No Comment — August 7, 2007, 1:17 pm

The FISA Bamboozlement

When some one writes a history of the Bush Administration’s media bamboozlement—which will be an epic tome—I wonder how they will treat the entire saga of FISA evasions. It’s a classic story of a rogue government, blissfully ignoring the law, committing felonies on a daily basis, but convincing itself of its own righteousness in the process. A major media player, The New York Times, learns of the violations and then is bludgeoned into silence with a combination of appeals to patriotism and threats of criminal prosecution. It takes a year before they finally let the public on to what’s happened. And then the Administration lines up its echo chamber to attack the Times, and any other media source that dares to report on this project, the hottest thing since Cracker Jack™ introduced the Decoder Ring.

At the core of the bamboozlement has been a protestation: We’re doing this to protect you! This doesn’t affect good American citizens! It only affects Evil Foreigners. Yes indeed, who should care about those Evil Foreigners? Why if you’re concerned about Evil Foreigners, you must not really be American in the first place!

Excuse me, do you mind if we peek under the sheets and see if these claims of yours are truthful? Can’t do that. It’s super secret. Trust us.

At this point, of course, the reservoir of trust is tapped. And there’s good reason. Almost every super-secret-trust-us idea that has been sold to the American public over the last six years has turned out to be unalloyed bullshit. It has consistently been cooked up to serve a partisan political agenda. We trusted it into bogus wars and a long series of other misadventures.

And now, thanks to the Keystone Kops competence of the Bush apparatchiks, the sheet has slipped a bit. And we’ve gotten a good peak at the FISA program and how it operates. And guess what? It turns out not to be about Evil Foreigners at all. It’s about spying on Americans. Indeed, spying on Americans talking to their attorneys, that is, the most confidential sort of communications… and exactly the sort of thing that the Bush acolytes have a penchant for focusing in on.

In case you missed it, here’s a glimpse of FISA at work, courtesy of the Associated Press:

In open court and legal filings it’s referred to simply as “the Document.” Federal officials claim its contents are so sensitive to national security that it is stored in a bombproof safe in Washington and viewed only by prosecutors with top secret security clearances and a few select federal judges.

The Document, described by those who have seen it as a National Security Administration log of calls intercepted between an Islamic charity and its American lawyers, is at the heart of what legal experts say may be the strongest case against the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program. The federal appeals court in San Francisco plans to hear arguments in the case Aug. 15.

The charity’s lawyer scoffs at the often surreal lengths the government has taken to keep the Document under wraps.

The target here seems straight from the center of the current most active area of surveillance, namely charities with operations in the Middle East. A friend of mine who formerly held a senior position in the FBI puts it this way: “Targets are frequently identified on the basis of breathing while having Middle Eastern connections.”

Of course the biggest boon the Administration has had with its FISA safaris is that the victims of its criminal schemes don’t know they’re victims and can’t take actions to defend themselves. This is one of the few cases in which the surveillance targets learned they had been targeted, without warrants of approvals of any sort. A court will decide what to do about it shortly.

But the Administration continues its bamboozlement unabated, and few journalists ever challenge the torrent of falsehoods. Occasionally, however, someone points out that the emperor has no clothes. That honor falls most frequently to

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2016

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Average amount the company paid each of its 140 top executives last year:

$5,300,000

Between one fifth and one half of England’s leisure horses are obese.

Scientists in the Galápagos Islands credited an endangered giant tortoise named Diego with saving his species by fathering more than 800 offspring.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today