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Posts Tagged ‘gonzales’

How FISA protected al Qaeda kidnappers

Posted by Richard on October 17, 2007

Apparently, it's a very small world when it comes to telecommunications. Two people having a cell phone conversation in Iraq are likely to have that call routed through American telecom infrastructure, where it could be intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies. But under the old FISA law (which the Democrats are trying to restore and further tighten this week), they'd need a warrant. It could be granted retroactively, but first someone has to stick their neck out and grant emergency permission based on the belief that the warrant will later be approved. Think bureaucrats and political appointees are eager to do that?

The problem isn't entirely theoretical, according to a New York Post story. On May 12, while the strict FISA rules were still in effect, al Qaeda gunmen in Iraq attacked a U.S. outpost, killing four soldiers and taking three others — Spc. Alex Jimenez, Pfc. Byron Fouty, and Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr. — hostage. The subsequent frantic search led to information possibly identifying the kidnappers. U.S. intelligence agents asked for permission to intercept communications that might lead to the kidnappers and their captives:

Starting at 10 a.m. on May 15, according to a timeline provided to Congress by the director of national intelligence, lawyers for the National Security Agency met and determined that special approval from the attorney general would be required first.

For an excruciating nine hours and 38 minutes, searchers in Iraq waited as U.S. lawyers discussed legal issues and hammered out the "probable cause" necessary for the attorney general to grant such "emergency" permission.

Finally, approval was granted and, at 7:38 that night, surveillance began.

"The intelligence community was forced to abandon our soldiers because of the law," a senior congressional staffer with access to the classified case told The Post.

"How many lawyers does it take to rescue our soldiers?" he asked. "It should be zero."

Democrats supporting the tightening of FISA denounced the release of the story as a cynical attempt to politicize the search for the soldiers. Fox News has a fair and balanced presentation of both sides, along with a detailed timeline. The Democrats' House Intelligence Committee staff argued that it shouldn't have taken NSA lawyers five hours to determine that they had probable cause, and it wouldn't have been necessary to track down Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in Texas if three other Justice Dept. officials authorized to approve the request had been available.

Granted, five hours seems like a long time for lawyers to hem and haw over probable cause. But consider the climate. These people knew there was an ongoing surveillance firestorm, complete with leaks to the New York Times, congressional hearings, lawsuits, endless political posturing, and threats of legal action. If you were an NSA attorney, how quickly would you stick your neck out and say, "I recommend going ahead, and I guarantee the FISA court will retroactively approve"? If you were Gonzales or one of the assistant AGs, wouldn't you carefully review the material presented to you before authorizing the intercept, knowing it could land you in front of a hostile committee with the news cameras rolling?  

The Democrats' argument amounts to saying that the restrictions wouldn't have been a problem if the officials involved had just acted without regard for the possible consequences — the consequences that those same Democrats have done their best to hang over the officials' heads.

It's nice that Democrats are so concerned about our privacy now, considering how hard they worked to undermine it for umpteen years (remember Carnivore, "key escrow" encryption, "Know Your Customer," and John Effin' Kerry's repeated attempts to further destroy financial privacy?). But do we have to protect the privacy of what amounts to battlefield communications by our enemies during a war? 

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The Stupid Party

Posted by Richard on April 27, 2007

The Washington Post reported the other day that an aide to Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) called U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton's office just six weeks before Alberto Gonzales terminated Charlton. The aide was seeking information about a federal investigation into a land deal involving the congressman's former business partner, and in accordance with Justice Dept. rules, Charlton notified his superiors of the potentially improper contact from Renzi's office. Captain Ed took a dim view of yet another Gonzales misstep (emphasis added):

First, we should point out that Charlton's removal did not end the investigation. The FBI raided Renzi's home last week, and Renzi stepped down from his committee assignments as a result. If he corrupted his office and sold out his constituents, it does not appear that Charlton's termination has kept that from coming to light.

That being said, this makes the entire process of terminations look even more suspect. At the least, it shows political stupidity on a scale so grand as to be almost unbelievable. Who in their right mind would fire a federal prosecutor who just had improper contact from the Congressman he's investigating — especially in the days after a Democratic takeover of Congress? That call should have alerted anyone with any sort of political antennae that firing Charlton would set off all sorts of red flags if that call came to light.

The Stupid Party has certainly been living up to that disparaging appellation lately, and Alberto Gonzales has worked harder than almost anyone to ensure that it does so. If I were inclined toward conspiracy theories, I'd be very suspicious of people like Gonzales. Could the GOP have been infiltrated with sleeper agents who, like the Manchurian Candidate, can be activated at opportune times to do great harm to the party with their apparent cluelessness, corruption, or ineptitude?

Of course not, I remind myself. Remember Occam's Razor. The facts can be adequately explained by stupidity alone. But, hey, it might make a pretty good novel and movie!  

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