Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fact-Checking President Bush on FISA

President Bush gave a press conference this morning, touching on the economy and Iraq, though the big focus was on getting out the most updated talking points on the FISA battle.

He said-
"At issue is a dispute over whether telecommunication companies should be subjected to class-action lawsuits because they are believed to have helped defend America after the attacks of 9/11."

Note the loaded framing... no, the issue isn't that the President had been violating the law for years (oddly, he never brought that up), or why FISA's retroactive warrant provisions aren't sufficient, or why telecoms need immunity for something the President insists is on solid legal ground. It's simply people opposed to defending America. And while the obligatory 9/11 reference is expected, it must be noted this program began in secret... before 9/11. So this is all a lie.

He goes on to a different approach-
"Allowing the lawsuits to proceed could aid our enemies, because the litigation process could lead to the disclosure of information about how we conduct surveillance."

First off, the idea that any truly classified information would ever be revealed in such a court setting is ludicrous. But secondly, it's silly to suggest that the terrorists are cartoonishly evil... but also so fucking dumb that they don't know the basics of how surveillance works.

And let's not even get into the utterly fascistic notion that national security concerns preempt the basic tenets of our democracy, which include the right of citizens to file grievances with parties-- the government, a phone company-- whom they believe has wronged them. This violates multiple aspects of the Bill of Rights.

He continues with this train of thought-
"Allowing these lawsuits to proceed could make it harder to track the terrorists because private companies besieged by, and fearful of, lawsuits would be less willing to help us quickly get the information we need."

That would never have been an issue if this had been done legally from the start.

Moreover, there is one thing that causes telecoms to turn off the wiretaps, and it ain't lawsuits... it's good old-fashioned money. For instance, a story last month revealed-
Telephone companies have cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals because of the bureau's repeated failures to pay phone bills on time.

Yes, these heroes are happy to violate surveillance law for the feds... if they pay up.

The President then says this-
"Protecting these companies from lawsuits is not a partisan issue."

Hmm, that's odd, because the Republicans shut down the debate over updating FISA because of the amnesty sticking point they wouldn't yield on. And could there be another reason they're fighting for this? Why it appears to be-- again-- money-
With the House Democrats' refusal to grant retroactive immunity to phone companies -- stalling the rewrite of the warrantless wiretapping program -- GOP leadership aides are grumbling that their party isn't getting more political money from the telecommunications industry.

Oh my gosh, could this all be about... politics?!? No way!

Much later on, when he takes questions from the reporters, he is asked a question about how, without lawsuits, concerned Americans will have any recourse for those concerns. Bush dodges the question and instead throws out this talking point about those filing lawsuits over the surveillance-
"I suspect they see a financial gravy-train."

This is an attempt to not only smear Democrats on a national security front, but also to throw the old "trial lawyer" card at them. Too bad it's not true. As anyone who's followed this saga knows, most of the lawsuits were filed on behalf of the ACLU and similar groups... which follow the constitution, not the money train.

Going back to the first part of the press conference, Bush later says-
"Some in Congress are saying we have nothing to worry about because... we can use the old FISA law. They're wrong. FISA was out-of-date."

The President has never honestly explained what was so out-of-date about FISA, which served the country's surveillance needs from the Cold War through modern day. In fact, contrary to what he says, it has been repeatedly updated since 9/11. After an October 2001 revision, he specifically stated it "takes account of the new realities and dangers posed by modern terrorists... [and] will allow surveillance of all communications used by terrorists." Funny how "Old FISA"-- as he refers to it in the press conference-- only became a pressing crisis once he was caught violating it.

And if the President was so concerned about revising this law, he would've signed the temporary extension of last summer's revision while this all was honestly sorted out, instead of threatening to veto it. Indeed it seems, as Sen. Reid said, he's dragging this out "in order to let his allies run attack ads and fear-monger on terrorism."

Based on their behavior this past month, it's hard not to see that this is the case.


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