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.

By Andrew Cohen |  October 24, 2007; 1:31 AM ET
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Immunity for the telecoms is the last straw for me. I have no faith in the American system, absolutely none. America is morally bankrupt.

Posted by: Jukeboy | October 24, 2007 12:49 PM

Someone at the WH must have noticed that it's cheaper to buy the Congress than the jury.

Posted by: | October 24, 2007 01:14 PM

Morally bankrupt, indeed. Hundreds of thousands of Americans call, email and sign petitions to Congress in a public outcry against this adminstration's abandonment of of ethical and moral principals. Yet there is little moral outrage expressed by our elected legislators. "Good Germans" stand by as the Constitution of the United is shredded daily and universal principals of morality are ignored or twisted by our government. The shame!

Posted by: c. O'brien | October 24, 2007 01:53 PM

Apparently, Americans (stupid, ignorant Americans, who seem to now be the majority) can't tell the difference between "Reality TV" and reality. How else to explain the complete lack of outrage at the systematic deconstruction of our Constitution, the unwarranted sacrifice of our young troops, the multi-billion dollar warmongering by Bush's corporate allies and the spineless, cowardly lack of response from the democrats?
As one of our Founding Fathers said, "The greatest enemy of a democracy, is an ignorant electorate." Perhaps he should have added "a fearful, cowering and ignorant electorate".

Posted by: Wally D. | October 24, 2007 02:46 PM

Oh, come on, Andrew, how dare you and the Post suggest that the Administration would conduct itself on matters of substance by looking to political considerations.

Hope you all caught Thornburgh's testimony today. Yes, Dick Thornburgh, just another partisan who doesn't know what he's talking about. A DOJ spokesman apparently is touting the Department's fair and balanced public corruption docket by pointing to the prosecution of . . . Duke Cunningham?

Uh, let's see, which U.S. Attorney prosecuted Cunningham and was investigating his well-connected friends? I wonder what happened to that U.S. Attorney. Oh, I guess the incredibly qualified Kyle Sampson, using the royal (White House) "we," had a "real problem" with her.

What a joke.

Posted by: ExAUSA | October 24, 2007 02:48 PM

The administration let the committee members see the legislation based on who they figured would agree with the legislation.

Just when I thought my outrage fatigue was fading.

Posted by: CRix | October 24, 2007 03:00 PM

I thought I lived in the United States, which honored the Constitution. However, the Republicans are in lock step with the White House and the Democrats in Congress do not have a spine, except of course Chris Dodd. Why are we considering a vote for the top tier candidates? The lobbyists have bought them. Why not try to get a President, who is in the bottom tier that does not owe anyone anything. One who speaks out against the corruption of this Administration? We are asking you, the legislators to not sign an immunity bill for the telecommunication industry. This is a violation of the fourth amendment. If you don't respect the American people at least respect the Constitution.

Posted by: Vicki Lawson | October 24, 2007 04:10 PM

Good comments section. Keep your powder dry and weapons clean. Shortly we might have to use them as the foundling fathers
intended their use according to the 2nd amendment of the constitution. Bush should be arrested to stand trial for trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Posted by: Jason Abdon | October 24, 2007 04:58 PM

ex-AUSA, do you think the promise of Mukasey reviving a professional JD is enough to suggest that he be affirmed, despite his apparent reverence for the unitary executive theory?

Posted by: mark_in_austin | October 24, 2007 05:33 PM

President Bush and his administration have done an exellent job keeping the American people safe from terrorist attacks. If the American voters are dumb and elect a Democrat for president in '08 though, that won't be the case. With the liberal Democrats lack-a-daisyal and what-me-worry style of governing giving the terrorists a free hand to do us harm, tying our Intelligence Services hands so they can't prevent future attacks against us, and preventing their capture with a lot of legalese BS, it will be the American people who will get killed and who will have to pay the piper.

Posted by: madhatter | October 25, 2007 02:37 AM

Peace of mind is germane to everyone's well-being, however, information in the wrong hands imperil our personal well-being.

