September 18, 2007 1:50 PM PDT

Spy czar urges extension of warrantless-wiretap law

WASHINGTON--Under grilling from congressional Democrats on Tuesday, the nation's intelligence chief said he doesn't know how many Americans' phone and e-mail conversations have been inadvertently overheard in the process of foreign-oriented snooping.

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has previously said only about 100 Americans have been "targeted" for electronic surveillance, and he emphasized at a hearing here Tuesday that none of that eavesdropping has occurred without a court order. Doing so would be illegal, he added.

But when pressed by House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and other Democrats to estimate how many Americans who weren't necessarily "targets" have had their communications scooped up through the government's surveillance efforts, McConnell couldn't say.

"I don't have the exact number," McConnell replied, adding, "It is a very small number considering that there are billions of transactions everyday." He said he would look into getting that number and brief the committee in a non-public session.

The sworn testimony from McConnell came as the Bush administration kicked off a new push in Congress for permanent expansion of warrantless-wiretapping powers, drawing skepticism from Democrats and more vocal sympathy from Republicans. McConnell is also scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday and the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. And President Bush plans to visit the National Security Agency's Maryland headquarters on Wednesday to get an update on how they have been using the temporary law, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Before leaving for the August recess and under intense pressure from the White House, Congress approved the Protect America Act, a highly contentious temporary law that amends a 1978 wiretapping law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The White House has been fighting for permanent legal changes because it argues recent interpretations of the earlier version of FISA have hamstrung efforts to snoop on foreign terrorists. Set to expire six months after its passage, the Protect America Act dropped a requirement that investigators obtain a secret warrant before intercepting phone conversations and e-mails that pass through the United States, provided that they "concern" foreigners.

The Bush administration says that's consistent with the intent of FISA, which was to allow surveillance of foreigners without a warrant. But civil liberties advocates and many Democrats say the changes have gone too far and are worded broadly enough to allow the government to monitor domestic phone calls and e-mails without a warrant.

There's generally no disagreement that listening in on conversations between foreigners doesn't require a warrant under U.S. law, but "the administration wrote their bill so broadly and loosely that it permits the government to intercept any and all electronic communications from U.S. citizens to anyone even thought to be abroad at the time," Conyers said Tuesday.

Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas), by contrast, said the changes make sense and called for enactment of all the Bush administration's proposals, which date back to April. "Requiring a court order for every phone call from a foreign target to a person inside the United States is contrary to FISA and common sense," he said.

Republicans on the committee repeatedly attempted to demonstrate the importance of the legal changes. For instance, if Osama bin Laden was making a phone call to someone outside the country, say, from a hotel in Florida, then U.S. investigators wouldn't be allowed to snoop on his conversation without getting a warrant, McConnell confirmed in response to a question from Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).

If Congress reverts to the original interpretation of FISA, "we'd lose about two-thirds of our capability and we'd be losing steadily over time," McConnell said. (That conflicts with an estimate he offered at a Senate hearing last week: the nation's intelligence gathering tools related to terrorism would be diminished by 50 percent.)

McConnell and Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein also spoke again of the need to immunize telecommunications companies that "allegedly" assisted the government in their surveillance operations. The Protect America Act offers that immunity going forward but doesn't apply to relationships that may have existed before the law was passed in August.

But some Democrats questioned what exactly the telephone companies need protection from.

"If no one has done anything illegal, it's not clear to me why we need to immunize past behavior," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). "And it seems to me that at a minimum, if we are going to do that, we ought to know specifically what the behavior it is that we are immunizing."

McConnell said he would be willing to offer more details on that front in a "closed session."

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22 comments

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what a surprise
Only roughly a hundred citizens have been targeted with
warrantless wiretaps (remind me which constitutional
admendment allows this???), but we don't know how many have
been *accidentally* targeted - we'll tell you later in a closed
session (I'm guessing not under oath either).

Current FISA laws would diminish our capabilities to spy on
terrorists by half, maybe it's two thirds. I bet they say three
quarters next week.

