FISA Follies 2008


It's getting next to no coverage, swept out of the headlines by the presidential race, but a final vote on FISA could come this week. There's a good version of FISA reform, which denies immunity to the companies that assisted in spying on Americans. And since the Democrats run the Senate, this version is… yes, not going to survive.

Republicans and the White House back the intelligence panel's version. It would give retroactive legal immunity to telecommunication companies that helped the Bush administration spy on U.S. citizens without warrants dating back to September 2001, as long as those companies received written requests for assistance from the administration. The Judiciary measure, which is supported by liberal Democrats and civil and privacy liberties groups, does not give any protections to the companies, who face about 40 civil lawsuits. Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., are expected to offer amendments that would substitute the government for the companies in the lawsuits.

This isn't what Americans actually want, and liberals like Chris Dodd are threatening to filibuster. The leadership is ready for that:

Without an agreement for an extension, Reid said the Senate must pass FISA legislation this week, with the bulk of floor debate expected to play out Thursday. "If people think they're going to talk this to death, we're going to be in here all night," Reid said. "If someone wants to filibuster this bill, they're going to do it in the openness of the Senate."

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  1. And since the Democrats run the Senate, this version is… yes, not going to survive.

    And once again we see the tremendous differences between the Dems and the GOP. But good for Dodd, at least.

  2. Like Congress matters. If it did, there would be no need for ex post facto immunity.

    NSA operates above the law with the tacit approval of the Bush White House. I would prefer the FISA legislation collapse and make the phone companies choose – cut power to the intercepting hardware or face the prospect of getting sued.

    Matters not, the Dems will roll like the spineless lap dogs they are.

  3. The issue was lost when it became a civil matter. Anyone conspiring to spy on Americans without a warrant should be sentenced to prison. That would include the government officials and corporate executives that signed off on it.

  4. Why is it that every time I hear about douchebaggery in the Senate, Snarlin’ Arlen Specter is somehow involved?

    He’s just one more reason for New Jersey to annex Philly…

  5. The White House has threatened to veto any bill that does not include immunity for the companies. “The terrorist threat we face does not expire on February 1,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said. “For the sake of our national security, Congress must act now to send the president a bill that keeps a critical intelligence gap permanently closed and provides meaningful liability protection for companies that may have assisted in efforts to defend America following the 9/11 attacks,” she said.

    The boogeyman gambit just never gets old. Of course, for a guy like Harry Reid, the scariest boogeyman is anybody who might not vote for him, and give him money.

  6. Oh, stop it, you third-party partisans. This is the Republicans’ fault, since they would filibuster the better version of the bill and we need to pass some kind of bill.

    If you don’t like this, vote for all Democrats in November so we can have veto-proof majorities in both houses and a Democratic president. Then we’ll be able to protect your civil liberties.

  7. theres a good Constitutional Originalist argument that FISA is unconstitutional to begin with. Though it is amusing to see Libertarians argue in favor of SECRET courts.

    great debate here at the Federalist Society on the issue, between legend Chemerinsky and the Constitutional Originalist Bob Turner:

  8. What? If Democrats -didn’t- run the Senate, there wouldn’t even be a vote on a non-immunity version of the bill.

  9. It is a sad thing that we’ve gotten to the point where getting a warrant from a secret court with a history of deferring to the executive would be considered a step forward for civil liberties.

    And fuck every single Senate Democrat who votes to give immunity to companies who break the law. Fuck any Senate Democrat who votes to retain Reid as their party’s leader.

    And peace and blessings be upon The Dodd. The Dodd abides.

  10. You know, that or, uh, His Doddness, or uh, Dodder, or El Dodderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

  11. This is what happens when you have a monopoly provider of justice: money chasing legislators to win support for particular legal policies, resulting in all but one party being denied justice.

    As Hoppe has pointed out innumerable times, when you have a monopoly provider of justice, you get less justice.

  12. His Doddaciousness. El Dodderino Maximo. El Gran Doddissimo. The Doddtastic Dodd of Doddness.


  13. Doddero sounds too much like a certain former Ron Paul staffer. No go. Dodderino is already pushing it.

    El Gran Doddissimo abides.

  14. The House Democrats already passed a FISA bill, with no telecom immunity.

  15. Dammit joe, you are your partisan facts!

    Why can’t you take off you blinders and stop knowing things that interfere with my wishful thinking?

  16. I guess we can file this under “Just too good to check.”

    We JUST KNOW that the Democrats would never do that, so why bother checking to see of the Democrats did that?

  17. Somebody remind me: which chamber has a larger Democratic majority?

  18. joe, the House Democrats may have a bigger majority, but the Senate Democrats have The Dodd (peace and blessings upon his abiding name) to stiffen their spines. They have no excuse.

