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:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2015

A Sage in Harlem

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Man Stopped

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Spy Who Fired Me

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Giving Up the Ghost

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Invisible and Insidious

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
William Powell published The Anarchist Cookbook in 1971. He spent the next four decades fighting to take it out of print.
“The book has hovered like an awkward question on the rim of my consciousness for years.”
© JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis
Article
The Fourth Branch·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Both the United States and the Soviet Union saw student politics as a proxy battleground for their rivalry.”
Photograph © Gerald R. Brimacombe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Article
Giving Up the Ghost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Stories about past lives help explain this life — they promise a root structure beneath the inexplicable soil of what we see and live and know, what we offer one another.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
The Spy Who Fired Me·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In industry after industry, this data collection is part of an expensive, high-tech effort to squeeze every last drop of productivity from corporate workforces.”
Illustration by John Ritter
Article
Invisible and Insidious·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly.”
Photograph © 2011 Massimo Mastrorillo and Donald Weber/VII

Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:

1

Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.

An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today