No laws have been broken, but we need to protect the
telecommunications companies against lawsuits regarding laws
that have been broken. This protection needs to be retroactive,
going back into the past when we still weren't breaking any laws.
(Read this one again, if it makes any sense to you stop taking
acid, wait a day or so to come back down and try again.)

If we allowed Bin Laden back into the country and he rents a
hotel room in Florida, we couldn't tap his phones without a
warrant, we'd be hamstrung. (Never mind the obvious question
as to why he was allowed back to begin with).

Talk about stay the course - if we keep the people of this nation
terrorised enough, they'll give up their freedom and liberties.
Then we can be like Hitler, but with nukes.

My. God. Are the people of this nation really this stupid? Is it
really possible that after 7 years of outright lies anyone is still
trusting this regime?

Hello?

We suffered impeachment proceedings against President Clinton
for *FAR* less than this (no one died when Clinton lied). How is
this nazi-con able to get away with junk like this?
Posted by Dalkorian (3000 comments )
Reply Link Flag
By fighting terror some nations are becoming terror states
Through the culling of civil liberties and the generalization of
surveillance technologies in our daily lifes our societies are
becoming more and more paranoid. This ultimately can lead
democracies to become assieged fortresses and by isolation/
nationalism can push those nations into the practices of terror
states. The ultimate goal of a terrorist isn't reaching far flung
political objectives far from it but to plunge the target into a
state of terror , this state achieved , the target is MUCH more
maleable. Now we are down to normalizing surveillance ; what
step is next ? Debriefings before landing to and from a foreign
country , these were the techniques of totalitarian regimes the
free world has been fighting since the end of WWII. The day we
forget the principles that govern our democracies for limited
safety (would be terrorist communicating in the CLEAR ???) we
are entering a very slippery slope. I do not condemn surveillance
of key targets far from it , but the systematism these measures
installs is more something we thought dissappeared with the
soviet era.

As a side thought there are graver concerns than phone
communications and the focus being brought upon these
actually shift the focus from fronts we are definitly losing
ground upon (Defense systems security , internet
communications, decryption capabilities). Facing an asymetrical
foe always end up badly if we play symetrical tactics we are
using now and ends up backfiring badly at the worst moments.
Posted by MacHeads (70 comments )
Reply Link Flag
McConnell is a fascist stooge
His solution to everything is more surveillance and more government intrusion into peoples lives.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
just one question?
If we're stripping all of our freedoms that "we're fighting" for, what are we going to be fighting after they're all gone?

OK, maybe two questions...

Don't terrorists win if we destroy all of our freedoms for the sake of protection? After all that's what we've been told why they're fighting us.

here are some quotes to remind people of what we should be standing for b/c those are the principles this country was founded on:

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." Benjamin Franklin

"give me liberty or give me death" patrick henry

"If you want total security, go to prison. There you're fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking... is freedom." Dwight Eisenhower

"Live free or die!" NH state motto

let me know if you need more lecture on what it means to be free..
Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes that means the terrorist win
Terrorist in and of themselves CAN NOT harm the US. They can kill a few people, they can destroy some property, but that is it. They can not hurt the US. Our retarded president on the other hand, is undermining EVERYTHING that this country stands for. This is not a government that represents me, looks out for me, or looks out for the US.
Posted by bemenaker (438 comments )
Link Flag
What a way to fight terrism
Take away the rights of citizens to take away the rights for foreigners. I'm fairly certain that they don't have to take away rights of everyone to get to a few. And while we're at it, how about we make it harder - not easier - to enter the country. And actually deport those who enter the country illegally. Sure that will anger a lot of people, but it will actually protect the people that deserve it, not criminals.
Posted by aka_tripleB (2211 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Running out of options...
I've said it before, but with the damage to our ability to catch
terrorists now projected to drop by a whopping two thirds, it
deserves repeating.

