Monday, August 20, 2007

A guest post on the FISA mess

(Below is a guest post by occasional commentor Jeff S., from a letter he sent to Senator Dianne Feinstein. -Brian)

Senator Dianne Feinstein
FAX 415-393-0710

In RE: Amendment of FISA (S. 1927)

Dear Senator Feinstein,

I was very surprised and disappointed to see your vote to approve broad new powers to the Executive Branch, which, by every account I’ve read, including those coming from the White House, allows for warrantless wiretapping of the phone calls of American citizens and other “U.S. persons” on U.S. soil, with no court oversight.

Quoting from a recent NY Times editorial:

“Instead of just fixing [a] glitch, the White House and its allies on Capitol Hill railroaded Congress into voting a vast expansion of the president’s powers. They gave the director of national intelligence and the attorney general authority to intercept — without warrant, court supervision or accountability — any telephone call or e-mail message that moves in, out of or through the United States as long as there is a “reasonable belief” that one party is not in the United States. The new law all but eviscerates the 1978 [FISA] law.”

I fully understand that international terrorism poses a serious threat, and I appreciate the need for intelligence gathering to counter that threat. However, I also believe it is critical that this country does not abandon civil rights and civil liberties in an ultimately futile quest for ultimate security, nor do I believe that we should abandon our commitment to divided government, with congressional oversight and judicial review of the executive branch.

I believe granting this type of unlimited discretion for surveillance on Americans to any administration would be a mistake, regardless of if it were lead by a Democrat or Republican, and even if I believed the administration officials involved were honorable, honest, competent, and committed to civil liberties. Sadly, as the past six and a half years have amply proven, however, the current administration that Congress granted this extraordinary power is peopled by the “Mayberry Machiavelli’s”, to quote one former Bush administration official, whose incompetence, mendaciousness and political opportunism is unparalleled, at least in modern US presidential history.

As a senator serving on the Judiciary Committee, you know truth of this statement all too well. Just recently, you referred to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as someone whose “obfuscation, prevarication and untruths” bespoke of someone who “just doesn't tell the truth” and is “contemptuous of Congress." This is the same Attorney General who despite 6 months and several congressional hearings, still has not been able to come up with a halfway credible explanation why Carol Lam, David Ignatius, John McKay and other US Attorneys were fired, lending credence to the theory that they were fired for investigating Republicans too hard or not trumping up vote fraud charges against Democrats to swing elections to benefit Republicans. Moreover, there have been highly disturbing changes in the Voting Rights section of the Justice Department, again apparently to benefit Republican candidates, that have occurred on Mr. Gonzales’s watch.

And yet Gonzales is the person that this bill empowers with broad discretion to interfere in a right guarantied under the 4th Amendment. Exactly what in his record of prevarication, contempt for Congress, incompetence and unparalleled and dangerous politicization of the DOJ lead you to think he would be a good steward of this power? And how do you expect your rebukes of the Attorney General to be taken seriously when you turn right around and write him legislative blank checks?

I understand the powers granted to the Executive Branch expire after 6 months. Once granted, I know these powers are very hard take back. However, when the time comes I ask that you consider the importance of our civil and constitutional rights to privacy and the wisdom of our founding fathers system of checks and balances while still allowing for collection of intelligence. Thank you.


Jeff S.

(UPDATE: One thing Feinstein and the other Dems can do in the meantime is immediately take back the power given to the Bushies that exceeded what was requested. -Brian)

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