Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The attorney general and my screaming fit

Driving home from work yesterday and listening to NPR, I spent a fair amount of time screaming in fury and pounding on my steering wheel. I didn’t bruise my hands, but I certainly came close to doing so.

The traffic was fine.

The weather was OK.

I wasn’t late for an appointment.

The problem was Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and a radio interview where his defense of George W’s domestic spying program all came down to one concept: trust us.

Sorry, Mr. Attorney General, but I do not trust you, or George W., or the minions he has put in charge of the National Security Agency, which is carrying out the warrantless wiretaps. I don’t trust Gonzales anymore than he would trust me if I were in the position to wiretap him and to do it without getting a judge’s permission.

Asked by All Things Considered what procedure was used to review wiretaps, Gonzales wouldn’t give details. Security concerns, you know. However, he did “helpfully” provide the information over and over and over again that:
"It's not a decision made by someone who is inexperienced or someone who is a political appointee... "It's a decision made by career professionals."

I feel so much better. Did these “career professionals” go to the same spy schools as the Pentagon investigators who have been watching the New York University law school’s LGBT advocacy group OUTlaw, while classifying them as “possibly violent?” Or perhaps these folks have the same attitudes of the investigators who have labeled a University of California-Santa Cruz gay kiss-in protest as a “credible threat” of terrorism?

Asked about the criteria used to determine who gets defined as a terrorist or a terror suspect, Gonzales refused to give details and again reassured us that it was OK because those fantastic “career professionals” are making the decisions.

The problem is that no one is looking over their shoulders. No one is checking up. No one even knows who they’re wiretapping.

If the NSA is doing what it’s supposed to doing and listening in on real terrorists and real terror suspects, then I would support their activities as would most Americans.

But why do they refuse to go to a compliant secret FISA court to ask for warrants? The court has almost never turned them down, so why do they hesitate to go to the court now? What’s even more odd is that it appears that the law allows the NSA to immediately launch a wiretap and then wait 72 hours before going to the court for permission.

If this is true, then there is no security reason for NOT going to the court. Except, of course, if the security the White House is worried about is not the security of this country, but the administration’s own political security. How embarrassing would it be if we all learned who these fine “career professionals” are wiretapping?

Note: Findlaw Legal News has a terrific collection of documents on the issue, including the ACLU’s lawsuit, a letter from legal scholars protesting the program and the administration’s documents defending the program.

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