Bush wants expanding spying powers

041106spy.jpgPresident Bush’s spy chief is pushing to expand the government’s surveillance authority at the same time the administration is under attack for stretching its domestic eavesdropping powers.

National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell (left) has circulated a draft bill that would expand the government’s powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, liberalizing how that law can be used.

Known as “FISA,” the 1978 law was passed to allow surveillance in espionage and other foreign intelligence investigations, but still allow federal judges on a secretive panel to ensure protections for U.S. citizens — at home or abroad — and other permanent U.S. residents.

The changes McConnell is seeking mostly affect a cloak-and-dagger category of warrants used to investigate suspected spies, terrorists and other national security threats. The court-approved surveillance could include planting listening devices and hidden cameras, searching luggage and breaking into homes to make copies of computer hard drives.

McConnell, who took over the 16 U.S. spy agencies and their 100,000 employees less than three months ago, is signaling a more aggressive posture for his office and will lay out his broad priorities on Wednesday as part of a 100-day plan.

The retired Navy vice admiral recently met with leaders at the National Security Agency, Justice Department and other agencies to learn more about the rules they operate under and what ties their hands, according to officials familiar with the discussions and McConnell’s proposals. The officials described them on condition that they not be identified because the plans are still being developed.

According to officials familiar with the draft changes to FISA, McConnell wants to:

_Give the NSA the power to monitor foreigners without seeking FISA court approval, even if the surveillance is conducted by tapping phones and e-mail accounts in the United States.

“Determinations about whether a court order is required should be based on considerations about the target of the surveillance, rather than the particular means of communication or the location from which the surveillance is being conducted,” NSA Director Keith Alexander told the Senate last year.

_Clarify the standards the FBI and NSA must use to get court orders for basic information about calls and e-mails — such as the number dialed, e-mail address, or time and date of the communications. Civil liberties advocates contend the change will make it too easy for the government to access this information.

_Triple the life span of a FISA warrant for a non-U.S. citizen from 120 days to one year, allowing the government to monitor much longer without checking back in with a judge.

_Give telecommunications companies immunity from civil liability for their cooperation with Bush’s terrorist surveillance program. Pending lawsuits against companies including Verizon and AT&T allege they violated privacy laws by giving phone records to the NSA for the program.

_Extend from 72 hours to one week the amount of time the government can conduct surveillance without a court order in emergencies.

McConnell, Alexander and a senior Justice Department official will appear at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on April 17 to discuss whether to amend the FISA law. Chad Kolton, McConnell’s spokesman, declined to comment on the director’s proposals.

Government officials have been publicly and privately discussing changes to FISA since last year. A senior intelligence official said the goal is to update the law to ensure Americans’ constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure, while improving use of government resources to pursue threats against U.S. interests.

Critics question whether the changes are needed and worry about what the Bush administration has in store, given a rash of allegations about domestic surveillance and abuse of power. “Congress should certainly be very skeptical about proposals to give this government greater powers to spy on its own citizens,” said Caroline Fredrickson, the Washington legislative office director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The proposed changes to domestic surveillance would be so broad that “you have basically done away with the protections of the FISA,” said Kate Martin, head of the Center for National Security Studies.

Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., who unsuccessfully sponsored legislation last year to update FISA, said Congress must act because current court orders bolstering the president’s terrorist surveillance program are legally shaky. She wants the law to be rewritten to ensure the NSA can continue the program.

Bush has faced months of criticism for his 2001 decision to order the NSA to monitor the international calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens when terrorism is suspected. More recently, the Justice Department and FBI have been sharply rebuked for bad bookkeeping and other mistakes involving their powers under the USA Patriot Act to secretly demand Americans’ e-mail, financial and other personal records through so-called national security letters. Top government officials have tried to dampen the outrage by promising accountability and have argued that the letters are essential tools to protect against terror threats.

McConnell hinted at his discomfort with current laws last week during a speech before an audience of government executives, saying he worries that current laws and regulations prevent intelligence agencies from using all of their capabilities to protect the nation.

“That’s the big challenge going forward,” he said, acknowledging changes would require significant congressional debate.

–KATHERINE SHRADER


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On the Web:

Office of the Director of National Intelligence: http://www.dni.gov/

Verizon Communications Inc: http://www.verizon.com/

AT&T Inc.: http://www.att.com/

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

Comments

  1. Donna

    if Bush has to keep asking for more powers and extending tours of duty.

    Every time this group of thugs asks for something more, America needs to remember what they’ve done with what they’ve been given.

