Domestic Spying Story Finally Grows Legs

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The Big Picture
By Glynn Wilson

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Let’s face it. All things are political in America.

I woke up this morning to find, according to my RSS feed, that all of a sudden the Fourth Amendment domestic spying story has grown long, spidery legs — seven years too late.

The headlines scream scandal, and everybody is after President Obama’s head.

Intelligence chief declassifies details of phone-records program after uproar over snooping

Obama spokesman calls NSA phone record program a ‘critical tool,’ says no calls monitored

How Congress unknowingly legalized PRISM in 2007

NSA taps in to user data of Google, Skype and others, secret files reveal

NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily

U.S. Collects Vast Data Trove

NSA Monitoring Includes Three Major Phone Companies, as Well as Online Activity

But wait.

Wasn’t it George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Richard Pearl of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century who started pioneering this data mining business?

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Former Congressman Artur Davis

And wasn’t it Blue Dog Democrats like Alabama’s own Artur Davis who voted in August of 2008 to
grant ATnT and the other Internet and phone giants retroactive immunity from lawsuits after an ATnT supervisor testified before Congress about the sweeping domestic spying operation going on out of the San Francisco office?

Are these reports coming from new bloggers at these news organizations who have no institutional memory of what happened during the Bush years?

An AP reporter in San Francisco lead his summary story with this.

“With every phone call they make and every Web excursion they take, people are leaving a digital trail of revealing data that can be tracked by profit-seeking companies and terrorist-hunting government officials.”

He called this news “revelations” that the National Security Agency is perusing millions of U.S. customer phone records at Verizon Communications and snooping on the digital communications stored by nine major Internet services and said this “illustrate(s) how aggressively personal data is being collected and analyzed.”

But are these really “revelations?” Or have we known about it for years and done nothing?

I mean, I wrote a story that came out on August 18, 2008, after finally catching up with Davis and questioning him in person about the vote. This is the most factual answer anyone in the press got to the question of why Congress refused to stand up to the Bush administration and the intelligence community in its so-called “war on terror.”

The headline was: Can the Constitution Survive Politics Without Principle?

I went on Finebaum’s radio show in Birmingham and tried to raise this issue, and was totally blown off as if this was some crazy conspiracy theory. Paul Finebaum simply said all journalists assume they are being spied upon all the time anyway, so let’s move along. No news here.

But Davis finally admitted to me in person why he supported the bill, and the answer was political.

President George W. Bush threatened to veto any FISA bill that did not contain telecom immunity, and the moderate Democrats who held sway then in both houses of Congress did not want to give Presidential candidate John McCain ammunition in the last three months of the presidential election race by allowing the spying law to expire in August. McCain could have used that as evidence that the Democrats were “weak on terror,” Davis said — as if he wasn’t going to run ads saying that very thing anyway. He did.

In his defense, Davis did offer a legal answer to the question — after I pressed him in person.

Standing in the George Ward Park pavilion on Southside with the aroma of barbecued chicken in the air, Davis made the case that the new FISA bill was an improvement over the old one.

Under the old law, passed in 1978 in response to President Nixon’s abuse of federal resources to spy on opposing political activist groups, there was no provision for protecting American citizens abroad, Davis said. The new law extended those rights overseas beyond the nation’s physical borders “for the first time,” he said. It was a compromise the Democrats would never have gotten out of the Bush administration just a few months before, he claimed.

The new law also strengthened monitoring of the federal government’s spying by the so-called FISA court, he said, although critics have said the court is nothing more than a “rubber stamp” for the executive branch, no matter who is in power.

The new bill also changed the language for obtaining warrants to spy on Americans from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion,” he said, although in a country run by an Imperial President who thinks he is a king who derives his power from God and is not beholden to the law, that improvement seems hardly enough to stop the abuses, I reported.

Which brings us to the last issue, where Davis made a good point. Whether the law is enforced in a way that protects civil liberties “rests on the integrity of the executive,” Davis said.

Now they are trying to impugn President Obama in the wake of the so-called IRS scandal and other recent controversies, all designed to “bring down” America’s first black president — and ruin his chances of success in a second term.

So there you have it. It’s all about politics.

The tea partiers should have been as concerned about the Fourth Amendment as the Second Amendment when their beloved Bush sat in the White House drinking the neo-con Kool-aid. But noooo…

The one good thing that could come out of this scandal is if the heat forces the Obama administration to reform the system and back off from such widespread spying on us all. That would certainly not happen under any Republican administration.

Now back to the bluebirds feeding their young in the birdhouse on the privacy fence. Its foggy and overcast here this morning, but we are still going to try to get some pics.

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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