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Salon Tackles Surveillance, Irony and Tote Bags

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July 23, 2008

Salon’s Tim Shorrock posted a pretty interesting story today on a “movement” to investigate the abuses of the Bush Administration – an investigation based largely on the Church Committee. Clearly I’ve linked to some background info on the Church Committee but if you’re disinclined to follow that link, you should know right off the bat that the Church Committee scrutinized the abuses of the Nixon Administration and those before it, the end result being the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. Yes. That one.

Beyond the push for an investigation of past conduct, Shorrock also drops a few new bombs and describes a database that may be one of the missing links in the discussion and debate over the president’s warrantless wiretapping program:

Dating back to the 1980s and known to government insiders as “Main Core,” the database reportedly collects and stores — without warrants or court orders — the names and detailed data of Americans considered to be threats to national security.

There are more than a few interesting points in this article but here’s a quick rundown:

  • A search engine known as the Prosecutors’ Management Information System (or PROMIS) was the basis for Main Core which uses the Google-like technology sort through insane amounts of data for the NSA and CIA. It’s bigger than we ever thought.
  • Shorrock quotes a piece in Radar saying, “8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect.” Chew on that, America. A group of you roughly the population of New York City is considered to be a threat to your country.
  • Vice President Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and David Addington (who I’m increasingly convinced was put on earth to shred the Constitution with his bare hands) were all a part of the Reagan Administration – the administration that saw the birth many of the surveillance projects, tools and initiatives still in use (and more powerful) under the George W. Bush Administration. Coincidence? That’s what we call a “fat chance.”

Though it’s unclear how seriously the idea of a new Church Committee is actually being taken up on the Hill, it’s clear that some kind of investigation should happen. No matter what you think of either presidential candidate it’s difficult to put the proverbial genie of wider executive power back in the bottle and both candidates will have a hard time letting go of the constitutional breathing room George W. Bush and his administration have pilfered over the last seven years. (Also, FYI, the House Judiciary Committee is holding an interesting hearing this Friday on Imperial Presidency of George W. Bush. Bring popcorn.)

And, since it just passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 giving increased surveillance power to the executive, it’s unlikely that Congress will be eager to see exactly how big of a mistake it made by learning the details of the warrantless wiretapping program AFTER the fact. The point is maybe Congress should have had the guts to do this two and a half years ago when the New York Times originally revealed the president’s end run around FISA. You have to appreciate the hearty serving of irony when there’s talk of recreating the body that created FISA to protect Americans by the very people who eviscerated that law earlier this month.

This point is best summed up by Shorrock in my most, most favorite part of his piece:

The Democrats’ reticence on such action ultimately may be rooted in congressional complicity with the Bush administration’s intelligence policies. Many of the war on terror programs, including the NSA’s warrantless surveillance and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” were cleared with key congressional Democrats, including Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Rockefeller, and former House Intelligence chairwoman Jane Harman, among others.

BTW, Salon’s having a hell of a day as Glenn Greenwald has posted his thoughts on AT&T sponsoring the Democratic Convention in Denver. Shameless, guys. Absolutely shameless. Wouldn’t it be great if those things said, “I Handed the Telecoms Blanket Immunity and All I Got Was This Lousy Tote Bag”?