- 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."
- 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
- 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 <http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/06/01/intel_contractors/>70% are
private mercenaries in the employ of corporatist state structures.
- However, civil liberties' campaigners charge that language
currently under consideration by House and Senate "leaders" is
"judicial theatre" and a "mirage." According to
- 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)
- 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 <http://thehill.com/leading-the-news/fisa-negotiators-near-deal-2008-06-13.html>reports.
- 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 <http://www.washingtontechnology.com/top-100/2008/>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 <http://www.politico.com/blogs/thecrypt/0108/Rockefeller_
- 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...
- Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based
in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action
Quarterly, Love & Rage and Antifa Forum, he is the editor of Police
State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed
- © Copyright Tom Burghardt,
- Antifascist Calling...2008