Using this latest number, that would mean that when the law
was passed, our ability to catch terrorists went up by 200%!
That amazing increase was used to catch... nobody.
The administration wants very badly to show us a result for this
law, so they lied and told us the Germans caught 3 terrorists
with the help of information this law obtained. It turns out that
the 3 guys in question were caught 10 months before the law
was put in place.

So if this law hasn't caught any terrorists, then having 200%
more ability isn't what we needed, is it? Maybe there aren't any
terrorists left? Or maybe this isn't about terrorists at all, since
we got our rights trampled but the borders didn't get secured.

If the democrats cant do anything with the majority, and the
republicans do bad things with the majority, and the
independents cant have the majority, what is the solution?


Lampie The Clown
Posted by lampietheclown (73 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The problem, and the solution.
The problem with our government is not where you might think. The people are not stupid, they just have no say in anything. We tout democracy but we don't actually have it ourselves. Ask yourself who wrote the law/policy/amendment etc. that was enacted? 99% of the time is was not a common, average american, it was probably a political interest group, or corperate interest, lobbyist, etc. We supposedly get to vote on who represents us in government, but that is really controlled by the media. It serves no purpose to vote for someone when you have no control on how they represent you. Once they are in office, are they required to follow though on any campaign promises? Do you have control over what they vote on? There was a great movie a while back that explains the problem perfectly. Because the FCC sold the airwaves to large corperate and media interests, the media controls who gets voted in by how much money they have, provided they will protect the media's greedy interests. The movie was "Bullworth". Now they are trying to reign in the internet, under their control, because it is a threat, if massive communication and information becomes truly free, they lose their power. Knowledge is power, to control communication is to control knowledge, is to have all the power. This is evident by the lack of action on net neutrality bills, the net was neutral by design, now its pay for priority, only after you are forced to look at our ads, while we spy on you. If we had a true honest electronic voting system, (not the corrupted crap they have tried so far), the people could actually be heard, and we could force all politicians to be required to support the peoples' interests and positions on the issues, not allowing them to make their own personal agendas, their position. Now the FCC wants to sell a large band of the 700MHz EM spectrum again for Billions, to the highest bidder. I urge you to send them a letter saying NO, retain this band for open wireless digital communication standard that can free up the monopoly on the airwaves. Establish a specification that device manufacturers must comply with, to use this band for a dynamic wireless internet that is free to all to use. Absolutely no exclusive rights to this band. Only when we free communication (which is how the first amendment would have been written, had there been anything other than speech and print at the time), will we have even the possibility of a true democracy, representative of the people.

P.S. Its not about terrorism at all, do the research, find the first original videos of 9-11 captured by several sources, and never again broadcasted. Look closely, at least one of the planes that hit the south tower was not a commercial aircraft (it was more like an A-WACS). It was not an aircraft that hit the pentagon either. Why did all 6 WTC Building have to come down? The remaining buildings were dropped within days of 9-11 with precision demolition charges (supposedly because of substantial damage) but it takes weeks to plan, implement and execute such demolitions. And curiously enough the fall of the towers is very similiar to the fall from demo charges. Not a single commissioned model of the tower impacts reflects, reality. There is no way the towers should have actually fallen without additional help, from something more than just jet fuel. Uncompressed jet fuel does not burn fast enough or hot enough validate the official explaination. But thats old news, and the media will of course not answer those questions, they won't even ask them anymore.
Posted by chash360 (394 comments )
Link Flag
Getting it straight
really isn't that hard:

(1)
Dalkorian, "Only roughly a hundred citizens have been targeted with
warrantless wiretaps (remind me which constitutional
admendment allows this???), "

From the Article:
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has previously said only about 100 Americans have been "targeted" for electronic surveillance, and he emphasized at a hearing here Tuesday that none of that eavesdropping has occurred without a court order.
=========================
(2)
Dalkonian, "If we allowed Bin Laden back into the country and he rents a
hotel room in Florida, we couldn't tap his phones without a
warrant, we'd be hamstrung. (Never mind the obvious question
as to why he was allowed back to begin with.)"