  19. Wait a second, you mean that lumping every officeholder with a D after their name together and delcaring that the small fraction that takes the most abhorrent position defines the party as a whole ISN’T a terribly accurate way to characterize Democrats.

    Say it ain’t so, thoreau!

  20. de stijl’s comment stood as a perfect tribute to Lebowski until thoreau had to go and screw it up.

  21. The House Democrats already passed a FISA bill, with no telecom immunity.

    Get back to us when the President signs it.

  22. Dumb error on my part- should have been, “Get back to us when the Senate gets through with it.”

  23. I can’t speak for the Republican President. With one of them in office, any bill the Democrats pass to protect of civil liberties is likely to be vetoed.

  24. Oh, the Senate. Yes, the Senate gives the Republican majority much more power.

    And then there’s the question of the conference committee, if the two chambers pass different bills.

  25. joe, don’t you mean:

    Yes, the Senate Democrats gives the Republican majority minority much more power.

    As far as the conference committee goes, that would be a conference committee with a majority of Dems, yes?

  26. Right you are, RC. Freudian slip, I guess. I wonder how THAT could have happened.

    Reid is just as much of a sissy as Daschle.

    As for the conference committe, yes, it usually is, with members appointed by both the Senate Majority Leader and the House Speaker.

    How about a deal, Senator Reid? Dodd doesn’t filibuster the bill, and in return, you appoint him and Kerry to the conference committee?

  27. The Dodd is getting all the love, but Feingold deserves an atta-boy too.

  28. Feingold always deserves an atta-boy-because he’s on the correct side of the issues 99.9% of the time.

    (I have First Amendment problems with parts of McCain-Feingold-that would be the other .1% of the time.)

    He’ll vote correctly even if it pisses off his party or the country or the voters of his state.

  29. Could Feingold be in the running for VP?

    He strikes me as too independent for anyone who is a control freak and/or too far away from him ideologically.

  30. I agree with thoreau, except for his messing up the Lebowski stuff.

    crimethink, you’re a tool.

    the democrats are wusses. as Geo. Will once wrote (paraphrasing from memory): opposition parties oppose.

    when will the Democratic leadership (read: Reid) oppose?

    good commentary on this topic by Glenn Greenwald at again. he and Reason are on the same wavelength a startlingly large amount of the time

  31. Reid is dragging Pelosi down. You know who’d make a good majority leader for the Democrats?

    A Democrat.

  32. aren’t ex post facto laws prohibited by the constitution? (assuming we’re still abiding in any way by that document)

  33. In August, Congress updated the FISA laws but demanded a sunset to these provisions. The original FISA legislation has been updated many times in the past to keep pace with changes in technology from when the law was first drafted in 1978. Without these latest legislative changes, though, our intelligence agencies lose their ability to keep up with technology advances in the high-stakes, fast-paced field of terrorist surveillance. It is really that simple.

    In the January 21st edition of the New Yorker, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said there were three things he needed in the updated legislation to do his job:

    * Not requiring a warrant to execute surveillance on a foreign person in a foreign country;
    * Ensuring private sector companies have liability protection when they participate in national security programs;
    * Requiring a warrant whenever a person in the United States is the object of surveillance.

    This legislation provides the right forum and a perfect opportunity for members of both parties to express their concerns and provide insight on how the sixteen agencies that make up the intelligence community can better perform their duties. Unfortunately, as this legislation languishes in committee because neither body of Congress wants to take on this political hot potato, time passes and opportunities to intercept our adversaries are missed.

    This afternoon, Senate Leader Harry Reid asked for another 30 days to look at the law. I am one of many who do not see what 30 days will get us that we do not already have. It is better to use the next two legislative days to make the changes made in August permanent, especially considering the trend of terrorist strikes near national elections (think Spain).

    I do not take lightly the importance of our civil liberties, and I have spent a career protecting them as an intelligence officer. That is why I think the most important thing we can do is to have an honest public debate on domestic intelligence – one that is taken more seriously than a 30-day extension and one that I do not believe can happen in Congress in today’s environment.

  34. “…especially considering the trend of terrorist strikes near national elections (think Spain).”

    a one-time event isn’t a trend, by definition

    “Ensuring private sector companies have liability protection when they participate in national security programs”

    No one should have legal protection from breaking the law, whatever their excuse. Not companies, not the CIA, not the president of the US.

    “* Requiring a warrant whenever a person in the United States is the object of surveillance.”

    Isn’t this already the law? Mission accomplished!

  35. joe: If Clinton offers Feingold the VP, I’d hope he turns it down. Should be at least 1 Dem in the Senate with the guts to tell her to stuff it when need be.

  36. time passes and opportunities to intercept our adversaries are missed.

    Bull Shit!

    Everything you just listed as necessary to conduct surveillance is currently in place, under the FISA extension that was already passed.

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