Article--Political Commentary (12-19-2005)
Look Mom, Georgie Bush Shrunk The Constitution!
(Gonzalez Conflict of Interest)
As originally reported in the New York Times and confirmed by the President, Bush "secretly ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans with suspected ties to terrorists" without prior court approval. Link. According to a CNN story, hundreds if not thousands of persons inside the US could have been subject to surveillance by the NSA. Link. However, the NSA is legally prohibited from domestic spying absent court order. Also, in the case of US citizens and resident aliens, the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures ... no warrant shall issue but upon probably cause." The use of electronic surveyance devices by the government to record conversations can constitute a "search and seizure" under the Fourth Amendment. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967).
Domestic intelligence collection is governed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA. This law sets out a careful set of checks and balances that are designed to ensure that domestic intelligence collection is conducted in accordance with the Constitution, under the supervision of judges and with accountability to the Congress of the United States.
Comments of Senator Dianne Feinstein. Thus, NSA electronic surveyance of US citizens and US resident aliens without first obtaining a warrant also violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (and most likely additional laws).
Specifically, FISA allows the Government to wiretap phones or to open packages, but only with a showing to a special court -- the FISA court -- and after meeting a legal standard that requires that the effort is based on probable cause to believe the target is an agent of a foreign power.
"Asked about this on NBC's 'Today' show, Secretary Rice said, 'I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters. I can only comment to say that the president has been very clear that he has not ordered people to do things that are illegal,' she added." Link. How do you know Secretary of State Rice is lying? Answer: her lips are moving.
Even those in his own party are questioning the legality of what the president has done. "'There is no doubt that this is inappropriate,' said Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee." Link. Specter promises prompt hearings on the issue in the senate.
And what does the nation's top law enforcement official, Attorney General Gonzalez think about the legality of Bush's actions:
Now, in terms of legal authorities, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides -- requires a court order before engaging in this kind of surveillance that I've just discussed and the President announced on Saturday, unless there is somehow -- there is -- unless otherwise authorized by statute or by Congress. That's what the law requires. Our position is, is that the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11th, constitutes that other authorization, that other statute by Congress, to engage in this kind of signals intelligence. Link.
What a crock of manure! Gonzalez argues that the 2001 Congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against al Qaeda somehow gave the president the authority to suspend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Al G., did you bother to read the act? Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act section 111 states the following regarding times of war:
Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this title to acquire foreign intelligence information for a period not to exceed 15 calendar days following a declaration of war by the Congress. (emphasis added)
NSA electronic surveyance has been going on for years (since 2001) thus exceeding the 15 day exception for times of war found in FISA. So Al's talking out his ass. There's another problem: a crime appears to have been committed by the President of the United States and AG Alberto Gonzalez has a major conflict of interest in that he advised the president in 2001 on this matter as his then White House counsel. White House Counsel Gonzalez was undoubtedly advised the president at the time the decision to do this act was made. Gonzalez should completely recuse himself from the matter and turn it over to career DOJ attorneys, as was done in the Valerie Plame case, to determine what if any law enforcement action needs to be taken. Gonzalez's conflict is more direct and serious than the one faced by John Ashcroft in the Plame case. Furthermore, this illustrates why the appointment of Alberto Gonzalez has weakened the credibility of the entire executive branch of the government to police itself. He has been extremely close to the president for over a decade and intimately involved in many controversial decisions of the administration.
Senator Spector, start the hearings like yesterday! And if they confirm that Bush knowingly violated the constitution and federal surveyance laws on a grand scale will articles of impeachment then be forthcoming?
Update: "A federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program, according to two sources." Link.
Update 2: Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean said that President Bush, in admitting he authorized the illegal NSA spy program within the US, became "the first President to admit to an impeachable offense." Link.