Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.
This story is all over the media. That's a good thing.
Hopefully I'll have the chance soon to write some of my thoughts about the matter. It's very significant and will have massive long term ramifications.
I didn't comment 'cause I'm not sure where I'm at with this. Of the three recent stories, this, the WaPo article on NSLs, and the NBC article on Pentagon surviellance of domestic political groups, this is by far the least troubling, in terms of its breadth and the likelyhood that it impacts domestic politics and civil liberties. However, of the three this seems the most likely to be technically illegal. Congress didn't establish the FISA court because they were bored. Its really not clear to me that the AUF for Afghanistan grants the President the authority to completely unleash the NSA on domestic targets, nor is it clear that there is a good reason to subvert the FISA process. I don't think its going to be clear either. This is going to remain a murky, backroom argument about what the NSA is allowed to do and with who's permission.
Between these articles and others a troubling picture emerges, wherein the Pentagon is able to do broad self directed surveillance of domestic targets, the FBI is able to collect huge amounts of data and save it indefinately, also under it's own discression, the Pentagon and the FBI are able to share all of their information with eachother, U.S. citizens on U.S. soil can be seized without due process and placed in a prison on foreign soil, with a limited ability to counter the charges against them. They've carved out a civil liberties free zone, and its ripe for abuse.
Is it being abused?
The NBC article rams things home. This system is starting to change it's focus from looking at islamic terrorists to looking at domestic political groups that are unfavored by the authority system. The thing that everyone is worried about appears to actually be occuring. As long as this structure is aimed at people who really are islamic terrorists, there is no problem, but the checks and balances are the mooring that keep it on target, and once you release them there is a tendency to drift in other directions. This drift may have already started.
What really bothers me is that over time as the threats subside some of these moorings are likely to end up remaining unattached, and with the focus less present, thats when the real problems will start...
I wish that this process was less political. Its all about what different forces can negotiate. I wish we could take a real objective look at how these moorings impede legitimate investigations and find a way to create new moorings that are effective but not inefficient. There is no way we can do that in the present climate, where the executive is constantly looking for more authority and the complaining about that is always the roll of whoever happens to be the oposition party. If we were on the same page about what we actually wanted we could have a dialog about how to get it.