McConnell’s Claptrap (04/12/2007)

Poster from the April 7, 2006 blog entry of Gordo Packard (email) from Salem, Oregon. I’m not sure it’s his original, so I’ve written to ask.

Daniel Pulliam (email) in his daily briefing yesterday “Intelligence chief announces 100-day reform plan” provided a link to 11-page blueprint from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which builds on John Negroponte’s 2005 the National Intelligence Strategy.

Pulliam says the six areas of focus include

  • clarifying and aligning the DNI’s authorities by proposing “appropriate revisions to existing statutes, regulations and directives.”
  • creation of an executive committee to advise the intelligence director on coordinating the nation’s intelligence activities.
  • publishing performance appraisal requirements which will apply across the intelligence community and disseminating briefing materials to the workforce about a new joint duty program.
  • publishing an equal employment opportunity and diversity plan and a recruiting strategy in an attempt to move “toward creating a workforce that looks like America.”
  • modifying current acquisition processes by taking advantage of special DNI authorities.
  • modernizing the intelligence community’s business practices including the reform of the system for granting security clearances.

The AP’s Katherine Shrader reported April 10 that National Intelligence Director and retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell whom the Senate confirmed to take over the 16 U.S. spy agencies and their 100,000 employees from Negroponte on February 7 would lay out the plan the next day and that McConnell, NSA Director Keith Alexander and “a senior Justice Department official” will appear at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on April 17 to discuss whether to amend the FISA law. Anonymous officials told Shrader that McConnel is circulating a draft law to:

  • Give the NSA the power to monitor foreigners without seeking FISA court approval, even if the surveillance is conducted by tapping phones and e-mail accounts in the United States. “Determinations about whether a court order is required should be based on considerations about the target of the surveillance, rather than the particular means of communication or the location from which the surveillance is being conducted,” NSA Director Keith Alexander told the Senate last year.
  • Clarify the standards the FBI and NSA must use to get court orders for basic information about calls and e-mails — such as the number dialed, e-mail address, or time and date of the communications. Civil liberties advocates contend the change will make it too easy for the government to access this information.
  • Triple the life span of a FISA warrant for a non-U.S. citizen from 120 days to one year, allowing the government to monitor much longer without checking back in with a judge.
  • Give telecommunications companies immunity from civil liability for their cooperation with Bush’s terrorist surveillance program. Pending lawsuits against companies including Verizon and AT&T allege they violated privacy laws by giving phone records to the NSA for the program.
  • Extend from 72 hours to one week the amount of time the government can conduct surveillance without a court order in emergencies.

PR Newswire circulated the department’s newsrelease yesterday afternoon at about 3:30 p.m. which reitereated these points. The Jurist’s Joshua Pantesco at (email) posted his story “US intelligence chief circulates proposed FISA amendments” at 12:39 PM yesterday. The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung’s story appeared on page A11 today. The New York Time’s story by Mark Mazzetti, “Intelligence Chief Announces Renewed Plan for Overhaul ”
was posted to the web about an hour earlier, shortly before midnight last night.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties told RAW STORY’s Michael Roston in an exclusive statement:

I have been extremely concerned about even the legality of the Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program for a long time, so of course, a proposed expansion is deeply troubling. Just when you thought they couldn’t do any more damage to the Constitution and Americans’ civil liberties, they come out with this?

On January 17, 2007, the Justice Department announced January 10 approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for the NSA’s wiretapping program. It remains unclear whether this order was a programmatic, or wholesale approval, but the orders were scheduled to expire or be re-authorized April 10.

The FISC has not released its January 10 orders despite a direct request from the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Justice Department has also refused to confirm whether the orders generally authorize the program as opposed to authorizing surveillance of individual persons based on probable cause.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has said that generalized program warrants are unconstitutional and violate FISA and on April 11, the issued a news release calling on the administration to explain the status of the operation and urging Congress to fully investigate violations of the law. ACLU’s information on the NSA warrantless surveillance program is here. Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office said,

Attorney General Gonzales needs to tell Congress and the public whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has renewed orders authorizing NSA spying, and precisely what those orders authorize. We urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to demand the truth from Gonzales when he appears before that panel next Tuesday. Congress should insist that he release this information so Americans can know whether or not their phone conversations are private.

The ACLU’s legal challenge to the NSA spying program is currently pending before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. A district court in Michigan declared the program unconstitutional in August 2006, and the government appealed that ruling. ACLU attorneys have filed papers with the Sixth Circuit seeking the unsealing of classified submissions by the government in the case last week. Since the submissions coincide with the expiration of the January FISA orders, the ACLU assumes the filings pertain to the status of those orders. The government has previously relied on the new FISA orders to urge the court to dismiss the case. Because the president is still claiming the “inherent authority” to engage in warrantless eavesdropping, the ACLU said, there is an urgent need for the court to rule so that the President cannot continue to violate the law. Ann Beeson, ACLU Associate Legal Director said,

If the factual basis for the government’s argument for dismissal has now changed, the government has an obligation to make any relevant new facts and arguments available to the plaintiffs and the public.

The Albany Times-Union seems to have published the first editorial in today’s “Don’t Loosen the Spy Rules:”

Ironically, Congress was debating many of the changes that Mr. McConnell is now seeking as far back as 2002, when lawmakers simply assumed that the White House was abiding by FISA. It was later learned, in a 2005 account by the The New York Times, that the administration had been violating FISA as far back as 2001. Yet even with the public revelations of FISA abuses, the White House insisted that Congress had in fact given it the power to conduct warrantless eavesdropping when it approved waging the war on terror.

If all this isn’t a warning sign to Congress that this administration needs firm limits on its power, what is?

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