‘Doris, Will You Bring Me In a Cup of FISA Warrants and a Plate of Drone Apps?’
By now you’ve heard that the rules say that once a year the DOJ discloses to Congress the number of FISA eavesdropping applications it files and the numbers both approved and rejected by the Court, and that Senator Harry Reid was given the report for 2012 last week.
Glenn Greenwald explained the history of the original 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act recently, and said it was purported to have been the ‘remedy’ to past rampant federal government abuses of its eavesdropping powers that were discovered by the Church Committee Senate hearings. He called the law’s provisions ‘a radical perversion of the judicial process’, in that the FISA court convened in secret, its rulings were classified, the standards of ‘probable cause’ were seriously diluted, and grotesquely, no adversaries to the government ‘evidence’ against a target were permitted in the room. Adding to the irony, the Court itself was housed in the Justice building.
When the New York Times broke the story in 2005 about Bush’s minions breaking the law and listening to phone calls, reading emails, etc. of Americans without obtaining warrants (just too much of a burden, you see), Congress, rather than punishing said officials, passed a new law to legalize it all. We can’t be too secure, you know; nor can Congress-critters asses ever be too secure.
Thus was the FISA Amendments Act of 2008’ created. Ars Technica’s opinion of it can be read here; it’s subtitled ‘Telco immunity is the icing, not the cake’ (that’s a hint).
Here are the numbers from the 2012 report according to Glenn’s screenshot from the pdf; he says:
Let’s repeat that: “of 1,789 applications, the FISA court did not deny any applications in whole or in part.” What fantastic oversight (1789 is, ironically, the year the Constitution was ratified). The court did “modify” 40 of those applications – less than 3% – but it approved every single one. The same was true of 2011, when the DOJ submitted 1,676 applications and the Fisa court, while modifying 30, “did not deny any applications in whole, or in part”.
It was also the date that the French Revolution started…, but yes: the Court’s rubber-stamping every one of the warrants proves that there are not even pretenses that there are any checks and balances at play in any of this. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer reminded him that the 1789 applications were only the ones that were so narrowly and individually targeted that the blanket ‘program warrants’ wouldn’t cover the individuals.
Blanket approval means…the Court may as well not even be reading the applications, or listening to ‘evidence’, eh?
What makes all of this worse is just how extreme the US government is “interpreting” – i.e. distorting – its eavesdropping powers under the law. Two Democratic Senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, have been warning for years that the Obama administration is exploiting these laws in ways far beyond what the public knows or what a reasonable reading of the laws would permit. One of the nation’s most knowledgeable surveillance experts, Julian Sanchez, has documented – citing the writing of a former Obama lawyer – documented that the law is used to target even “an American citizen located within the United States, and no court or judge is required to approve or review the choice of which individuals to tap”: exactly the type of warrantless surveillance we were all told this law would prohibit. And yet, the Fisa court – even for those narrow set of cases where a warrant is required – continues as it always has: rubber-stamping virtually anything and everything the government wants to do.
So next up:
‘Oh, Doris; where’s that plate of drone applications I’d asked for?’
Glenzilla reminds us that at his confirmation hearing, our National CIA Drone King had mumbled something about how grand a thing it might be if a similar sort of Drone Court (you know, like FISA’s cousin) were created, since some people have some reservations about his boss (or is he Obomba’s boss in that area, and possibly be the head of the Shadow Military; who doth know, running JSOC ops in ninety nations now), assassinating brown people, and even the odd American by drone…
Now, the author of the Reuters piece quotes our beloved Warmonger Diane Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Intel Committee, as saying about the Drone Court that she planned to: “review proposals for … legislation to ensure that drone strikes are carried out in a manner consistent with our values, and the proposal to create an analogue of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the conduct of such strikes.”
Those are a couple real knee-slappers there, Ms. Feinstein, given that you know what a de facto banana republic the FISA Court is; and as for ‘being consistent with our values’, you must mean those US federal government values that have absolutely no ethical, Constitutional, or International legal underpinnings whatsoever.
From the Reuters piece:
Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned the need for creating a new court to review drone targeting lists.
“We have courts that are fully capable and experienced” in dealing with sensitive national security matters, he said. Federal courts in Washington, New York City, and Alexandria, Virginia, routinely handle highly classified materials yet operate with more transparency and more independence than the ultra-secretive foreign intelligence court, Anders said.
If the United States did set up a drone target court, human rights advocates would still likely have problems with it.
Pretty mild words, not that anyone cares much about human rights around there, unless they’re castigating other nations for violating them…, but only our ‘enemy nations’, not our Partners in Peace, like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, on and on.
