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Letter gets FISA issues wrong

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POSTED: June 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Dear Editor:

 

The recent letter condemning John Barrow for voting against the FISA bill centered on two key issues, and got both wrong.

First, the author stated: "FISA is a bill that protects our country from being attacked by terrorists." Actually, the original intent of the FISA bill was more to set limits on our spy agencies to protect our right to privacy. During the mid 70’s, congress struggled with several related problems. Rapidly improving technology made it increasingly easier to spy on both foreigners and our own people. Threats of terrorist activities were on the rise, and the memory of a terribly paranoid president Nixon was still fresh in everyone’s mind. Nixon, armed with his famous "enemy list," thought everyone was out to get him. He tried to use every avenue available, legal or otherwise, to gather information on those people and/or organizations he deemed as threats. With this background, Congress found it necessary to lay out a groundwork of rules to both allow needed surveillance and protect the constitutional privacy of American citizens. One of the fundamental challenges was to keep overzealous presidents, such as Nixon had done, from using secret intelligence gathering operations to further their own agenda (such as punishing their detractors or gathering "dirt" on political opponents)

The bill made it mandatory that intelligence groups (usually the FBI) secure a written court order in order to proceed with wiretaps or similar secret information gathering methods. A special court was appointed that does nothing but hear these requests. Under very special circumstances, the court’s OK could even be requested up to 72 hours after the fact. This covered instances where investigators had good leads and had to move very quickly, not allowing them to get court approval before hand. From 1978 to the mid-2000’s, the FISA court totally rejected less than a dozen such requests out of 22,990, or 0.05%. In other words, over 99.9% of all requests were OK’ed.

99.9%, however, wasn’t good enough for the Bush legal team. They wanted to be able to wiretap whoever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and with no oversight from the courts. White house legal advisor, Alberto Gonzales, tried to find a way to skirt the law. When this failed, he simply counseled the president and vice president that they should disregard the law. For at least two years they allowed warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, knowing that this was a felony offense. When the papers finally broke the story, the administration said they didn’t care what the law said and if given the chance to go back in time, would do the same thing again. This from a president and vice president who swore on the bible to uphold and obey the laws of this land!

The other misstatement reads:" The bill provides a shield for U.S. telecom companies that voluntarily aid authorities in tracking terrorists. Without shields, trial lawyers can sue companies for helping the U.S." During this period, the Attorney General’s office recruited several telecommunications companies to help. These companies knew this was illegal, but went along anyway. When the news broke, the administration initially said this was limited to a very few incidents. As more info arose, they admitted the scope was much larger than initially cited, but still claimed these wiretaps were quite selective and only used on very probably suspects. Once all of the facts hit the table, however, we found that this was just another in a long line of lies. Some of the phone companies had special rooms set up to divert and record all calls from certain towns or parts of towns with no restrictions applied. Millions of calls were monitored, not the hundreds or thousands the administration initially claimed. These companies willingly participated in criminal activities. They are now turning to the administration to give them a "get out of jail free" card, making their immunity from prosecution a key part of the new FISA bill.

The president, his administration, and many in the Republican party are now playing a game with the American people. The goal is to convince as many as possible that the Democrats (along with a few Republicans that really do care about our constitution), are aiding the terrorists by tying justice’s hands. Nothing could be further from the truth. The original FISA bill balanced security and privacy quite well. With a 99.9% acceptance rate from the watchdog court, and after-the-fact approval allowed, the original bill in no way acted as a stumbling block to catching real terrorists. Let’s hope congressman Barrow sticks to his principles. With a little prodding, perhaps even Jack Kinston will see the light and vote for principle rather than party.

 

Ken Copi

Pembroke, GA

912-653-5340

912-665-1801 cell

 

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