From the Article:
Republicans on the committee repeatedly attempted to demonstrate the importance of the legal changes. For instance, if Osama bin Laden was making a phone call to someone outside the country, say, from a hotel in Florida, then U.S. investigators wouldn't be allowed to snoop on his conversation without getting a warrant, McConnell confirmed in response to a question from Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).
Obviously a hypothetical question
============================
(3)
Dalkonian asks, "My. God. Are the people of this nation really this stupid?"

Evidently some are.
Posted by majarosh (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Quotes to ponder
"Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad."
James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, May 13, 1798

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790)

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
~Abraham Lincoln

"Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have ... The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases." * Thomas Jefferson

We have only ourselves to blame.
Posted by sandkicker (69 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ummm...
"For instance, if Osama bin Laden was making a phone call to someone outside the country, say, from a hotel in Florida, then U.S. investigators wouldn't be allowed to snoop on his conversation without getting a warrant"

Question 1: What judge wouldn't automatically provide this warrant?

Question 2: Why would they tap his phone and not just knock the door down and kick some ass?

It's absurd examples like this that egg on idiots without intelligence.
Posted by volterwd (466 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ummm part deux.....
"It's absurd examples like this that egg on idiots without intelligence."

I wonder, are there idiots WITH intelligence? Are they egged on by absurd examples?

Answer to volterwd's question #1: That is not the point. The point is that it is absurd that it would be breaking the law if they snooped on OBL's phone call from a Florida hotel to someone outside of the country and it would not be legal until and when a warrant was secured. By then the call would most certainly have ended.
Answer to question #2: Don't feel bad, volterwd. It is not unusual for those unfamiliar with the process of intelligence gathering to think all it involves is knocking down doors and kicking ass. The simple reason they would want to tap his phone first is to gather as much information as possible. Information like, who is he calling, what they are saying, what, where and when is the next attack, you know, stuff like that. Then they knock down the door and kick some ass.

Your post, sir, is a perfect example of how one gets egg on their face.
Posted by majarosh (25 comments )
Link Flag
Surely you jest
A lot of judges wouldn't. That one from Michigan for one for sure.

And if someone kicked down the door and captured him you could bet that the ACLU would be out in force to defend him and there would be editorials in the leading newspapers about police brutality and that the police are storm troopers. That is what they do now.
Posted by rhomp2002 (13 comments )
Link Flag
surprised ?
Of course Mike McConnell ?urges extension of warrantless-wiretap law? ..

for one,he?s an idiot
for two, he?s a bushie, a crony, a spineless neocon, loyal to his political career, not the american people or the constitution.
for three, he?s hoping to maintain his privileged, elitist status in the new world order so not to have to grovel with the rest of us.


Does this really come as a surprise to anyone ?
Isn?t it right on time, again.. the fear mongering , the urgent pleas to give up more ?cause the ?evil terrorists? at the door, ready to pounce ?
why, they?re just minutes from taking over our country, raping our daughters, bombing our churches and stealing our wine ?
?the situation is critical, everything is at stake, the very fate of the world as we know it hangs in the balance?

Haven?t we had enough of this crap ?
Haven?t we had enough of these guys ?

And does anyone really believe any of their rhetoric anymore ?
I mean, I can ?t recall a single statement regarding their ?policies? and actions or programs that hasn?t been a lie..
And even when they?re caught in the lie, they lie about the lie and then the admission of the what?s ?really true ? turns out to be a lie.
(and,of course, the be all, end all justification : ?well Clinton lied !)
and meanwhile, no one has done more to further the terrorists agenda ..
diminishing our democracy, destroying our liberties, systematically removing freedoms, devastating our economy, dividing our people, killing and wounding Americans, turning the world against us..
no one has done more to these ends than Bush and Cheney et al ..

and wait, who are we supposed to fear ?

?give up your freedoms so we can protect you from those who would take your freedoms?
Posted by rashinal (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You are forgetting something
At the time you are complaining about all this you are out there in force to support the proposed raid on our rights from the democrats and their proposals to take over our medical care. We would give up a whole lot more to the government with that than we are with this.