Of course we know only to well that Obomba and the CIA are already targeting individuals with the loosest of ‘standards’. But Glenn makes what should be a glaringly obvious argument that an assassination court would be far worse than a rubber-stamp surveillance court; it would actually codify a system in which federal judges would meet in secret, with only government attorneys present…issuing execution warrants, and all of it with no external oversight. He called the notion ‘creepy and tyrannical’. What would you call it?
Now you can see that all of these ugly attempts at pretending that there is in fact some oversight or justification wouldn’t be as necessary were it not for the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force’s (AUMF) sixty words:
Resolved: That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
Representative Barbara Lee, who was the sole dissenter in Congress, and introduced a law in 2011 to overturn it (OpenCongress.org gave it a 2% chance of getting out of committee). But lo and behold, there are apparently some folks who want to tweak it a bit. Writing for the Guardian, authors Michael Shank and Matt Southworth are calling for the AUMF to be overturned altogether, calling it what it is: A Blank Check for War. They mention, along with other unnamed place-holder ‘opponents’, Bob Corker, John McCain and Buck McKeon who would like some oversight over it; the author reckons that they’d hardly want to reign it in. They link to this piece in which both ideas to expand it and narrow it are mentioned. It’s eerie that we can read such a piece and not be shocked by it now unless and until we pull back and ask our selves: what the hell? So stay tuned on those upcoming attractions to create “Son of AUMF”; if you don’t like the present one, maybe you’ll love the next iteration.
Lastly, I need to say a word or two (or sixty) about the 16-page ‘White Paper’ Legal Justification for Drone assassinations that the White House leaked to CBS awhile back. When I wrote it up, my laptop wouldn’t boot up pdf’s at the time (the pdf is here), so I relied on other authors for what it contained. When I recently read this piece of Jeffrey St. Clair’s at Counterpunch, I was stunned. In it, he says:
At last we know. The mysterious legal authority for Barack Obama’s killer drone program flows from another administration with an elastic interpretation of executive power: that of Richard Nixon.
In a chilling 16-page dossier known simply as the White Paper, one of Obama’s statutory brains at the Justice Department cites the 1969 secret bombing of Cambodia as a legal rationale justifying drone strikes, deep inside nations, against which the United States is not officially at war.
This startling disclosure is drafted in the antiseptic prose of an insurance adjuster announcing the denial of a claim based on a pre-existing condition. Yet, the bombing of Cambodia (aka Operation Menu), which involved more than 3,000 air strikes, was almost universally acknowledged as a war crime. Now the Obama administration has officially enshrined that atrocity as precedent for its own killing rampages.
Grrrrrr. He’s right on all counts; I checked now that I can boot up most pdf’s now. It’s a Photostat, so no cut and paste works; the bits about Cambodia are at the bottom of page 4.
Please read St. Clair’s piece. You may be even more pissed about the White Paper’s contents (I am), but he brings some of the history of that era, much of it unknown to me, as the Obomba administration ‘has officially enshrined that atrocity as precedent for its own killing rampages’. Brrrrrrr. He also asks where are the folks similar to Roger Morris and other Nixon underlings who pushed back against Nixon’s perfidy, or resigned in disgust. Who does the same as Obomba the ‘Mesmerizer’ rules with impunity? Almost no one. He blasts the Professional Left (almost too easy a target these days), and then:
The cyber-Left is kept rigidly in line by the architects of liberal opinion. From David Corn to Rachel Maddow, the progressive press acts in sinister harmony with the administration’s neoliberal agenda. They seduously ignore Obama’s constitutional depredations, and instead devote acres of airspace to the faux clashes over sequestration and gay marriage.
Night after night, we are presented with sideshows, what Hitchcock called the McGuffin in his films, the dramatic diversions designed to distract the audience’s attention from the real game being played. Meanwhile, the liberal commentariat is balefully complacent to the rapacity of Obama’s remote control death squadrons, even in the face of somber evidence regarding the drone program’s criminal nature. Raid after raid, kill after kill, ruin after ruin, they remain silent. But their silence only serves to emphasize their complicity, their consciousness of guilt. Their fingers too are stained by distant blood.
Do you remember what a turning point it was when the nation discovered that Nixon had been covertly bombing Cambodia and Laos for so long? In Boulder, the largest antiwar demonstration I’d ever seen took place spontaneously; people’s dress indicated that they’d just left their homes, work, schools…and marched in unified rage.
St. Clair ends his piece with portent and conviction:
Acts that were once considered outrages against conscience are now routine.
Welcome to the age of Murder.Gov.
May I also recommend highly Charles Davis’s Drone Court Advantage; stick with it until the very end; you’ll be glad you did. Be sure and read the quotes in the sidebars.
In my last post, I was urged to look at youtubes of Bostonians being arrested by
fascist pigs martial law SWAT teams. Along the way, I found comedian Nate Jackson in Boston during the request to ‘shelter in place’; enjoy:
(to be cross-posted at wendyedavis.net)