I’ve been surprised at the fallout of the recent “Bush says the NSA can spy on Americans” revelation. Honestly, I think that most Americans would be less upset about it if the media were a bit louder about the “only on international phone calls” aspect of the spying. I mean, most Americans never leave the country, let alone make good friends overseas and need to call them. “Why do you need friends from other countries, anyway? You think you’re too good for American friends? Let’s get em!”
In my article about this, I repeated the NYT’s claims that Bush’s spy plan was balanced on the head of the legalistic pin that terrorism suspects in the US can somehow be considered “agents of a foreign power”, which does not violate the Foreign Intelligence Secrets Act. However I have since learned that the head of that pin does not exist, and the spy plan is pretty clearly illegal.
To get technical on you, § 1802 of this law says that this type of secret wiretapping can only be conducted on “foreign powers”, not “agents of a foreign power.” Secondly, this section pretty clearly excludes “international terrorists” from the list of who these secret wiretaps can be used on.
Ergo the president signed an order that broke the law.
This doesn’t mean that the NSA is forbidden from eavesdropping on the phone calls of terrorism suspects, it just means that they have to get a warrant to do so. As I understand it, they don’t even have to go to a regular judge to get these warrants, they go to a special foreign intelligence court that sets the bar very low to justify a warrant. That’s what’s so galling about all this, that this administration doesn’t just want a lot of power, it doesn’t just want overwhelming power, it wants unlimited power.
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