The truth is that because of the way the telecoms work there really is almost no way to tell how many people are involved. With the shared lines you can't really tap just one telephone anymore. And if another 9/11 happens because someone was prevented from tapping a terrorist line you would be the first one in line complaining that the government did not do more. That also has happened since 9/11.

You also have to look at the Gorelick/Reno wall that keeps the federal agencies from sharing what they know. If that had not been in place 9/11 would not have happened and we would not be where we are now.

You all sound like you want to protect all these rights. Most of them are privileges, not rights. You complain that they are being taken away from you. What is being taken away from you. The right to call up your local terrorist and order takeout? You have terrorists being caught with dynamite on the road to a nuclear facility and the left complain that they are college students who lost their way. You have a kid who explodes a pipe bomb and his parents it is an experiment that went wrong. You have a group of terrorists in Florida who are planning to bomb the Sears Tower and we hear that they are not organized enough to succeed. You have a group who are going to explode bombs at Fort Dix and we hear that they were misunderstood. You have wiretapping from the democrats going back to FDR and not a peep about that. You have Clinton siccing the IRS on the Travel Agency people after he has kicked them out and not a word. You have the FBI security investigation files turned over to a detective who lost his license but was hired by Hillary and Bubba and he has them for months and you are OK with that. You have a former National Security Advisor who steals classified documents fromt eh Archives just before he has to testify on them before the Senate and that is OK with you, no biggie.

But just let this administration try to catch terrorists and you are all up in arms, yet the German terrorists that were caught were caught precisely because this administration did its investigations and let the Germans know. If they had not done this, then you would have had more terrorist attacks in Germany against our military who are serving there protecting our allies. That is the kind of thing you are yelping about. Open your eyes.
Posted by rhomp2002 (13 comments )
Link Flag
did everyone else miss this tidbit?
He said he would look into getting that number and brief the committee in a non-public session.

or this one?

McConnell said he would be willing to offer more details on that front in a "closed session."

this means "make sure the uninformed masses don't find out what is really going on"
Posted by kewlcajun73 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Selective perception
What this means: first example; he doesn't know the exact number, though it is very small, that he will provide the committee with the number at their next scheduled meeting, the non-public session.

second example; he offered details in the public session, however there are more details that are classified that will be offered in the upcoming closed session. SOP for every member of every administration.
Posted by majarosh (25 comments )
Link Flag
I've had enough of the Republican BS
First of all, anyone ever wonder how the Bush administration come by with all these powers? It sure as hell wasn't by specific laws. Oh right, they took over Congress role and make it up as they go along. I sure thought that Bush was joking when he was being asked what is the role of the Executive branch and he answered "to make law".

Quote:
"Republicans on the committee repeatedly attempted to demonstrate the importance of the legal changes. For instance, if Osama bin Laden was making a phone call to someone outside the country, say, from a hotel in Florida, then U.S. investigators wouldn't be allowed to snoop on his conversation without getting a warrant, McConnell confirmed in response to a question from Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.)."
-First of all Trent Franks, can you answer why Bin Laden got into Florida in the first place??
-Second if you have just cause to monitor someone, wouldn't you ask for the warrant in advance? or you just like to monitor everybody, say police state, communist state, Russia state or dictator state?

Quote
"Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas), by contrast, said the changes make sense and called for enactment of all the Bush administration's proposals, which date back to April. "Requiring a court order for every phone call from a foreign target to a person inside the United States is contrary to FISA and common sense," he said."
Then expands the FISA court. I'd rather have check and balance as the founding fathers envisions than giving you all the power to decide crap for yourself. That in addition of global economy and the US population who have ties to other countries, I sure don't want you to have the sole power to become judge, jury and executioner without some check and balance.
Clinton was bad for cheating on his wife. What worse is a bunch of hypocritical Republican leaders who screamed FAMILY VALUES and go F* around. Looking right at you Newt Gingrich & Sen. David Vitter. I love your hypocrisy and morality standard.
Posted by vhac (68 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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