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Domestic Spying At All Time High


Newsday reports that domestic spying by the Bush Administration increased by nearly a fifth in one year’s time.

The federal government increased its domestic surveillance in pursuit of terrorists and spies last year in part because it had more lawyers working on applications for eavesdropping, searches and records requests, a Justice Department official said yesterday.

The number of applications approved by a special secret court for domestic electronic surveillance and physical searches rose by nearly a fifth last year, to a record 2,072 from 1,754 in 2004, according to a report the Justice Department gave Congress late Friday.

Requests for the business records of individuals under Section 215 of the Patriot Act – the controversial so-called "library records" provision – hit 155 last year, up from 35 in the previous two years, according to the report and officials.

And, for the first time, the report disclosed that the FBI issued 9,254 national security letters – administrative subpoenas that do not require court or grand jury approval – to demand bank, credit card, Internet and other business records for 3,501 citizens and others in the United States.

The number of national security letters – a controversial technique attacked by civil liberties groups for its invasion of privacy – in previous years remains classified, the Justice Department said.

The ACLU asks where the numbers are for the illegal warrantless NSA wiretapping program — as in how many Americans have been spied upon without a warrant in violation of the FISA laws and the 4th Amendment.  Alas, no answer from the Bush Administration on that one.  Don’t hold your breath.  And don’t think the Rubber Stamp Republican Congress is going to demand real answers beyond Arlen Specter’s occasional public temper tantrum, either.

Couldn’t possibly touch on your life, you think?  Well, think again.  The WaPo reports today that the FBI has been obtaining warrants for bank records, internet usage and other every day sorts of things — not via a warrant, but through a secret national security letter proceeding.  (This was one of the big issues in the Patriot Act debate we blogged earlier — in which Pat Fitzgerald, the ACLU, the American Library Association and others discussed these secret national security letter requests, among other things.)

You know, if I thought there was some good faith oversight being exercised by members of Congress — or that the Bush Administration was working in concert with the FISA Court or other members of the judiciary who are trying to provide third-party oversight…but this isn’t exactly an Administration or a Congress that has earned my trust.  How about you?

Nor should our civil liberties be traded so cheaply, even were they an Administration that was remotely trustworthy.  These rights are written into our Constitution, our Bill of Rights and our laws for a reason.  The separation of powers between our branches of government is not just some old, musty concept from the Founders — it is an essential, living component of a properly functioning system for our government, and a component that is ailing from too much weight being placed on the executive scale while the Rubber Stamp Republican Congress proves a lightweight on the other side.

Far too often, the "law and order" types (and I use that term loosely, since they never seem to understand that the laws apply to them as well as to everyone else, and that order requires respect for civil liberties, but I digress) puff this issue up solely as a "save us all from the evil terrorists" scare tactic and wedge issue.  But the moment one of them is investigated for some criminal misdeed, the screaming over the violation of their rights begins.  (Tom DeLay anyone?  Rush Limbaugh?  You see my point.)

Glenn hits the idiocy of continuing to prop up this Administration by believing only those facts that fit one’s worldview in a great post today, and I wanted to bring it to everyone’s attention.  And as a follow-up to the excellent Boston Globe article on signing statements that I mentioned yesterday, take a peek at this compilation of all the bills that have received the Presidential caveat in the last five years — it’s a motley assortment that isn’t all about national security, as some of the President’s defenders on this have been trying to spin it. 

Oh, and it looks like we’ll be getting a peek at all those Jack Abramoff visits to the WH, since the Secret Service will be turning over documents from an FOIA request — you know, the Jack Abramoff that President Bush says he’s never even met, well it turns out that Jackie has been attending a lot of holiday parties and other events at the WH.  Ooops.

What does this have to do with domestic spying?  It all fits into a pattern for this Administration — do whatever you can get away with, the hell with the laws applying to you, and lie when you get caught.  (Sound familiar, Karl?)

That sound like a group of folks you can trust to do domestic spying with no warrants, no oversight, no limits whatsoever other than the ones they put on themselves?  Do you trust this group to play nice and police their own behavior?

Had enough?  Vote for Democrats.

(This is one of my least favorite Bond movies and least favorite Bond theme songs of all time — and a shame, too, because Rita Coolidge’s voice is so smooth.  But the title was just too perfect not to use this poster.)

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com