While Congress is stalled on the great fiscal myth negotiations, on thing that both houses are have agreed is unconstitutional, warrantless surveillance. This morning, the Senate extended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for another five years, rejecting amendments that would have reined in some of the worst abuses. The White House had pushed for a quick, “clean” reauthorization without any amendments before the bill’s Dec. 31 expiration date. The amended FISA was passed in 2008 to retroactively cover Bush-era domestic surveillance and give immunity to the telecommunication companies that participated.
the Senate voted on amendments put forward during the day’s debate: (Sen. Ron) Wyden’s oversight and transparency amendment, which would request a rough estimate or any information the NSA has on the collection of Americans’ communications; the (Sen Jeff) Merkley FISA Court Amendment, which would require FISA court rulings to be declassified in some way and released to the public; the (Patrick) Leahy Sunset Amendment, which would shorten the length of the law’s reauthorization to three years; and an amendment put forward by Sen. Rand Paul to “all US communications, whether sought by US intelligence agencies like the NSA or any government agency, are protected against unwarranted searches and seizures-even if they are held by third party email providers like Google.”
The Leahy Amendment failed to pass 38-52. The Senate voted on Merkley’s amendment immediately after. It failed to pass 37-54. Rand Paul’s amendment (which Feinstein said would’ve repealed the FISA Amendments Act) failed to pass.
The amendment by Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR) was defeated this morning.
Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian describes the Senate floor show by the Democratic Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) did her best blustering imitation of Vice President Dick Cheney’s fear mongering:
Feinstein insisted that one could support their amendments only if “you believe that no one is going to attack us”. She warned that their amendments would cause “another 9/11”. She rambled about Najibullah Zazi and his attempt to detonate a bomb on the New York City subway: as though a warrant requirement, let alone disclosure requirements for the eavesdropping program, would have prevented his detection. Having learned so well from Rudy Giuliani (and Harry Reid), she basically just screamed “Terrorist!” and “9/11” over and over until her time ran out, and then proudly sat down as though she had mounted rational arguments against the transparency and oversight amendments advocated by Wyden, Merkley, Udall and Paul.
Even more notably, Feinstein repeatedly argued that requiring even basic disclosure about the eavesdropping program – such as telling Americans how many of them are targeted by it – would, as she put it, “destroy the program”. But if “the program” is being conducted properly and lawfully, why would that kind of transparency kill the program? As the ACLU’s Richardson noted: “That Sen. Feinstein says public oversight will lead to the end of the program says a lot about the info that’s being hidden.” In response to her warnings that basic oversight and transparency would destroy the program, Mother Jones’ Adam Serwer similarly asked: “Why, if it’s all on the up and up?”
All of this was accomplished with the core Bush/Cheney tactic used over and over: they purposely waited until days before the law is set to expire to vote on its renewal, then told anyone who wants reforms that there is no time to consider them, and that anyone who attempted debate would cause the law to expire and risk a Terrorist attack. Over and over yesterday, Feinstein stressed that only “four days remained” before the law expires and that any attempts even to debate the law, let alone amend it, would leave the nation vulnerable.
President Obama was opposed to FISA before he voted for it as a senator. This is not the “change” we should be supporting.
Ben Franklin would be disgusted with President Obama and this congress.