It was apt that West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller chose Halloween to publish an op-ed in the Washington Post that once again tried to justify warrantless surveillance of US citizens by invoking the specter of 9/11.
(I quote from Sen. Rockefeller's op-ed)
In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, the Bush administration had a choice: Aggressively pursue potential terrorists using existing laws or devise new, secret intelligence programs in uncharted legal waters.
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Within weeks of the 2001 attacks, communications companies received written requests and directives for assistance with intelligence activities authorized by the president. These companies were assured that their cooperation was not only legal but also necessary because of their unique technical capabilities. They were also told it was their patriotic duty to help protect the country after the devastating attacks on our homeland.
Though I for one am not scared by the regurgitated talking points of the cowardly and oft-bunkered Vice President Dick-in-a-Box, I am terrified that a purportedly fully briefed Senator—a Democrat, no less—thinks that any of us should be satisfied with his contorted explanations for illegal spying and retroactive immunity.
Glenn Greenwald does a fine job of debunking the circular logic used by Jell-O Jay as he tries to distract us from his cozy relationship with the people and companies that he’s indemnifying, but he misses what is to me the most glaring fabrication.
In case you missed it, let me reprise a select sentence:
Within weeks of the 2001 attacks, communications companies received written requests and directives for assistance with intelligence activities authorized by the president.
Well, I’m tired of niceties on this one, so I’m just going to state it plain; THIS. IS. A. LIE.
As has been noted in books, newspapers (and here), e-magazines (and here, and here), wire services, and blogs (and here, and here, and here, and here, to link to but a handfull) repeatedly over the last two years, the Bush Administration, directly from the White House or through the NSA, approached telecommunications companies about eavesdropping and data-mining on US citizens within the United States over six months before the attacks of 9/11/01. This assessment has now been confirmed by documents unsealed in the case of former Qwest head Joseph Nacchio.
Since we believe that J-Rock, as a then ranking member of the SSCI, was briefed on some or all of these warrantless spy programs early on, and since he now assures us that he’s seen all appropriate documents concerning telco involvement, unless by “within weeks of the 2001 attacks” Rocky means within 27 weeks before the attacks, Senator Rockefeller is lying. He is not only invoking 9/11 to once again scare Americans into accepting unfettered violations of their privacy, he is using the terrorist acts of 2001 to directly deceive us about the nature and intent of the illegal surveillance programs.
I perhaps am not overwhelmingly shocked that another senator has been compromised by administrations bullying and corporate cash, but I am a little dismayed that critics of Rockefeller, the new Senate FISA re-write, and the Bush Administration’s domestic spying programs in general, still often fail to cite this very disturbing and revealing truth.
It is not simply a matter of scheduling; it goes to the root of all arguments both for and against the surveillance programs. Since the telecommunications companies were approached by the administration in February of 2001, then none of this is a response to the attacks of 9/11. And, since the spying is not a response to those events, then what were the NSA and the White House looking for?
If they were looking for terrorist conversations, then the September ‘01 attacks prove that the program was a flop. In fact, it is possible to go so far as to say that the giant dragnets cast by the intel/telco partnership flooded the NSA with so much data that it actually overwhelmed the system and buried much more valuable and readily apparent terrorist signal intelligence.
As I struggle to remain up to speed on illegal surveillance issues, I know all too well that there is a heck of a lot to read out there, but I think it essential that on this key point, all off us, the SSCI, the establishment media, and the blogosphere, need to be on the same page. Warrantless domestic surveillance of US citizens by the Bush Administration started long before the 2001 hijackings. Bush, Cheney, their attorneys, their intelligence bureaucracy, and the telecom industry may all have their reasons for collecting signal intelligence on Americans without a court order, but, back when the spying started, 9/11 wasn’t one of them.
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(cross-posted on capitoilette)