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The FISA Bamboozlement

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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

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