The President is Trying to Legalize His Illegal Spy Program: Congress Should Just Say ‘No’

February 6, 2008

Statement from Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office

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Contact: (202) 675-2312 or media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON -- “The Senate should not fool itself; by supporting final passage of the intelligence committee’s domestic spying bill, Congress would be granting the administration virtually unchecked powers to monitor the calls and emails of ordinary Americans on American soil without a warrant for the next six years.

“This week, while Senate Republicans blocked votes on amendments to revisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as a delay tactic, the president threatened to veto the bill unless it includes a multi-million dollar present for the telecom companies who facilitated warrantless wiretapping in the United States. The administration has repeatedly claimed that American lives will be at risk if the Intelligence Committee’s bill is not adopted, yet the President has now said he is willing take that alleged risk if the bill does not include retroactive immunity for the phone companies.

“The veto threats are a last ditch effort of a lame duck president. Senators should stand up to the bullying. The Republican stalling tactics are nothing more than a cynical effort to try to let the clock run out based on an assumption that Democrats will cave in to their lies and threats.

“The White House is wrong. Congress does not need to act. Let the Protect America Act expire and allow the FISA Court to do its job.

“One highlight from yesterday’s FISA floor debate was a speech by Senator John D. “Jay” Rockefeller (D-WV) that confirmed what we have long suspected: the government is using its warrantless surveillance authority to conduct broad, untargeted dragnets of phone calls and emails. And now the administration wants Congress’ blessing to continue these unconstitutional programs for years to come. Both Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey echoed Rockefeller’s pleas, and the president’s veto threat, in a letter sent to the Senate yesterday.

“Mr. Mukasey and Mr. McConnell make clear in their letter that a ‘significant purpose' of these massive, untargeted programs is indeed to collect the communications of those in the U.S.. Originally, proponents of' fixing FISA' said they wanted to be free to wiretap overseas communications that were incidentally routed through the US. The administration has now confirmed they were just blowing smoke to hide their true intent.

“Richard A. Clarke, former head of counterterrorism at the National Security Council said it best when he wrote in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, `Let me be clear: Our ability to track and monitor terrorists overseas would not cease should the Protect America Act expire. If this were true, the president would not threaten to terminate any temporary extension with his veto pen….For this president, fear is an easier political tactic than compromise. With FISA, he is attempting to rattle Congress into hastily expanding his own executive powers at the expense of civil liberties and constitutional protections.’”

To read the Richard Clarke commentary, go to:
http://www.philly.com/inquirer/opinion/15099947.html

For more information on the ACLU’s work on FISA, go to:
www.aclu.org/fisa

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