Too often privacy framed in a context subjugated to concealment and secrecy renders the privacy issue moot; it completely ignores the actual merits of the case. Argued on the assumption privacy is equivalent to hiding something by-passes the substance necessary to validate people's real concerns. Privacy has nothing to do with hiding "bad" behaviour. In contrast the proper and improper use of personal information, who, what and whether legal or illegal, consequences arising from abuse are germane to the conversation.

Assessment is critical at this juncture. To the public's detriment the conversation ignores the elephant in the room: the consequential effects on individual lives as a result of operating outside oversight. We do not know how our information is used or who has access. No matter what precautionary measures are taken absent oversight virtually marginalizes a person's ability to control their personal information. In the event something did happen it would be too late, the damage was done. Conjecture as such raises questions about identity theft; what assurances preventative measures are in place so that our private information is inaccessible to simple curious or unsavory intentioned hackers?

Granting telecom companies immunity deprive individuals the right to redress any abuse or misuse of his/her information. In blatant disregard for constituents, representatives in Washington jumping on board to immunize the telecoms have abandoned their obligation to uphold the Constitution and protect the people -- the same people who elected them into office.

Shielding telecoms leaving the public unprotected contravenes our Constitutionally protected rights afforded every American. The government simply has no interest in protecting its citizens.

Granting immunity to companies illustrate just how low the bar measuring corporate and government accountability has fallen simultaneously raised the bar measuring a willingness to marginalize the will of the people.

In an environment absent oversight a free-for-all mentality continues today. However the gross abuse of power gave way to several instances alleging government retaliation against political enemies and others who failed to adhere to the demands of the WH. For instance the administration is accused of exacting revenge on Qwest, a telecom company, and its CEO Nacchio for not complying to NSA demands to turn over all customer records is one example.

As early as February 2001 -- 7 months "prior" to 911 -- Nacchio discovered the NSA was engaged in a project gathering surveillance data on millions of Americans. Later (although the WH denies it) Nacchio fell victim to political retaliation. Acting on the advice of legal counsel Nacchio had refused to relinquish company records to the NSA. Doing otherwise would be committing a felony. Presumably punished for adhering to the law not only got Qwest cut out of pending billion dollar contracts, the administration brought criminal charges against Nacchio alleging insider trading.

Other concerns regarding privacy and accurate information is the outsourcing of intelligence to profit motivated businesses and employees gathering what was once relegated strictly to trained and seasoned agents to interpret sensitive information! Third parties selling intelligence to the government are inclined to exaggerate or even falsify information to make it appear more threatening than it really is.

Thus unrestrained and unaccountable without mechanisms of oversight or accountability what prevents or even quells the urge to go beyond the limits of the law. Politically motivated government officials' whose evidence (at best) tenuous and subject to interpretation, brought charges (usually over-blown) against (mostly) innocent individuals are testament to the consequences when overzealous individuals run a muck of the justice system proven by the majority of cases dismissed. The gross perversion of power is a travesty of justice.

The aforementioned reasons alone (and others not mentioned) emphasize the need to change the context of the debate to focus on security issues coordinated in a wild west environment also validate our concerns related to eroding: rights, safety, privacy in addition to a host of other questions that have not been, but must be addressed in this debate.

Never in my wildest dreams, did it remotely occur to me that the US government could so quickly subvert democracy that is transforming the land of the free into Big Brother Orwellian 1984. Steps already taken closely resemble those taken by other leaders to close down open societies.

Constantly challenged in unfamiliar ways fundamental rights and freedoms woven neatly into the fabric of society are unraveling. The crumbling democratic institutions reflected by our nation's crumbling infrastructure are both attributable to our collective negligence. We took for granted everything would remain as it always has for over
two-hundred years. Apparently it is clear that the men and women in power do not appreciate that fact.

