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If you'd like some background on the specifics of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the remarkably lenient law that helps the federal government skirt the 4th amendment to the Constitution, Stand Strong had an excellent diary this past Saturday which links to an informative FAQ on the subject.

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%.

Obviously, FISA was enacted at a time (1978) when our chief national security concern was with foreign governments like the Soviet Union, and it was enacted to streamline the federal government's ability to conduct surveillance on agents of foreign governments - or U.S. citizens working with them. And judging from Condi's convoluted babbling when she appeared on MTP yesterday, part of their defense for skirting FISA is that terrorists aren't agents of actual governments.

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.

Like Quakers.

Originally posted to snookybeh on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 09:30 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •   tips and "recommends" are welcome... (4.00)
    a little Christmas mojo is always welcome.

    -8.25, -6.26 ain't "schadenfreude" if the bastards deserve it. this is infidelica...

    by snookybeh on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 09:29:49 AM PST

    •  ACTION DIARY (none)
      Great diary. It seems so straightforward. Warrants are easy to get, so why does Bush have to do it illegally?

      Smintheus has his ACTION DIARY up, urging people to call their senators to demand action on the NSA spying. Please go recommend his diary. And call your senators

      Sorry to post just to pimp another diary, snook, in bold, no less, but your subject was relevant. I recommended yours as compensation.

      But this campaign is important. I've tried Specter's office a few times. The line is always busy.

      This campaign will work if we all call.


      We need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

      by astraea on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 09:37:35 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  NSA has been needing scrutiny for a long time (none)
        I'm not even sure if the NSA officially exists yet. It's sort of sitting out there in the same area of spooky deniabilty that's housed big time tin foil hat topics like Area 51.

        I was driving to Virginia Beach from Richmond one day when I was growing up. I pulled off the Interstate to gas up at a Stuckey's... but I guess I took the wrong side of the exit. Instead of a Stuckey's, I see a military guardhouse. I pull up to ask how to get back to the Stuckey's and suddenly I have a very-large Marine at my window pointing an M-16 at what I would guess was my "center of mass."

        I found out a few years later I had pulled up to the front gate of some CIA training facility that appeared on no maps. See how you feel about the state of your freedoms when trying to get gas a Stuckey's can get you shot.

  •  Damn those obstructionists. (none)
    When the terror comes, it could be from the 0.079% that got through.  And don't forget the leakers in the press making us unsafe from Saddamosama Hussein bin Ladin.

    You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad. Aldous Huxley

    by murrayewv on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 09:31:32 AM PST

  •  thanks for the information (none)
    Having facts to face down the glib generalizations of Bushites is always appreciated.  One of the things that caught my attention this morning during the faux news conference was that Bush really didn't have much of an answer when confronted with the actual provisions of the acts he seeks to extend. I'm assuming this is because he gets his "news" from clips and summaries provided by the minion who aren't about to tell him things he doesn't want to hear--like facts.  The other thing that made an impression was that Bush was "horrified" by the leak of the NSA operation, but said absolutely nothing about the outing of a CIA agent. IOKIYAR.  I'm guessing that what Bush really knows about national security investigation procedure could be engraved on the head of a pin with a screwdriver; all he knows is that he wants to spy on opponents of his administration and doesn't care how his underlings do it.
  •  FISA is a rubber-stamp, not a 'court' (none)
    The idea that FISA is a check on US intelligence gathering services is utterly laughable. FISA is not a court. It's a rubber stamp.

    That's what makes what Bush did so freakin' ridiculous. He refused to even acknowledge the constitutional necessity to need to get his domestic spying rubber-stamped.

    •  Even FISA isn't lenient enough for a tyrant (none)
      who wishes to spy on anyone he wants.

      If he doesn't run it through FISA, and nobody knows (notice the vehement "shameful"s of Bush about this coming out (leaving aside the bitter irony that Karl Rove still draws a paycheck from the White House))... well then no one will notice him spying on people who have no connection to al Qaeda.

      On whom has Bush spied?

      This is the foremost question, because he needed to break a really lenient protocol to do it.

      What people would it be so embarrassing to spy on that you have to break the constitution in half to do so?

      Has Howard Dean been spied on? Richard Clarke? Kerry's campaign? Joseph Wilson? You? I?

      The burden is on the president to explain this extraordinary and ongoing act.  And it's clear that burden is being felt. At today's press conference he was angry, bitter, confused, contradictory, fearmongering... in a word:


      "Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House, but Bush has no idea." - former defense official

      by Republic Not Empire on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 10:05:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  So over the course of four years (none)
    exactly four applications got turned down. It would be intresting to find out if those four eventually got investigated anyway, under Bush's orders.

    This guy thinks he has no limits at all... he's testing us. We have to stop him now!

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