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

May 2017

The New Climate

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Dream Preferred

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Snowden’s Box

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Duce

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Prayer’s Chance

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Bee-Brained

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Snowden’s Box·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Illustration (detail) by Taylor Callery
Post
The Forty-Fifth President·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Photograph (detail) by Philip Montgomery
Article
A Prayer’s Chance·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Photograph (detail) by Robin Hammond/NOOR
Article
Bee-Brained·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Illustration (detail) by Eda Akaltun. Source photograph of Jairam Hathwar at the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee © Pete Marovich/UPI/Newscom
Article
My First Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Illustration by Katherine Streeter

Amount Greece’s ruling Syriza party believes that Germany owes Greece in war reparations:

$172,000,000,000

Americans of both sexes prefer the body odors of people with similar political beliefs.

Tens of thousands of people marched to promote science in cities across the world, and Trump issued an Earth Day statement in which he did not mention climate change.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today