Denial that a revision in the power structure is transforming our system of government is no longer an option. Dangerously close to completion America will be forever changed into something, without hesitation, Americans would reject. But the media loathe to focus on subjects considered too controversial for the administration (putting the breaks on usurping powers no American president ought to have) will probably not bring this subject to the forefront, but it should before it is too late.

Herein an unsuspecting citizenry, too busy to notice, standing on the brink of momentous change -- change not conducive for sustaining an open and free society, will wake up and ask what happened and when.

While privacy issues are but a small part of the overall picture they are just another step that moves us further from the fundamental protections and rights guaranteed in our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Hopefully arguing the merits, rather than assumptions, will reap a more balanced approach to legitimate concerns as voiced by the people. After all peace of mind is germane to the health and well being of a nation on the brink of a possible crisis.

Posted by: serena1313 | October 25, 2007 07:05 AM

It is amazing to me that we see protesters in the streets of Venezuala -- Chavez is proposing that civil rights be suspended in the case of a declaration of a state of emergency.
Why have we not seen hundreds of thousands of Americans in the streets protesting the already accomplished supensions of civil rights in the USA?
It seems that we do not even see a sense of outrage amongst the leading presidential candidates. Not one has stated that they will reverse these power grabs by Bush. They look like they are licking their chops at the thought of all that power they will be wielding.
One thing is sure, if the government has a power, they will use it.

Posted by: RickyD | October 25, 2007 10:57 AM

There's been ONE CANDIDATE for President that has stood up and said THIS IS WRONG. Chris Dodd. For demonstrating true leadership, instead of the "which way the wind blows attitude of the "Top Tier" Dodd has secured my financial support and my vote.


Let's work together to make sure the idea doesn't make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- where it will be considered shortly.

If we can get it stripped there, it will have to be offered as an amendment to the overall bill where it will be a lot easier to get 41 votes against retroactive immunity than 41 to sustain Dodd's filibuster if necessary.

Take a moment and call up members of the committee, (follow the link below for names and phone numbers)

Tell the Judiciary Committee to grow a spine. Tell Harry Reid that we don't need to WIN all the fights, but we should at least show up for them!

Damn, I'm angry!

Posted by: | October 25, 2007 12:40 PM

There are a few good men in Washington that are working for 'We The People'. We know that Rockefeller 1V D-W.Va received BIG BUCKS in political contributions from AT&T to write amnesty/immunity into legislation, because AT&T and Verizon broke the law by giving information on U.S. Citizens without a warrant. Harry Reid,Majority Leader is looking to push the Bill for a vote in November. Senator Dodd D-Ct. said he would put a 'hold' on the bill and is prepared to go to the floor and fillibuster if his hold is not honored. 'We The People' have to contact our Senators and have them stand behind Senator Dodd, he will need plenty of support. Do not allow the greedy no-gooders to distroy our Constitution and our Country.

Posted by: iroxnow | October 25, 2007 01:26 PM

The telecoms appear to be afraid of lawsuits from outraged subscribers whose Constitutional and probably civil rights have been violated by the telecoms just GIVING the Feds anything they asked for, no questions asked, and possibly doing the legwork on the "databases" to boot.

Let's see if we can parse this correctly:

1. If the telecoms didn't do anything wrong, they don't need a get out jail free card. The will win all the lawsuits, and people (even the "we advertise on TV lawyers) will give up.

2. If the telecoms feel they NEED this legislation, then somewhere in management there must be at least one weasel who will out the fact that they did something illegal.

Any questions?

Posted by: VA_Lady2007 | October 25, 2007 02:51 PM


Even if he telecoms did do nothing wrong (a highly unlikely scenario) and win all the lawsuits, it will be at the cost of considerable millions of dollars to them. That is a lot of what they are concerned about.

I agree that they should NOT be given immunity, but it might be fair for the government to agree to indmenify them for their costs if, in fact, they do win the lawsuits. If it turns out that they were just good citizens doing their duty (I'm trying to keep a straight face here) then the country should pick up the costs they incurred in defending themselves.

