FISA allows our government a very wide berth in conducting domestic surveillance, and allows it to be done on both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. It even allows the government to initiate the surveillance before getting the necessary approval, provided an application is made in a timely manner.
I was curious about how often and easily FISA warrant requests are approved, so I googled it and found this handy document. From 2001 to 2004, 5,645 applications for search warrants were filed with the FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court). And 5,641 of them were approved.
That would be an approval rate of 99.921%.
But 932 applications were made to the FISC during calendar year 2001 (3/4 of which took place prior to 9/11, which "changed everything," of course). Those numbers jumped to 1,228 in 2002, 1,727 in 2003, and a whopping 1,758 in 2004. Does anyone really think that the requests have nearly doubled since 9/11 because of increased activity by spies from foreign governments? (I know - let's blame France.)
Section 208 of the USA-PATRIOT Act increased the number of FISC judges from seven to eleven, helping to smooth along the increased traffic that the Bush Administration obviously expected from the increased activity of, uh, "foreign agents." Oh, and FYI: as of 1995, FISA also allows physical searches and not just electronic surveillance.
Given the huge volume of requests that are made for warrants, and given that the approval rate is near 100%, and given that the feds don't even have to get the warrant first, one has to wonder: just what kind of spying does Bush want to do that he feels would not be approved through the normal channels?
I mean, if Blinky the Bubble Boy feels he must deliberately violate some amazingly lenient laws, these must be some pretty goddamn dangerous people they're spying on.