Wed 31 May 2006
Representative Price’s response to my May 11th complaint about NSA snooping.
Dear Mr. Raymond:
Thank you for contacting me regarding President Bush’s authorization of
National Security Agency (NSA) wiretaps.
I share your concern about President Bush’s decision to authorize the
use of wiretaps for conversations involving U.S. citizens. While the
need to protect our country from terrorist threats requires an upgraded
capacity for monitoring and surveillance, it also requires an extra
measure of vigilance so that the rights of citizens are not
Unchecked executive branch authority in this area is cause for concern
not because it might limit the rights of terrorists who mean us harm,
but because it can also impose on the rights of innocent U.S. citizens.
Congress made very clear in passing the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978 that the executive branch must secure
warrants from the FISA Court to conduct wiretaps related to national
security. The Court serves as an important check and balance on the
authority of executive branch officials to ensure that impositions on
civil liberties in the name of national security are truly necessary.
As you may know, the Bush Administration has claimed both a
constitutional and a statutory authority to justify its actions. Most
observers, including me, find the Administration’s rationale remarkably
weak. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service recently
produced an analysis of the issue in which it cast significant doubt on
In late February, Rep. Zoe Lofgren and I coauthored a letter to
President Bush that sixteen of our colleagues, including Rep. John
Conyers of the Judiciary Committee, cosigned. Our letter urged the
President to instruct Attorney General Gonzalez to appoint a Special
Counsel to investigate the NSA wiretapping program. I was motivated to
take this step after weeks of frustration stemming from the
unwillingness of the House Republican majority to hold any hearings or
provide any other oversight of the program. Under these circumstances,
the appointment of a Special Counsel is the best way to establish the
facts and allow Congress to determine the necessary next step.
In early May, USA Today reported that the NSA surveillance program was
even more expansive than previously disclosed. The article indicated
that the NSA routinely collects the call records of millions of
Americans from telecommunications companies. There was also news that a
Justice Department investigation of the wiretapping program was being
discontinued because the NSA refused to grant the securities clearances
needed for Justice Department personnel to carry out their work. On May
11th, I once again cosigned a letter to the President, this time with
fifty-four of my colleagues, to direct the appointment of a Special
Counsel to fully investigate the NSA’s domestic surveillance program.
I will continue pressing for the appointment of a Special Counsel and
for vigilant congressional oversight of the NSA wiretapping policy.
Thank you again for contacting me, and please continue to stay in touch
on issues of concern.
Member of Congress
By the way, I think the 1978 FISA Act is a total crock.
Sure, the administration’s most recent claims of “legally snooping” are based on FISA being unconstitutional. But these claims have been handily rebuked by Constitutional scholars and the Congressional Research Service [PDF] alike. In both cases, though, the basic constitutionality of FISA was not completely defended (only the use of FISA within the narrow context of Bush’s claims).
Because FISA, and its ugliest offspring – the Patriot Act, are offensive to the intent of our Constitution.
We’ve known for years FISA is subject to abuses (“September 2000, the government came forward and reported that it had made about 75 material misstatements of fact in its FISA applications”). From 1978 through 2004, 18,761 FISA warrants were granted with only 5 first pass rejections.
The Constitutionally corrosive actions of the sham FISA kangaroo courts strengthened the hand of our current imperial Presidency. And our compliant Congress, through inaction, is complicit in today’s coming Constitutional crisis.
FISA was the harbinger of today’s NSA abuses.
So, David, thanks for the update but, please, when (if?) our country returns to some semblance of sanity – consider the terrible lessons of the NSA abuses – and strengthen the bulwarks of freedom by restructuring FISA and removing the Patriot Act.
You see, there’s a reason why dictators work best in the dark; transparency – “the light of democracy” – is no friend to their tyranny.