By Tom Burghardt
June 16, 2008
from Antifascist Calling, Reprinted at Global Research
Proving the old axiom that Congress "is the best that money can buy,"
congressional Democrats are preparing to gut the Constitution by granting giant
telecom companies retroactive immunity and liability protection on warrantless
wiretapping by the Bush regime.
According to Congressional Quarterly, "Congressional leaders
and the Bush administration have reached an agreement in principle on an overhaul
of surveillance rules."
Tim Starks reports,
According to sources familiar with the negotiations, the compromise would
be very similar to the last proposal by Sen. Christopher S. Bond , R-Mo.,
to House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.
Sources said the major change is that a federal district court, not the
secret FISA court itself, would make an assessment about whether to provide
retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies being sued for
their alleged role in the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program.
("Agreement Could Pave Way for Surveillance Overhaul," Congressional
Quarterly, June 13, 2008)
In other words, the telecommunication corporations and their "customers,"
the NSA, FBI and other members of the "intelligence community" will
get everything they want–retroactive immunity and billions of dollars in continued
taxpayer subsidies for intelligence "outsourcing."
Under rules being considered by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay
Rockefeller (D-WV), Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Kit Bond (R-MO),
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO)
and Bush administration officials, the deal would allow the federal district
court "to look at a lower standard of evidence to determine if companies
received such orders–a provision sought by the GOP, according to one person
involved in the talks," The Hill reports.
Without clear standards for determining whether immunity for these privateers
is even justified, the courts will be forced to issue virtual get-out-of-jail-free
cards to corporate executives and their shareholders, thus freeing them from
any and all liability, should companies claim they had "received assurances"
from the state that its spying program was "legal."
Indeed, no warrants at all would be required when the administration and their
outsourced private "partners" choose surveillance "targets"
under "exigent," or urgent circumstances. Needless to say, such "exigent"
circumstances are determined by executive branch "intelligence officials,"
of whom fully 70% are private mercenaries in the employ of corporatist state
However, civil liberties’ campaigners charge that language currently under
consideration by House and Senate "leaders" is "judicial theatre"
and a "mirage." According to the ACLU,
Allowing phone companies to avoid litigation by simply presenting a "permission
slip" from the president is not court review. This is immunity pure
and simple because the companies are NOT being judged on whether they followed
the law. A document stating that the president asked them to conduct warrantless
wiretapping is not enough justification for violating the basic privacy
rights of Americans. ("Facts on Senator Kit Bond’s (R-MO) FISA Proposal,"
American Civil Liberties Union, June 13, 2008)
Who then, are the privateers that "opposition" Democrats want to
"protect" from litigious "radicals" such as the ACLU and
the Electronic Frontier Foundation? Some of the wealthiest recipients of "outsourced"
intelligence handouts, that’s who! Major players in the administration’s illegal
spying programs include, according to Washington Technology’s 2008 Top 100 Government
IT Contractors : Verizon Communications Inc., $1,320,637,982 (No. 18); Sprint-Nextel
Corporation, $839,946,000 (No. 25); AT&T Inc., $505,358,533 (No. 38); Qwest
Communications International Inc., $306,617,000 (No. 51).
If this weren’t bad enough, mendacious "leaders" such as Jay Rockefeller
claim that spying telecoms "deserve" immunity because they were "ordered"
by the NSA to cooperate with the administration. Indeed, back in January,
Rockefeller defended the actions of the telecom companies, arguing that
the companies received explicit orders from the National Security Agency to
cooperate with the supersecret surveillance effort. The West Virginia Democrat
said the telecom companies were being "pushed by the government, compelled
by the government, required by the government to do this. And I think in the
end, we’ll prevail."
Rockefeller added: "If people want to be mad, don’t be mad at the telecommunications
companies, who are restrained from saying anything at all under the State
Secrets Act. And they really are. They can’t say whether they were involved,
they can’t go to court, they can’t do anything. They’re just helpless. And
the president was just having his way." (Daniel W. Reilly, "Rockefeller
predicts win in FISA fight over telecom immunity," Politico,
January 23, 2008)
Pity the poor "helpless" telecoms! But as investigative journalist
Tim Shorrock documents,
The history of telecom cooperation with the NSA is a guide to how the NSA
went about winning cooperation with the industry in 2001. During the 1940s,
when telephone and telegraph companies began turning over their call and telegram
records to the NSA, only one or two executives at each firm were in on the
secret. Essentially, the government raised the issue of patriotism with them,
and the companies went along. That kind of arrangement continued into the
1970s, and is likely how cooperation works today. "Once the CEO approved,
all the contacts" with the intelligence agencies "would be worked
at a lower level," Kenneth Bass, a former Justice Department official
with the Carter administration, told me. "The telecos have been participating
in surveillance activities for decades–pre-FISA, post-FISA–so its nothing
new to them." Bass, who helped craft the FISA law and worked with the
NSA to implement it, added that he "would not be surprised at all"
if cooperating executives received from the Bush administration "the
same sort of briefing, but much more detailed and specific, that the FISA
court got when [the surveillance] was first approved." (Spies for
Hire, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008, p. 320)
Helpless indeed! Let’s make a couple of things clear: the Democratic party
is completely beholden to their "constituents"–the multinational
corporations, including the telecoms, the giant defense contractors and the
well-heeled lobbyists who fill their campaign coffers. Since 9/11, with few
rare exceptions that can be counted on one hand, the Democrats have been complicit
with the Bush administration’s quasi-fascistic "war on terror" and
everything that followed in its wake–illegal spying, torture, wars of aggression,
not to mention the looting of public assets for private profit known as "outsourcing."
The facile "debate" over retroactive immunity for spooky telecommunication
corporations will reach its inevitable denouement with the Democrats allowing
either the FISA court or Federal District courts to essentially rubberstamp
immunity orders issued by the Bush administration.
As the ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson told The Hill, "Whatever silk
purse Hoyer tries to make of Bond’s sow’s ear and no matter how they try to
sell it, the end result of all this negotiating will be exactly what the administration
has wanted from the beginning–FISA rewritten to delete court oversight of surveillance
and immunity for its pals at the telephone companies."
In the final analysis, these "negotiations" are taking place behind
closed doors, subject to input by influence-peddlers and corporate lobbyists,
without even a cursory–let alone, public–exploration of whether these mercenary
outfits violated the law.
It’s a rigged game without a referee…
A researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to
publishing in Covert Action Quarterly, Love & Rage and Antifa Forum, I am
the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance"
Planning, distributed by AK Press.
See also this excellent blog entry:
Wiretaps "R" Us: Is the FBI Tracking Your Cellphone?
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Under broad powers handed the Federal Bureau of Investigation by Congress in
2001 after it passed the Orwellian USA Patriot Act, the rights of ordinary citizens
have progressively been stripped away by America’s national security state.
With a history of domestic counterinsurgency operations against the left, and
despite bruising attacks after 9/11 on its (undeserved) reputation as the nation’s
premier "crime fighting agency," the FBI nevertheless, remains a formidable
organization when it comes to repressing dissent.