Posted by: | October 25, 2007 03:29 PM

People like madhatter are very casual about giving up constitutional rights. But if the world wasn't filled with idiots, it wouldn't be the world. That, my friend, is the rub.

Posted by: Dee | October 25, 2007 04:37 PM

Right on bro (Wally D)! The corporate broadcast media (the big 3 and especially the nitwit greedy scumsucking vacuous juveniles of cable outlets -- which reaches far bigger numbers of viewers than any single print media source)-- has been especially complicit in cheerleading, ignoring and hastening the destruction of our formerly free, former democracy, former republic.

We're rapidly becoming nothing but the Police States of America -- a consumer culture of passive vidiots.

We get the government we deserve.


Posted by: Amen to Wally D.! | October 25, 2007 10:11 PM

Mark in Austin --

I at first considered Mukasey presumptively qualified, but I found his testimony deeply troubling. We need an attorney general with guts right now, enough guts to stand up to an often rogue administration. Mukasey faced at least two questions that called on him to show some guts. In the first, he would not acknowledge that waterboarding is torture and is therefore unacceptable. That was bad enough, but then when asked whether he thought the president had to obey federal statutes, he said it depended and suggested that the president's authority to defend the country could trump his obligation to follow the law. I'm sorry, but even the president must obey federal statutes. Why didn't Mukasey have the guts to accept this basic truism? Did someone get to him, like they got to Fredo, Frankie Pantangeli (Monica), and the rest?

So no, if the nominee is afraid to lock himself in to the idea that the president must obey federal law, then he's unfit. He ought not to be swayed so easily by the little toadies that the White House assigned to his hearing preparation. He needed to man up. He failed. I vote no.

Posted by: ExAUSA | October 26, 2007 01:03 AM

Left-wing liberals like Dee can't see the forest for the trees in the debate over ALLEGED wiretaps of American citizens and our Constitutional rights. We are at war. We have been at war for over 25 years with one terrorist attack after the next. The Islamic-Fascist terrorists have hijacked dozens of civilian commercial aircraft like at Lockerbee and blown them up killing hundreds if not thousands of innocent westerners. They have bombed and murdered our Marine peacekeepers in Lebanon, bombed the Saudi Khobar Towers killing our Air Force personel living there, bombed our two US Embassies in Africa murdering hundreds of our fellow citizens, bombed our ship the USS Cole killing our sailors, and the list goes on and on and would make a book. This war didn't START with President Bush taking out Saddam Hussain, it started long ago and is a war against Islamic-Fascist global terrorism. That fact though is lost and conveniently forgotten by the liberal Democrats who'se political agenda is solely to bash-Bush and get their guys elected, because that's what all these 'wiretap', water boarding interogations, and 'Constitutional rights' issues is all about. Nobody noticed 'Constitutional rights' Geneva Convention rules, the human rights of captured terrorists, water boarding, and other now-important to liberal Democrat issues when Bill Clinton was sending captured terrorists to Egypt and Jordan for "interogation". These issues ONLY became important to liberals when a Republican got into office. The bottom line is that the liberal Democrats are putting their political interests of gaining power ahead of the interests of our country. And that's what all this is all about!

Posted by: madhatter | October 26, 2007 12:30 PM

There is also the possibility that the root of the term "mad hatter" is drawn from a time when mercury was used in the process of curing felt used in some hats. It was impossible for hatters to avoid inhaling the mercury fumes given off during the hat making process. Over time, the residual mercury caused neurological damage, as well as confused speech and distorted vision. As the mercury poisoning progressed to dangerously high levels, sufferers could also experience psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations. (

Sorry, madhatter, but we really don't need to destroy this village to save it. Go get some rest and have someone make sure your affairs are in order.

Posted by: Dee | October 27, 2007 08:37 AM

Poor Dee is the typical liberal. When confronted with facts, she by-passes the gist of the discussion because she can't dispute them and resorts to character assasination of the messenger. Like David Horowitz, who was the target of these sort of smear-campaigns said after his Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week event where he was shouted down and physically threatened, "The left has only one strategy when dealing with it's opponents, and that's to smear them. They learned from Stalin."

