In response to my email to them about their position on FISA, I got the following email from the American Legion. Although well written and seemmingly well considered, the AL position on Illegal Wiretapping and Telcom Immunity is just a rehashing of the White House talking points.
The American Legion believes S. 2248 would modernize FISA, ensure the future cooperation of the private sector, and safeguard the very civil liberties we all value.
So, it's imperative that to protect "civil liberties", the American Legion believes we should step on those "civil liberties"; the political version of "backburning" as used in forest fires where you burn a portion of forest to save the greater portion of it.
More below the fold...
Thank you for your honorable military service and for sharing your views and concerns with The American Legion.
The Department of Justice and the Intelligence Community are taking all the steps possible to try to keep the country safe during this current period of uncertainty. These measures are remedial at best however, do not provide the tools our intelligence professionals need to protect the Nation or the certainty needed by the intelligence professionals and their private partners. The American Legion believes the bipartisan passed Senate bill is a strong and balanced measure. The bill was sponsored by Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and was passed by a bipartisan majority in the Senate. The American Legion believes S. 2248 would modernize FISA, ensure the future cooperation of the private sector, and safeguard the very civil liberties we all value.
The American Legion believes it is imperative that the intelligence community retain the necessary tools to collect vital information. The fundamental authorities provided by the Protect America Act have helped the intelligence community to obtain exactly the type of information it needed to keep this Nation safe. Since enactment of the Protect America Act, the intelligence community has obtained information about efforts of an individual to become a suicide operative, efforts by terrorists to obtain guns and ammunition, and terrorists transferring money. Other information obtained, thanks in large part to these new authorities, has led to the disruption of planned terrorist attacks.
The American Legion believes that surveillance conducted under Executive Order 12333 in a manner that does not implicate FISA or the Protect America Act is not always effective, efficient, or safe for the U.S. intelligence professional as information collected under the Protect America Act. Surveillance under the Protect America Act served as an essential adjunct to the other intelligence gathering tools. Clearly, in light of the dramatic changes in the world of communications since 1978, the Federal government often has been required to obtain a FISA Court order prior to surveillance of foreign terrorists and other national security threats located outside the United States. Without question, this hampers intelligence collection targeting these individuals overseas in a way that even Congress never intended. Due to the dangerous gaps in active intelligence collection last summer, Congress passed the Protect America Act, while addressing the much needed long-term FISA reforms critical to meaningful national security.
Currently, FISA's requirements impair the ability to collect information on foreign intelligence targets located overseas. Initially, FISA was designed to govern foreign intelligence surveillance of persons within the United States; therefore, requires a showing of "probable cause" before such surveillance can begin. Logically, this makes sense where the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment requires "probable cause" and where the civil liberties of Americans are implicated. However, this is illogical to require a showing of probable cause for surveillance of overseas foreign targets who are not entitled to the same Fourth Amendment protections. The American Legion believes imposing this requirement in the context of surveillance of foreign targets located overseas results in the loss of potentially vital intelligence forever. In addition, the laborious requirment to make such a showing would divert linguists and analysts covering al-Qa'ida and other foreign threats from their primary mission, to the task of providing detailed justification for FISA Court applications related to surveillance of foreign targets. It is far more productive for intelligence professions to remain focused on obtaining foreign intelligence from foreign targets with unfettered speed and agility.
Does FISA need reform? Absolutely, but not at the cost of unnecessary gaps in national security. The American Legion believes S. 2248 will continue to provide the necessary intelligence gather tools while Congress deliberates on more permanent FISA reform.
Director National Legislative Commission
The American Legion Washington, DC
There really isn't much I can say in reponse to this. It reaks of "scare tactics" and, although phrased to sound carefully considered, is really just a recitation of the White House position. I particularly like the reference to
the laborious requirment to make such a showing would divert linguists and analysts covering al-Qa'ida and other foreign threats from their primary mission,
It's as if collecting intelligence is "hard work", in the Bush-sense of the term! But I digress.
The missing element from this arguement is the question of Telcom Immunity. There is no reference to this extremely important issue. The AL is focused on "getting them furiners" and doing so without being constrained by that pesky Fourth Amendment. This must their idea of "collateral damage" in the wiretapping front of the GWOT.
However, I question the amount of "bankburning" necessary in this case. Do we have to remove the Fourth Amendment to save the other nine parts of the Bill of Rights? Why do we have to sacrifice any portion of the Bill of Rights at all? If FISA has operated since 1978 to safeguard the Bill of Rights while allowing law enforcement to operate, what about FISA is so broken that it need to be "fixed" in such as manner to remove those safeguards? Is there no other way to enhance FISA without destroying the Bill of Rights?
The AL believes that to fill "the gaps in national security" we should just plug them with the Fourth Amendment and whatever shreds of the Bill of Rights are left when the Bush Regime has wiped its nose (or other body parts).
So, I'm not particularly impressed or swayed by the American Legion's response about FISA, illegal wiretapping, and Telcom Immunity. I wonder if they wrote it or if the White House dictated it and they are "just following orders".