Domestic Spying Gets Uglier
What a warped world. The Washington Post yesterday reported that the White House may have selectively shared sensitive information about its warrantless surveillance program based on which lawmakers supported legal immunity for telecom companies that cooperated with the legally dubious program.
The Post quotes White House Press Secretary Dana Perino as saying that the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee "showed a willingness" to write immunity into their legislation. "Because they were willing to do that, we were willing to show them some of the documents that they asked to see," Perino said. And, indeed, the bill that came out of Senate Intel would dismiss pending lawsuits against the companies that provided information to the government without a warrant.
To make a questionable situation all the more distasteful, the New York Times reported yesterday that Senate Intelligence Chair John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) received tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions from telecom executives. Did Rockefeller become one of the strongest supporters of immunity because of White House pressure? Or did he take that position to appease his contributors? Either way, it doesn't look good.
Naturally, the White House's open-door policy toward Intelligence Committee members generated cries of foul from Senate Judiciary Committee members, who figure that they, too, ought to be able to review details of the government's domestic spy program before having to write legislation that would legalize or ban it.
An immunity-for-intelligence quid pro quo is "unacceptable," said Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking Republican Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Meanwhile, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who is a member of both committees, told The Post that briefings he received from his Intelligence Committee aide, who had reviewed the documents extensively, suggested that the surveillance program is illegal. "It['s] an executive power grab that is not justified by the statute or by the Constitution," Feingold said.
Lawmakers must ensure that their new surveillance bill has better judicial and congressional oversight than the previous version. They should also consider whether there is a compelling reason to protect the assets of big corporations at the expense of individual privacy. This story, though, is rapidly becoming a symbol for all that is wrong with the legal war on terror.
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