In 2002, the White House Said It Didn't Need FISA Standards Lowered -- That Existing Law Was Just Fine, Thank You.
As I've explained before, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA") sets out a procedure for American intelligence agencies to quickly obtain a warrant to do surveillance on American citizens who may be having communications with terrorists. It's easy to get those warrants: out of over 19,000 applications, only 5 (not five thousand -- just five) have EVER been denied. The FISA court is located down the hall from the AG's office. And warrants can even be obtained retroactively when there's a time crunch. So there is NO reason for Bush to have permitted wiretaps of American citizens without going through the FISA process.
And now, an amazing revelation: in 2002, a bill was introduced in Congress to make it even easier to get FISA warrants -- like a 99.97% warrant-granting rate isn't enough! -- and ...
Wait for it...
The Bush Administration declined to support the bill, saying it was unconstitutional.
Yes: the Bush Justice Department argued, post-911, that lowering the standard for spying on Americans from "probable cause" to "reasonable suspicion" violated the Constitution. It even said that the Patriot Act and FISA were already loose enough, and it didn't need anything more to get the job done, thank you.
So what does that say about the SAME ADMINISTRATION doing warrantless spying on Americans without complying with FISA, and claiming now that it did so because FISA was too strict?
Thanks to Glenn Greenwald, who's doing a great job of untangling the legal issues surrounding the NSA/FISA controversy.
SUPPLEMENT, JANUARY 26, 2006: Another stunner: the Administration's explanations of WHY it opposed the proposed bill. According to David Savage of the L.A. Times, one Justice Department skokesman says '[t]here was a conscious choice not to have a public discussion about it." Others quibble about definitions: that "reasonable cause" equals "probable cause" but not "reasonable suspicion." It all sounds tres wonky, but it's significant to see the Administration wiggle and squirm to evade Glenn Greenwald's discovery -- without success.