Posted by: madhatter | October 27, 2007 01:10 PM

Umm, Mr. Madhatter, your position is without merit. Instead of going back to Stalin, whose techniques have more in common with the present administration than with the liberals you seem to loathe so vehemently, why not go back to the founding fathers who believed in Constitutional guarantees. And yes, there were terrorists then as well. Was not the White House burned by the British in 1812? Yet somehow the country survived, may I say flourished, while preserving the rights of its citizenry. Oh, and please note that the possessive its has no apostrophe.

Posted by: Diogenes | October 27, 2007 02:35 PM


Instead of just attacking madhatter, I think you need to explain the facts to those who think (?), as he does, that Bush has kept us safe from attack since 2001. This position is based not only on a fear that makes them ready to surrender their civil liberties (Why do I need civil liberties, I ain't done nothing wrong?), but on a complete denial that pulling out of Afghanistan and attacking Iraq did more to generate the threat of terror against us than anything since the earlier Gulf War. Of course, when the next attack comes (such things take years of preparation), it will probably be during a Democratic administration, so Rash Limbo and his ilk will blame the "Liberals". That is, if Americans still have the right to express their opinion by then.

Posted by: hesthe | October 27, 2007 07:27 PM

"There is no place in a fanatic's head where reason can enter." - Napoleon Bonaparte

Posted by: me vexat pede | October 27, 2007 11:07 PM

The problem with the 'liberal' label that's used by you charlatans here; in the Democratic Party--controlled MSM, and on the campuses of academia is that none of you actually are liberal. You're all just a bunch of America, Bush, and US Military-hating Socialists and Communists hiding under the liberal label. Calling yourself liberal doesn't make it so.

Posted by: madhatter | October 28, 2007 10:35 PM

is madhatter a bush shill?

Posted by: greenhat | October 29, 2007 04:44 PM

Okay, let's see if conservatives can identify with these facts: In an effort to combat the terrorists that attacked us on 9/11, we attack Afghanistan which housed the Al-Qaeda terrorists, and the rest of the civilized world rejoiced and joined us in the fight. When we decided that Saddam and not Mushurraf was the bloody dictator that had to die in that region, we committed over 4,000 American soldiers to death in the process and have let a 6'6" Saudi man who can't go two days without his dialysis machine remain free for six years, yet we have deposed and executed Saddam, who did not attack our sovereignty. I know our armed forces are not inept and they can capture one man with such infirmities, so the truth must be, we really are not seeking him.

When this administration was trying to make the case for going to war against Iraq, anyone that gave conflicting information from what they wanted to do was marginalized and censored. Now I can assure you that a US Ambassador with a covert wife that can raid anyone's computer files is the perfect cover while the Ambassador is downstairs being diplomatic, but because the Wilson's didn't agree with the intelligence that WMD were being sought by Iraq, the administration weakened our nation's ability to combat terror and have such a covert operative do its bidding, and revealed a covert operative that had worked for twenty years in the shadows. And this bit of anger management helped our country how, Mr. Mad hatter?

The conversation about giving telecoms immunity is interesting, but what of the information that telecoms were giving the government this information prior to 9/11? If this were common knowledge, would those lessening of civil liberties still be okay for you conservative hawks? I do not agree that giving telecoms immunity is the way to deal with their unlawful behavior. Let the chips fall where they may and in the end, some government lawyer will just say "States Secrets" and the courts will dismiss them anyway.

So one commenter would have us believe the US has been in the rendition business long before 9/11, yet there's no evidence to be attributed to this, just rampant speculation. Mad hatter, you are really mad to think this administration has done such a wonderful job of keeping Americans safe. (LOL) Who was the commander in chief during the largest scale attack on American soil? Oh, that would be this same administration. So you feel they have gotten their act together since 2001, I take it? There is your claim that if we elected a democrat that we would be attacked again, despite acknowledgment that the Republicans and their "intelligence" failed to stop 9/11 from happening.

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