that tap, tap, tapping through my chamber door

If I were still a blogger, I think that I’d write something tonight about the administration’s practice of spying on American citizens. I would probably start by wondering why, since there was already a mechanism in place to provide the President with speedy warrants (based on little or no evidence), Bush chose to circumvent the system and spy on American citizens outside of the scope of existing law. FISA courts, after all, have only denied a handful (I think about four) warrants for electronic surveillance out of the thousands of requests that have been put before them. In fact, they even grant warrants up to 72 hours after-the-fact, in instances when it’s absolutely critical that the NSA intercept electronic correspondences immediately. It just doesn’t make sense that the administration wouldn’t have followed the law, especially when you consider the fact that any evidence gathered as a result of such (illegal) means might be deemed inadmissible in a court of law during prosecution. Think about it. The only reason the Bush administration wouldn’t have played by the FISA rules is if they weren’t just tapping calls between people in the U.S. and known al-Qaeda operatives (as they claim).

The answer, I’m afraid, might have more to do with politics than with terrorism.

Let’s start with CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour.

On Tuesday, during an interview with author James Risen on his new book about domestic surveillance under Bush, correspondent Andrea Mitchell (the wife of the very well connected Alan Greenspan) asked the author if he had uncovered any evidence that CNN reporter Christiane Ammanpour was spied on by the NSA. The transcripts of the discussion were posted at the MSNBC site, but quickly pulled down and edited to remove mention of that particular exchange. (The author responded that he was not aware of any evidence to support that.)

People in the blogosphere have latched onto this, and are trying to determine why the administration would target Ammanpour. One of the best pieces I’ve seen thus far comes from Attytood. Here’s a clip:

…Then there is the issue of Amanpour’s husband, Jamie Rubin, former official in the Clinton administration State Department. You may have forgotten (we did, frankly), but Rubin re-emerged in 2004 — as a foreign policy advisor to John Kerry. Do husbands and wives use the same telephones and computers? Is the Pope German?

But frankly, the concept that scares us the most, as a journalist, goes back to that lovely quote from the Fox News spokeswoman at the very top of this post — and the episode that inspired it. Because Christiane Amanpour was highest profile, and also the most forceful, critic of the media’s pliancy toward Bush after the 9/11 attacks.

Here’s what she said in Sept. 2003: “I think the press was muzzled, and I think the press self-muzzled. I’m sorry to say, but certainly television and, perhaps, to a certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of broadcast work we did.”

The next day, Fox blasts her as an “al-Qaeda spokeswoman.” And two years later, we are left to wonder if she was spied upon by the American government…

Leaving all that aside, however, even if the Bush administration wasn’t using the NSA to spy on American reporters, or members of peaceful anti-war groups (as has also been alleged), how could this have been seen as good policy? Even if, in every case, the calls and emails captured were between known al-Qaeda operatives and potential “evil-doers” within the U.S., why would the administration jeopardize the admissibility of the evidence by not seeking even a retroactive FISA warrant? It boggles the mind.

Of course, Cheney is now making the rounds trying his best to muddy the waters. His new mantra is that if we had warrantless searches five years ago, 9/11 never would have happened. Of course it’s total bullshit. Asked what attacks they’ve been able to foil with this (illegal) tool, the best they can come up with is the foiling of a ridiculously half-assed plan to deconstruct the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches.

What I’m wondering is, if the laws surrounding FISA were too restrictive, why weren’t those laws changed? Why, instead, was it decided to circumvent the system altogether? I don’t, by the way, think I’ve heard a single Republican lawmaker yet say that the actions taken by the administration were legal. Everyone, it seems, knows that it was illegal — it’s just a matter of to what degree.

I’d like to think that our government wasn’t spying on reporters or other non-suspects, but, no matter how I look at it, I just can’t figure out why they wouldn’t use the legal tools they had access to, unless there was something more sinister behind it all, something they didn’t want the FISA courts to know about.

If you’re interested in contributing, the ACLU has just launched an effective series of ads on the subject. I found one of their taglines particularly good: “Because it’s not about promoting a political agenda. It’s about preserving American democracy.” I think that pretty much says it all. This isn’t a partisan issue. This is about the constitution… Also, if you live here in Michigan, you may be interested in attending one of Congressman John Conyers’ public meetings in support of a Resolution to Investigate Impeachable Offenses.

(Oh, and I don’t think that they have a category for “Best Defunct Blog,” but nominations for the 2006 Bloggies are now beign accepted.)

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  1. [steph]
    Posted January 6, 2006 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    don’t go away mark. even for pretend. maybe it’s lazy to say, but you and the daily show are where my news mainly comes from (the daily show usually a few days after i find it out from you). i never know whether i can really trust any other source.

    you’d be doing the youth of america (me) a disservice by defunctifying (getting defuncty).

  2. mark
    Posted January 6, 2006 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Except for you, Steph, I’m really not so fond of the youth of America, so I don’t know how persuasive an argument this really is… Thanks for trying though.

  3. dorothy
    Posted January 6, 2006 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    have you heard the latest from that hate monger pat robertson? according to his direct line to the almighty, sharon was smote (smited? smit?) for having divided israel. WTF? who gave that asshole the power to speak for god? it’s idiots like him who give god a bum rap.

  4. Stella Magdalen
    Posted January 6, 2006 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    “Except for you, Steph, I’m really not so fond of the youth of America,”
    and Clementine and pals, don’t forget that part…..

    Also, I had an interesting experience with my blog where I said something about government sponsored death squads and almost immediately got a hit from some nebulous Gvt. agency in Oklahoma. I was not able to look back at them as the “server could not be found”
    They obviously immediately perceived I was a harmless idiot and looked away. But it was interesting. Its good to have only 2 readers as such anomalies show up bright and clear.

  5. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted January 6, 2006 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I’ve paid good money to be professionally defunctified. There’s nothing like it.

  6. mark
    Posted January 7, 2006 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Dorothy, I did hear what Pat Robertson said. It probably warrants a post all its own, but I have Pat Fatigue. It seems like he does this kind of thing once a quarter. Who knows, maybe it’s on purpose. Maybe he has an alarm in his house that goes off and tells him when to get in front of a camera and speak for the horrible, hateful God we all love so much.

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