2006/03/11

Questions on NSA warrantless spying

Marty Lederman write in Balkanization about David Kris' many skills as a lawyer and about his deep inside-and-out knowledge of FISA. He then writes:

Another remarkable thing -- perhaps the most important thing -- about the Kris memo is that it is dated January 2006, rather than January 2003: David did not produce anything of the sort when he was actually at DOJ, when the legality of the program was being considered. That's not David's fault. Although he was the person in the DAG's office whose portfolio included FISA and electronic surveillance, and although DOJ often trotted David out to testify and speak on such matters well after September 11th, David was never so much as briefed on the NSA program. Now we have reason to understand why: Perhaps DOJ knew that if it ran its legal arguments by serious, trusted and objective lawyers in the Department -- those who knew FISA inside and out -- they would not have passed muster. It's hard to imagine any other reason why someone of David's skills, and in his position on these precise issues, would have been kept out of the loop. Once again, it's evidence of an Administration that is indifferent as to what the correct legal answers might be, but is instead looking only for some legal hook, no matter how tenuous, on which to hang its desired operational programs. See also, e.g., the legal justifications for torture and other unlawful means of interrogation that were reached without the input of those lawyers in the Administration with the most knowledge on the questions; and the finalization and use of the DoD Working Group Report without even informing the Working Group itself (which included several skeptics). This is a much more systemic problem than the particular NSA dispute at issue here.

As I detail here, the Senate Intelligence Committee has now agreed to allow the patently illegal NSA warrantless-spying program to continue. Marty then adds in a P.S. that Bush just signed an extension of the Patriot Act that included a "signing statement". These statements are legitimate as clarifications of negotiations carried out between the Executive and Legislative branches, but have never successfully been used in court to defeat the purpose of the legislation to which it's attached. Many of Bush's statements contradict or significantly alter the legislation to which they have been attached, none of them have been tested in court.

Translation: There are numerous provisions of the Act that require the Department of Justice to provide information and documents to congressional committees for purposes of oversight. We will ignore those requirements when we conclude that it will "impair" what occurs in the Executive branch. Thanks for asking, though.

Glenn Greenwald deals with the "FISA is not the exclusive means by which the President can order wiretapping" argument.

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