Prominent right-wing bloggers – including Michelle Malkin, the Corner, Wizbang and Free Republic — are pushing the argument that President Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program isn’t news because the Clinton administration did the same thing.
The right-wing outlet NewsMax sums up the basic argument:During the 1990’s under President Clinton, the National Security Agency monitored millions of private phone calls placed by U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries under a super secret program code-named Echelon…all of it done without a court order, let alone a catalyst like the 9/11 attacks.
That’s flatly false. The Clinton administration program, code-named Echelon, complied with FISA. Before any conversations of U.S. persons were targeted, a FISA warrant was obtained. CIA director George Tenet testified to this before Congress on 4/12/00:I’m here today to discuss specific issues about and allegations regarding Signals Intelligence activities and the so-called Echelon Program of the National Security Agency…
There is a rigorous regime of checks and balances which we, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the FBI scrupulously adhere to whenever conversations of U.S. persons are involved, whether directly or indirectly. We do not collect against U.S. persons unless they are agents of a foreign power as that term is defined in the law. We do not target their conversations for collection in the United States unless a FISA warrant has been obtained from the FISA court by the Justice Department.
Meanwhile, the position of the Bush administration is that they can bypass the FISA court and every other court, even when they are monitoring the communications of U.S. persons. It is the difference between following the law and breaking it.
Update: Media Matters has followed up on this point regarding comments made by Hannity & colmes guest host Rich Lowry...
As a guest host on the December 20 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, National Review editor Rich Lowry claimed that the Clinton administration had asserted "exactly the same authority" that President Bush has cited in defense of his controversial decision to allow the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct warrantless domestic surveillance. Lowry was referring to then-Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick's July 14, 1994, testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, in which she stated that the executive branch has "inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches."
But "physical searches" are not the same as electronic surveillance and, as Gorelick's testimony made clear, were not restricted at that time by the Foreign Intelligence Authorization Act (FISA), which has since been amended to include them. The foreign intelligence activity that the Bush administration has argued it can conduct without warrants -- domestic wiretapping -- has for 27 years been governed by FISA, which specifically requires court orders. On the other hand, the foreign intelligence activity to which Gorelick was referring -- "physical searches" -- was not covered by FISA when she said that Clinton had the "inherent authority to conduct" them. Further, Gorelick testified that she supported legislation requiring FISA warrants for physical searches. Following the passage of such legislation in 1995, the Clinton administration no longer asserted that it had the authority to conduct warrantless physical searches. By contrast, the Bush administration has claimed that it is not bound by the corresponding FISA provision requiring warrants for domestic eavesdropping.
It's clear that the Presidents recent outburst "Stop throwing the Constitution in my face, it's just a peice a paper" wasn't just a slip of the lip... it betrays just how deep the contempt the neo-con agenda has for personal and civil liberties, it displays just how much contempt they have for judicial review -- and lastly, it shows their utter contempt for the American people.
It's seems that finally, America has begun to notice.