The New York Times reported December 16 that under a 2002 presidential order, the NSA has spied on the international phone calls and e-mail messages of individuals in the United States without obtaining a warrant from a special court.
Under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), sponsored by Democratic senator Edward Kennedy, a secret court was set up inside the Justice Department to rubber-stamp requests by federal cop agencies to spy on U.S. residents without having to apply at a regular court. In 26 years the FISA court has rejected only five out of 19,000 government requests for wiretaps or search warrants.
Since the Clinton administration, U.S. officials have sought to loosen these fig-leaf restrictions. In April 2004 the bipartisan Congressional 9/11 commission complained that the FISA approval procedure for electronic surveillance continues to be long and slow.
The official role of the National Security Agency, part of the Defense Department, is to spy overseas. NSA has had to obtain warrants from the FISA court to conduct wiretapping against U.S. residents deemed agents of a foreign power. In 2002 Bush signed an executive order relaxing these restrictions on domestic spying. At a December 19 press conference, the president said the NSA program was for intercepting international communications of people with known links to al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.
Bush argued that his executive powers as president and commander in chief gave him the authority to order such spying on the basis that were at war.
He noted that Congressional leaders had repeatedly been briefed about the secret program. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi conceded this in a December 17 statement. She added, I expressed my strong concerns during these briefings.
Shedding some light on what the actual target of Washingtons homeland security offensive is, recent news accounts have reported that federal cop agencies have been conducting operations against various civil liberties, peace, environmental, and other political organizations.
The Washington Post reported December 20 on documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union showing that the FBI has spied on Greenpeace, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, protesters at the 2004 Republican convention, and others. This included students and peace activists who attended a 2002 conference at Stanford University aimed at ending sanctions then in place in Iraq.
The FBIs spying and disruption operations
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