  2. anthny

    There are 16 spy agencies and 100,000 empolyees.
    What do all these people do? And why in the world would we need so many spys?
    And where were these people when 9/11 was going down?
    If they want to find spy’s look into AIPAC, they have been spying on us for years and were even caught red handed giving top secret documents to there embassy.
    But if they looked to deep into AIPAC a lot of politicians would go down the tubes along with the millions of dollars we give to ZIONISTS.
    They in turn buy our politicians and then the politicians have the loans forgiven.
    Nice work if you can get it, screwing your own country for money. Is that what they call treason?

  3. Cougar

    What Bush wants is total control over every aspect of Americans lives. He wants to invade every ounce of privacy one has if anyone has any anymore.
    I was listening to one of the News stations this morning before going to work and a woman was stopped for speeding and STRIP SEARCHED. Apparently that is standard procedure if your a not an American citizen. That is just sick. THAT IS INSANITY.
    Like come on give it a rest, I mean really the poor woman was totally humiliated.

  4. Paolo

    A few radical suggestions on moving towards a free society (from our current, pre-fascist society).

    1) Eliminate all spy agencies. If we had a Ron Paul foreign policy (no foreign interventionism), then we wouldn’t need spies. These creepy little creatures–a hundred thousand of them!–couldn’t predict 9/11. Get rid of them!

    2) Outlaw any stationing of US troops outside the actual territory of the US, except in times of properly declared war (that is, per the Constitution, war declared by Congress).

    3) Automatic removal from office of any President who starts a war without congressional declaration.

    4) Reduce the size of the military to enough to defend the US borders from any realistically conceivable attack. This would probably be about a 90 percent reduction in force.

    5) Make impeachment a regular, common action against the President, for any “high crimes” or even just “misdemeanors.” Public lying about a phony justification for war, in other words, is at least a “misdemeanor.”

    6) Break up the US into several (how about 50?) independent countries. Something we might call a confederation. Break up this mischief-creating union! Give DC to Maryland and wish them luck.

    7) Starve them out! Eliminate the income tax and finance a much smaller central government on a national sales tax of no more than five percent. Eliminate about 90 percent of the federal government.

    8) In concise terms: fight for a Libertarian society.

  5. Arlo J. Thudpucker

    It’s clear these wretches have abused the powers given them.

    The cabal has parlayed the fear they manufactured into a mechanism used to subvert the privacy rights of the nation.

    The “terrorists” are of domestic origin.

    The nation needs to know who was responsible for enabling 19 guys to somehow turn our vaunted, trillion dollar military into chimps.

  6. Shirley Blaylock

    Didn’t we get enough of this with McCarthy and Hoover. They didn’t accomplish much except to ruin the lives and careers of alot of innocent people.
    Give George books and all he does is look at the pictures. This man has a college degree? I guess money can buy anything except brains.

  7. The South Point

    We MUST be protected from… TERRORISTS!!! Those nasty, indecent, unwashed, frothing-at-the-mouth TERRORISTS who want so much to DESTROY our sweet and wholesome American Way Of Life!

    Just being nitpicky: that should be “martial law”…

    For Marshall Law, go here…
    http://www.marshalllaw.co.uk/
    Heavy metal forever, du-u-u-udes…! And please try not to fall over and off the balcony because you’re too damn drunk. I hate that happening at a concert. Kind of ruins the fun.

    Another nitpicky point aimed at the feds: the federal government exists ONLY at the pleasure of the 50 sovereign states. The federal government exists only to serve the 50 states and NOT the other way around. The federal government has no other purpose.

  8. Ray

    The district of columbia is not a state. Just what is it? Why does the american flag have gold fringe only when flown in DC or in federal courts? I think it has to do with maritime law verses constitutional law being applied. There is a big difference between the two that does not favor common citizens. I agree with south point.

    We should not have hundreds of military bases in every part of the world. We should cut the military to only what it takes for border security. Just imagine what all the trillions of dollars saved could do for improving the social structure and way of life for all americans.

    This war mentality and war machine that we have financed is an evil and ever consuming monster that will turn and eat us alive. Is it not obvious that there is no good that comes from this military-corporate-zionist faction that has a strangle hold on the very meaning of our freedom and basic rights afforded by the constitution?

  9. Cougar

    Hey now there’s a plan and while we are at it why not make war Illegal all around the planet. Start a war and you go to jail as soon as you can get your hands on them. That would infuriate the war toy makers who make millions or billions of dollars on war.
    But your plan Paolo is a great one.