Wednesday, May 17, 2006

SpyGate Round 2: Phone companies deny & deny

As pretty much everyone knows by now, Verizon and Bell South have denied handing over records of their customers’ domestic calls to the National Security Agency. Meanwhile, USA Today, which broke the story last week, stands by its assertions.

Some liberal bloggers have done a good job here and here and here of parsing the company statements and considering the situation. Meanwhile, conservative bloggers are quoting the companies and claiming that the USA Today story is falling apart. Oh yes, and a class action lawsuit has been filed against the telecom companies.

What’s definite?
The former head of Qwest said his company was asked to hand over the records. Qwest refused. Either something happened, or this fellow is hallucinating.

What’s interesting?
Neither Bush nor any of his spokes-folk have ever denied that such a program and database of domestic calls exists. They just keep denying that purely domestic calls are being wiretapped without warrants. That’s like being asked about whether you shot any rabbits for dinner and answering by firmly denying that you’ve ever shot a deer. That wasn’t the question, Bushies.

What’s true?
The NSA is working without oversight. This means we don’t know the extent to which Bush has allowed (or ordered) the agency to ignore the FISA law, which requires a warrant from a secret court. We don’t really know that he hasn’t. However, we do know that Congressional committees, up to this point, haven’t been briefed as fully as they were in the past (or at all), and we know that no one is really watching with Bush and friends are doing. If this is all so legal, why not go to the FISA court, which rarely denies a warrant and can even issue warrants retroactively?

What’s absolutely true?
Tomorrow morning senators, the news media and all the rest of us average citizens will get our first good look at Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who ran these programs (or is alleged to have run these non-program programs) at the NSA. That’s when the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold its first hearing on Hayden’s confirmation to be the next head of the CIA.

Those hearings, the lawsuit, continuing reporting and a host of other factors are sure to keep this issue alive. Thus, here’s the one true thing we know: This isn’t even close to being over yet.

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