Newsweek calls the revelation that the Bush Administration has been routinely spying on thousands of American citizens “Snoopgate.”
For his part, President Bush has angrily condemned the leak of information about his domestic spying program—indeed, he has shown far more righteous indignation than he demonstrated over disclosure of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame, even though that leak arguably did endanger national security.
Bush’s defense of his actions boils down to two claims: as President, he has “inherent authority” to do anything he damn well pleases; and following the law would be “too cumbersome.” The first claim is too specious to require rebuttal. (If the President has “inherent power” of that magnitude, why do we need the Patriot Act? And what about the President’s constitutional duty to uphold and obey the laws?) The second is equally without merit. As Newsweek notes, the special court set up by Congress in 1978 can approve eavesdropping “in hours, even minutes, if necessary. In fact, the law allows the government to eavesdrop on its own, then retroactively justify to the court.” The court has also looked favorably on Administration applications: since 1979, out of “tens of thousands” of requests, the court has denied exactly four.
Congress’ purpose in establishing this semi-secret court was to ensure that federal power would not be misused, that it would not be deployed against political enemies or others who simply disagreed with government policies. (Think Richard Nixon, or J. Edgar Hoover’s surveillance of “domestic enemies” like Martin Luther King.) And indeed, the New York Times reports that the FBI is gathering covert intelligence on such threats to American security as Greenpeace, PETA, Quaker anti-war groups, and—right here in Indianapolis—a Vegan Community Project. Recently, FBI agents interrogated a student at Dartmouth who was researching a paper on communism for his Fascism and Totalitarianism class, because he had requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung’s “Little Red Book” through inter-library loan.
I feel safer already.
As columnist Marie Cocca has noted, we now have a government that spies on its own citizens, detains hundreds of people without ever charging them, and maintains prisons throughout the world where we evidently engage in what most people call torture. And the President justifies going to war in Iraq—despite the absence of WMDs—because that evil Saddam spied on Iraqi citizens, detained people without due process, and engaged in torture.
On December 9th, Doug Thompson, a former GOP operative who now writes for Capitol Hill Blue, reported on a meeting between Bush and Republican Congressional leaders on reauthorization of the Patriot Act. According to Thompson’s three (unnamed) sources, when a Congressional aide said there were valid constitutional concerns about certain provisions of the Act, the President screamed “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It’s just a goddamned piece of paper.”
Despite my strong disapproval of this Administration, I did not believe that story when I read it. But given the most current revelations, it sure seems a lot more plausible.