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Friday, August 18, 2006

Have Warrantless Wiretaps Actually Accomplished Anything? Not so Much...

The Bush Administration was dealt a major setback thursday when a federal judge ruled the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping unconstitutional. The Justice Dept. is appealing the decision. Associated Press reports:

"We have confidence in the lawfulness of this program," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in Washington. "We're going to do everything we can do in the courts to allow this program to continue."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit, said it opposed the stay [of the program, allowing the wiretapping to continue during appeal] but agreed to delay enforcement of the injunction until the judge hears arguments Sept. 7.


Judge Anna Diggs Taylor wrote in her decision, "There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all 'inherent powers' must derive from that Constitution." Constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald has an excellent breakdown of the ruling. I'm sure a lot of noise will be made on the right. Whines of 'activist judges' are pretty much a given. One catchphrase you probably won't hear, though, is 'strict constructionist'. The administration is claiming powers not specifically granted in the Constitution - i.e., the ruling is 'strict constructionist'.

The White House response to the ruling was nearly predictable. I say 'nearly' because there's no mention of 9/11. I would've bet good money on that. It looks like the UK bomb plot last week is the administration's new 9/11. It opens:

Last week America and the world received a stark reminder that terrorists are still plotting to attack our country and kill innocent people. Today a federal judge in Michigan has ruled that the Terrorist Surveillance Program ordered by the President to detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the American people is unconstitutional and otherwise illegal. We couldn't disagree more with this ruling, and the Justice Department will seek an immediate stay of the opinion and appeal. Until the Court has the opportunity to rule on a stay of the Court's ruling in a hearing now set for September 7, 2006, the parties have agreed that enforcement of the ruling will be stayed.


See what I mean? Boogabooga! The actual argument follows:

United States intelligence officials have confirmed that the program has helped stop terrorist attacks and saved American lives. The program is carefully administered, and only targets international phone calls coming into or out of the United States where one of the parties on the call is a suspected Al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist. The whole point is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks before they can be carried out. That's what the American people expect from their government, and it is the President's most solemn duty to ensure their protection.

The Terrorist Surveillance Program is firmly grounded in law and regularly reviewed to make sure steps are taken to protect civil liberties. The Terrorist Surveillance Program has proven to be one of our most critical and effective tools in the war against terrorism, and we look forward to demonstrating on appeal the validity of this vital program.


Notice something missing? 'We used warrantless wiretaps to break this plot'. Because they didn't. The Washington Post reported:

In the days before the alleged airliner bombing plot was exposed, more than 200 FBI agents followed up leads inside the United States looking for potential connections to British and Pakistani suspects. The investigation was so large, officials said, that it brought a significant surge in warrants for searches and surveillance from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret panel that oversees most clandestine surveillance.

One official estimated that scores of secret U.S. warrants were dedicated solely to the London plot. The government usually averages a few dozen a week for all counterintelligence investigations, according to federal statistics.

The purpose of the recent warrants included monitoring telephone calls that some of the London suspects made to the United States, two sources said.


The bust was mostly british, actually. While the UK was monitoring the development of this plan, it's pretty clear the administration didn't appreciate how serious it was - as an explosives plot was unfolding overseas, the Bush administration wanted to cut $6 million to develop explosives detection technology.

In the end, it was police work that prevented the plot from being carried out, not warrantless wiretaps or the PATRIOT Act. It turns out our biggest asset in fighting terrorism is competence - something the administration seems to see as being of no value.

--Wisco


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