These are the people with perhaps the most important voices of all on the issue. They put their professional lives and reputations on the line, one more than thirty years ago, two during this administration. They were and are in a position unique in this debate--they saw up close what the government is capable of doing in secret and against the will of the Congress and the people.
Perhaps the most famous whistleblower of all, former intelligence officer Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who in the early 1970s released the Pentagon Papers, has come out strongly against this FISA bill. He spoke with Tim Ferris of BoingBoing Gadgets about this legislation, the danger it poses, and what we should do about it.
On Tuesday [ed. note, the votes will be Wednesday], a bill will come up that changes, basically really rips apart without admitting it, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, by expanding the president's ability to overhear, without a warrant, without any judgment outside the executive branch being exercised, American citizens in the United State, thus gutting the Fourth Amendment, essentially. And also granting retroactive immunity to the telephone companies who obeyed the illegal presidential request to carry on an illegal program these last seven years....
Now the real importance of that last point, which is clearly unconstitutional and which many people, Senator Dodd and Senator Feingold and over the last year, until fairly recently Senator Barack Obama had promised to filibuster any bill that gave that immunity. And the reason for that was not a desire to punish anybody, actually, but because the civil suit possibility for people whose rights had been violated by this illegal overhearing gave the only real chance of finding out what it was that NSA was hearing, and the FBI or CIA or whoever else was involved. Congress doesn't yet know that. In fact, if they vote for that immunity, they'll be voting immunity for acts they really don't even know what their giving. Like President Ford's pardon of former President Nixon after he resigned which was for any crimes he may have committed which Ford, in the absence of a prosecution of Nixon, didn't really know what he was pardoning.
So the same would be true here, meaning we would be giving away the only chance we have of discovering how much the government is spying on us illegally and finding out about law-abiding citizens. The people who leaked that I think did it because they knew what was happening and they felt it was wrong, it shouldn't be happening. They haven't told us yet, they haven't risked their jobs to that extent, to tell us either who exactly has been order, how many, for what purposes, and what exactly they've been overhearing and what use is made of it....
This information would enable the government to intimidate or blackmail or manipulate every member of congress, every official who might be tempted to reveal criminality, people like the ones in the NSA who knew that criminal action was--and is--going on. This law is intended to legalize it, basically, and to continue the cover up, conceal it.
You can't have a democracy with the state--the executive branch--having that kind of information, total information about every communication, every credit card, every transaction, every fax, e-mail, telephone conversation of everyone. And as far as we know, that's what's being collected now. We do need to know whether that's yet true or not, but I think it's a pretty good assumption.... You can't keep a republic, a constitutional republic with that degree of knowledge by the president, by the executive branch of all of our private affairs. You can't have it. You have something else, you have you can call it an autocracy, a dictatorship. It's the basis for tyranny, and that's what the Constitution was meant to prevent and that's what this bill would confer--unlimited power....
I have to say that no senator, Republican or Democrat, should be voting for this Senate bill. Not one. Everyone who does so is in fact, I would say, violating his or her oath to defend the Constitution. But they can do better than that.
Ellsberg, one of the more than 21,500 members of the myBarackObama group that has urged the Senator to oppose this bill, is pushing for us to do the same, to call our Senators.
Two of the Bush-era whistleblowers join in his call. Mark Klein, the retired AT&T engineer who stepped forward with the technical documents at the heart of the anti-wiretapping case against AT&T, and Babak Pasdar, who leaked information that a major telecommunications carrier provided the government with access to its entire mobile network, weigh in today.
President Bush, despite receiving all the changes he demanded, proceeded that very same month to begin eavesdropping on Americans in violation of the retooled and updated FISA law. Once caught, he tried to excuse his conduct by claiming that FISA was somehow inadequate, and he has been aggressively pushing for amnesty for the phone companies who were co-conspirators in his illegal program. This newest proposed change to FISA will provide telecom amnesty, which will ultimately protect not only the phone companies, but the president himself, by dismissing the lawsuits against the companies.
We can testify firsthand to the blatant violations, because we were the whistle blowers who exposed the egregious wrongdoing that has occurred. Our disclosures included how AT&T cooperated with the NSA to install monitoring hardware to spy on the entire Internet, and how a major telecommunications carrier allowed for federal government access to its entire mobile network - without security controls or record keeping. These security breaches represented an unprecedented expansion of government surveillance of the population....
The Senate is set to give the final approval for amnesty and expanded spying tomorrow, so this is the last chance to turn it back. We urge that amnesty be denied. What information did the telecoms share with the administration? How was this information shared? Is it continuing today? We need answers to these questions.
To this day, the American people do not know the full extent of the telecom actions in warrantless wiretapping, and if amnesty passes, we may never know. Allowing this administration and these corporations to get away with this illegal and unconstitutional behavior sets the worst type of precedent for future American generations.
They will pass this terrible legislation, but not it cannot happen with our complicity. We'll lose, but we'll lose by putting them all on notice that we expect them to use a greater majority in Congress next year, and a Democratic presidency, to repeal this travesty and to finally reveal all that information they are working so hard now to cover up. The vote might be over tomorrow, but this issue will not go away.
Call your Senators and remind them that we'll be watching and that we'll remember. Additionally, call the 29 Senators who voted against the Senate bill the last time it came up--along with Obama and Clinton who did not vote--and tell them to vote for the Bingaman amendment, but if it does not pass to vote against final passage.
These are the 30 Senators and the potential president who can hold firm now and lead the charge to fix this next year. Holding them to their previous vote now is critical to making those improvements in the next Congress. The list is below the fold.