws. Bob Edgar of Common Cause says neither money nor punishment is the issue: “Innocent Americans who have had their rights violated by the telecoms deserve their day in court. If these companies did nothing wrong, then they have nothing to fear.” Bush is apparently attempting to refocus the issue as an attack on trial lawyers—traditionally a group supportive of Democrats—in saying: “Members of the House have a choice to make: They can empower the trial bar—or they can empower the intelligence community. They can help class action trial lawyers sue for billions of dollars—or they can help our intelligence officials protect millions of lives. They can put our national security in the hands of plaintiffs’ lawyers—or they can entrust it to the men and women of our government who work day and night to keep us safe.” House member John Conyers (D-MI) calls such characterizations “irresponsible” and “inaccurate.” [CBS News, 2/23/2008]

Entity Tags: Protect America Act, John Conyers, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mike McConnell, George W. Bush, Michael Mukasey, Common Cause, Bob Edgar, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Dana Rohrbacher

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush signs the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), a revamping and expansion of the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). The legislation passed the House by a sweeping 293 to 129 votes, with most Democratic Congressional leaders supporting it over the opposition of the more liberal and civil liberties-minded Democrats. Republicans were almost unanimously supportive of the bill. Though Democratic Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) managed to delay the bill’s passage through the Senate, their attempt to modify the bill was thwarted by a 66-32 margin. (Dodd credits AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) as one of the very few people to make the public aware of the illegal NSA wiretapping program, which the FISA amendment would protect. Without Klein, Dodd states, “this story might have remained secret for years and years, causing further erosion of our rights.”) Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, gave his qualified support to the bill, stating: “Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program.” Obama had opposed an earlier Senate version that would have given “blanket immunity” to the telecommunications companies for their participation in the illegal NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who organized Democratic support for the bill in the House, said that she supported the bill primarily because it rejects Bush’s argument that a wartime chief executive has the “inherent authority” to conduct some surveillance activity he considers necessary to fight terrorism. It restores the legal notion that the FISA law is the exclusive rule on government spying, she said, and added: “This is a democracy. It is not a monarchy.” Feingold, however, said that the bill granted “retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that may have engaged in President Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.” The amendments restore many of the provisions of the expired Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) that drastically modify the original FISA legislation and grant the government broad new surveillance powers. Like the PAA, the FAA grants “third parties” such as telecommunications firms immunity from prosecution for engaging in illegal surveillance of American citizens if they did so in partnership with government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA). [Washington Post, 6/20/2008; CNN, 6/26/2008; US Senate, 7/9/2008; White House, 7/10/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 95-97] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) actually refused to honor a “hold” placed on the bill by Dodd, a highly unusual move. Klein will later note that Reid has in the past always honored holds placed on legislation by Republicans, even if Democrats were strongly supportive of the legislation being “held.” Klein will write that Pelosi crafted a “showpiece” FISA bill without the immunity provisions, garnering much praise for her from civil liberties organizations; however, Pelosi’s colleague House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) had secretly worked with the White House to craft a bill that preserved immunity for telecoms, and on June 10, Pelosi “rammed” that bill through the House. The final bill actually requires the judiciary to dismiss lawsuits brought against telecom firms if those firms can produce evidence that they had worked in collusion with the NSA. Feingold later observes that the final bill is not a “compromise, it is a capitulation.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 101-103] Klein will write that Democrats and Republicans have worked together to “unw[ind] one of the main reforms of the post-Watergate era and accepted the outrageous criminal rationalizations of [President] Nixon himself.” Klein will quote Nixon as saying, “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal” (see April 6, 1977), and will say that is “the essence of the FISA ‘compromise’” and turned Congress into the White House’s “rubber stamp.… It is the twisted judicial logic of a dictatorship.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 107]

Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Christopher Dodd, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Mark Klein, Russell D. Feingold, Richard M. Nixon, Harry Reid, Steny Hoyer, National Security Agency, Protect America Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The cover of Mark Klein’s ‘Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It.’The cover of Mark Klein’s ‘Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It.’ [Source: BookSurge / aLibris (.com)]Former AT&T technician Mark Klein self-publishes his book, Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It. In his acknowledgements, Klein writes that he chose to self-publish (through BookSurge, a pay-to-publish venue) because “[t]he big publishers never called me,” and the single small publishing house that offered to publish his book added “an unacceptable requirement to cut core material.” Klein based his book on his experiences as an AT&T engineer at the telecom giant’s San Francisco facility, where he primarily worked with AT&T’s Internet service. In 2002 and 2003, Klein witnessed the construction of of a “secret room,” a facility within the facility that was used by the National Security Agency (NSA) to gather billions of email, telephone, VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol), and text messages, most of which were sent by ordinary Americans. The NSA did its electronic surveillance, Klein writes, secretly and without court warrants. Klein describes himself as “wiring up the Big Brother machine,” and was so concerned about the potential illegality and constitutional violations of the NSA’s actions (with AT&T’s active complicity) that he retained a number of non-classified documents proving the extent of the communications “vacuuming” being done. Klein later used those documents to warn a number of reporters, Congressional members, and judges of what he considered a horrific breach of Americans’ right to privacy. [Klein, 2009, pp. 9-11, 21-24, 33, 35, 38, 40] In 2007, Klein described his job with the firm as “basically to keep the systems going. I worked at AT&T for 22 and a half years. My job was basically to keep the systems going. They were computer systems, network communication systems, Internet equipment, Voice over Internet [Protocol (VoIP)] equipment. I tested circuits long distance across the country. That was my job: to keep the network up.” He explained why he chose to become a “whistleblower:” “Because I remember the last time this happened.… I did my share of anti-war marches when that was an active thing back in the ‘60s, and I remember the violations and traffic transgressions that the government pulled back then for a war that turned out to be wrong, and a lot of innocent people got killed over it. And I’m seeing all this happening again, only worse. When the [NSA] got caught in the ‘70s doing domestic spying, it was a big scandal, and that’s why Congress passed the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] law, as you know, to supposedly take care of that (see 1978). So I remember all that. And the only way any law is worth anything is if there’s a memory so that people can say: ‘Wait a minute. This happened before.’ And you’ve got to step forward and say: ‘I remember this. This is the same bad thing happening again, and there should be a halt to it.’ And I’m a little bit of that institutional memory in the country; that’s all.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, AT&T, BookSurge, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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