ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Monday, January 30, 2006

Burlingame on the USA PATRIOT Act

Be sure to read this op-ed by Debra Burlingame (relative of 9/11 victim Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame III, pilot aboard American flight 77):

Our Right to Security
Al Qaeda, not the FBI, is the greater threat to America.

BY DEBRA BURLINGAME
Monday, January 30, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

One of the most excruciating images of the September 11 attacks is the sight of a man who was trapped in one of the World Trade Center towers. Stripped of his suit jacket and tie and hanging on to what appears to be his office curtains, he is seen trying to lower himself outside a window to the floor immediately below. Frantically kicking his legs in an effort to find a purchase, he loses his grip, and falls.

That horrific scene and thousands more were the images that awakened a sleeping nation on that long, brutal morning. Instead of overwhelming fear or paralyzing self-doubt, the attacks were met with defiance, unity and a sense of moral purpose. Following the heroic example of ordinary citizens who put their fellow human beings and the public good ahead of themselves, the country's leaders cast aside politics and personal ambition and enacted the USA Patriot Act just 45 days later.

A mere four-and-a-half years after victims were forced to choose between being burned alive and jumping from 90 stories, it is frankly shocking that there is anyone in Washington who would politicize the Patriot Act. It is an insult to those who died to tell the American people that the organization posing the greatest threat to their liberty is not al Qaeda but the FBI. Hearing any member of Congress actually crow about "killing" or "playing chicken" with this critical legislation is as disturbing today as it would have been when Ground Zero was still smoldering. Today we know in far greater detail what not having it cost us.

Critics contend that the Patriot Act was rushed into law in a moment of panic. The truth is, the policies and guidelines it corrected had a long, troubled history and everybody who had to deal with them knew it. The "wall" was a tortuous set of rules promulgated by Justice Department lawyers in 1995 [hmm, surely evidence of a Rovian trick to go back in time?] and imagined into law by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Conceived as an added protection for civil liberties provisions already built into the statute, it was the wall and its real-world ramifications that hardened the failure-to-share culture between agencies, allowing early information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi to fall through the cracks. More perversely, even after the significance of these terrorists and their presence in the country was known by the FBI's intelligence division, the wall prevented it from talking to its own criminal division in order to hunt them down.

Furthermore, it was the impenetrable FISA guidelines and fear of provoking the FISA court's wrath if they were transgressed that discouraged risk-averse FBI supervisors from applying for a FISA search warrant in the Zacarias Moussaoui case. The search, finally conducted on the afternoon of 9/11, produced names and phone numbers of people in the thick of the 9/11 plot, so many fertile clues that investigators believe that at least one airplane, if not all four, could have been saved.

In 2002, FISA's appellate level Court of Review examined the entire statutory scheme for issuing warrants in national security investigations and declared the "wall" a nonsensical piece of legal overkill, based neither on express statutory language nor reasonable interpretation of the FISA statute. The lower court's attempt to micromanage the execution of national security warrants was deemed an assertion of authority which neither Congress or the Constitution granted it. In other words, those lawyers and judges who created, implemented and so assiduously enforced the FISA guidelines were wrong and the American people paid dearly for it.

Despite this history, some members of Congress contend that this process-heavy court is agile enough to rule on quickly needed National Security Agency (NSA) electronic surveillance warrants. This is a dubious claim. Getting a FISA warrant requires a multistep review involving several lawyers at different offices within the Department of Justice. It can take days, weeks, even months if there is a legal dispute between the principals. "Emergency" 72-hour intercepts require sign-offs by NSA lawyers and pre-approval by the attorney general before surveillance can be initiated. Clearly, this is not conducive to what Gen. Michael Hayden, principal deputy director of national intelligence, calls "hot pursuit" of al Qaeda conversations.
[...]
NBC News aired an "exclusive" story in 2004 that dramatically recounted how al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, the San Diego terrorists who would later hijack American Airlines flight 77 and fly it into the Pentagon, received more than a dozen calls from an al Qaeda "switchboard" inside Yemen where al-Mihdhar's brother-in-law lived. The house received calls from Osama Bin Laden and relayed them to operatives around the world. Senior correspondent Lisa Myers told the shocking story of how, "The NSA had the actual phone number in the United States that the switchboard was calling, but didn't deploy that equipment, fearing it would be accused of domestic spying." Back then, the NBC script didn't describe it as "spying on Americans." Instead, it was called one of the "missed opportunities that could have saved 3,000 lives."

Read the whole thing...

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler