# FISA Act

Government eavesdropping on Americans makes me feel so much safer


Hey, everyone! Our tax dollars paid for National Security Agency employees to listen to phone sex and other private conversations between U.S. military personnel in the Middle East and their families.

Plus, the NSA continued to eavesdrop on American citizens they knew to be working for the Red Cross and other aid organizations.

NSA employees also routinely listened to American journalists working in Baghdad’s Green Zone as they called their homes and offices in the U.S.

Key comment from one of the whistleblowers:

Kinne says the success stories underscored for her the waste of time spent listening to innocent Americans, instead of looking for the terrorist needle in the haystack.

“By casting the net so wide and continuing to collect on Americans and aid organizations, it’s almost like they’re making the haystack bigger and it’s harder to find that piece of information that might actually be useful to somebody,” she said. “You’re actually hurting our ability to effectively protect our national security.”

By the way, you know who never met a Bush administration wiretapping program he didn’t like? My own Congressman Leonard Boswell, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. In case you forgot, he was one of 41 House Democrats who voted with most House Republicans to expand the executive branch’s eavesdropping power, as outlined by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Maybe these whistleblowers can come explain to Congress that massively expanding government surveillance doesn’t just undermine civil liberties, it also makes it “harder to find that piece of information that might actually be useful to somebody.”

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FISA capitulation open thread

The Senate will debate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act today. Despite the heroic efforts of Senators Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold, all signs point toward capitulation by the Democrats.

Glenn Greenwald again tells you why you should care.

Daily Kos front-pager smintheus explains why the advocates touting this new, improved version of FISA are wrong about the oversight potential of inspectors-general.

The Barack Obama supporters against the FISA bill have been organizing at an incredible pace, but he indicated last week that he will vote for the bill. How far will he go in supporting various amendments offered by Senate Democrats?

I won’t be watching C-SPAN today, but if you are, feel free to “document the atrocities” in the comments (as Atrios might say).

UPDATE: mcjoan has more detail on the key votes that will take place today.

SECOND UPDATE: The FISA bill passed 69-28, with three not voting. McCain dodged another big vote.

The roll call vote is here:


No surprises from the Iowa senators: Grassley voted yes, and Harkin voted no.

Obama voted yes, as expected. Hillary voted no.

For those following the debate on Obama and FISA

Did Barack Obama sell us out by endorsing the new version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and not showing up to support a filibuster of that bad bill last week?

Are too many Obama supporters in the netroots making up excuses to cover for him?

Or are the bloggers criticizing Obama being way too tough on a guy whose overriding concern has to be to get elected?

Is it right for some activists to say they no longer plan to volunteer for Obama’s campaign because he has failed to stand up for us on FISA?

Here are some links to good diaries exploring those questions.

Nathaniel Ament Stone is sure that Obama’s actions on FISA are better than they appear at first glance: Obama’s Outsmarted Us Again.

Big Tent Democrat argues that Obama is just like any politician and contrasts Obama’s previous statements on retroactive immunity for telecoms with his recent actions.

JedReport thinks the activists vowing not to lift a finger to help Obama (beyond voting for him) are making a big mistake: President McCain Just Got Elected, But That’s Okay.

Mike Lux seems to think the criticism of Obama over FISA is a waste of time, since “there is literally no acceptable way of holding a Democratic Presidential candidate accountable in the last few months before a general election.”

Chris Bowers counters, I Thought I Was Helping Obama. His point is:

First, we lefties are repeatedly told that it is necessary for Democrats to distance themselves from us in order to win elections. However, we are then we are told that we should be quiet in our criticism of Democrats, even though such criticism overtly distances Democrats from us.

I don’t get it. Aren’t we helping Democrats out by distancing them from us? Won’t Obama be helped by news stories about how he has angered the left? Won’t it make him look like he has Sista Soulhaj-ed us, or something? Why is our criticism a negative? Either Obama will be helped by distancing himself from the left, or he won’t. And, if he will be helped by distancing himself from the left, then our criticism should actually help him, especially when it starts to appear in news stories like these:

–National Journal: The Netroots Push Back

–Newsweek: Netroots Angry At Obama

–CBS: Netroots Feel Jilted By Obama Over FISA

Through our criticism of Obama, aren’t the netroots providing exactly the distance from lefties that we have always been told Democrats need to win? And, as such, aren’t we really helping Obama?

Attorney NCrissieB, who has experience with legal arguments surrounding the Fourth Amendment, offers A pragmatist’s view on FISA.

Wmtriallawyer, a vocal supporter of Obama this past year, has a warning: Barack, Take Note: FISA Demonstrates What’s Wrong with Washington. Key excerpt:

Sen. Obama, are you getting to see the problem now? As much as you talk about the partisan rancor that usually stalemates Washington (and I agree with you believe me), you’ve got to watch out for the so-called bipartisan compromises that actually serve noone but a few entrenched interests.

THIS has been the problem in Washington for years now.  The partisan fights occur over issues that actually matter and can benefit the people, and the bipartisan stuff compromises are over insidious stuff that benefits noone but the entrenched few.

Chris Bowers makes a strong case for taking Obama at his word instead of constructing theories about how he secretly agrees with FISA opponents, even as he fails to help stop the bill.

David Sirota notes that Obama has explicitly said, “You should always assume that when I cast a vote or make a statement it is because it is what I believe in.”

The exchange between Salon’s Glenn Greenwald and MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is worth your time. Here is Greenwald’s original post, which contrasted Olbermann’s scathing commentary about President Bush’s support for FISA a few months ago with Olbermann’s cheering as Barack Obama goes along with the same bill.

Olbermann posted a response that shot to the top of the Daily Kos recommended list, even though he admitted not to have read Greenwald’s entire post.

Greenwald’s next shot was wonderful: Keith Olbermann’s reply and Obama’s secret plan to protect the rule of law.

Then Olbermann changes the subject with a crowd-pleasing diary about Grover Norquist saying Obama is “John Kerry with a tan.” Nice try!

The final vote on FISA will take place after the Senate’s July 4 recess, but efforts to remove the provision granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies appear unlikely to succeed.  

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FISA filibuster fails in Senate

Ian Welsh explains what happened tonight:

The FISA Cloture vote just passed. The Senate will now consider the motion to proceed with the bill, then they’ll head to the bill itself (corrected procedural details, h/t and thanks to CBolt). Various motions will be put forward to strip immunity, odds are they will fail. Then a number of the 80 who voted to restrict debate will vote against FISA so they can say they were against the bill. However this was the real vote, and the rest is almost certainly nothing but kabuki for the rubes.

Obama and McCain were both absent, as was Clinton. Unimpressive, but unsurprising, though I suppose I’m disappointed by Clinton (Obama has made it clear he didn’t intend to try and stop the bill.) Clinton and Obama will claim there was no point since it wasn’t close. But, with their leadership, it might well have gone the other way.

It wasn’t even close. We needed 41 votes to block the cloture motion on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but the vote went 80-15 against us.

Here is the roll call. I’m proud to say that Tom Harkin was one of the 15 who tried to stop this bad bill from reaching the Senate floor.

I have contempt for Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, who claimed to oppose the bill but voted yes on the cloture motion and did nothing behind the scenes to block this bill either.

He is acting like Joe Lieberman, who bragged about how he voted against confirming Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court, even though he didn’t support the filibuster of that nomination.

Obama wasn’t there for the FISA vote tonight, and it’s disappointing that he didn’t publicly support the filibuster effort. See this post and this one comparing what he said last October about telecom immunity to what he has said about the FISA bill in recent days.

I don’t expect strong leadership from Obama if he does get elected president. He seems too cautious on this and many other issues.  

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A few good links on FISA

Paul Rosenberg put up a post well worth your time if you are disturbed by the House vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Key point:

MapLight.org is reporting that House Democrats who changed their vote to support Telco immunity received much more, on average than their counterparts who did not change position.  This is a group correlation, of course.  Not all those who voted for immunity received more money than those who voted against.  Indeed, 11 of those who voted for immunity received nothing at all from the three Telcos.  But the group correlation is quite strong.

Click the link to find a chart listing all 94 House Democrats who voted against retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies on March 14, but voted for the FISA bill containing immunity on June 20. (Our own Leonard Boswell is in this group). The chart shows how much money each of them received in PAC contributions from AT&T, Sprint or Verizon.

Boswell is in the middle of the pack, having received $10,000. I wouldn’t assume those contributions are the only reason he has favored the telecommunications companies’ interests over protecting constitutional rights. But he does have a long history of voting with Republicans and corporate interests rather than with the majority of House Democrats on a lot of issues.

The Des Moines Register ran a strongly-worded editorial on FISA in the Wednesday edition:

Federal law authorizing secret intercepts of international communications may need amending to account for changes in technology and behavior of terrorist groups, but the job should be put off for a new Congress and a new president next year. In the current political climate, with an election looming, the temptation is to ram something – anything – through to avoid the accusation of being weak on terrorism, even if the constitutional privacy rights of American citizens are sacrificed in the process.

That apparently motivated 105 House Democrats to go along with 188 Republicans to give President Bush what the Washington Post described as “one of the last major victories he is likely to achieve.” That, along with the administration’s last-minute decision to allow the Democrats to toss in an additional $95 billion in domestic spending in a war-appropriations bill.

That’s a pathetically small price for authorizing this president, and future presidents, to ignore the 4th Amendment restrictions on “unreasonable searches and seizures.” […]

Those are just some of the problems with the House bill. It’s hard to say how many others exist, however, because there was precious little public debate. The operations of the spying program are classified secrets, and only a select few members of Congress have been clued in on how it works. Even legal experts are struggling to decipher the bill.

This is in stark contrast to 30 years ago, when the FISA law was enacted after months of public discussion, hearings and testimony. Changing the law implicating a fundamental constitutional right mandates nothing short of that same process today.

My only quibble with this editorial is where were the Register’s reporters on this issue during the third district primary campaign?

Boswell advocated retroactive immunity for telecoms in February, then changed his position in March. In early May, there was some speculation that he had cooperated with House Republicans to get this provision back on the table.

I tried for weeks to get Boswell’s office to comment on this issue and got the runaround. Naturally, they were not going to return phone calls from a blogger supporting Ed Fallon. But the Register’s Jane Norman or Thomas Beaumont could have at least forced Boswell to clarify where he stood on FISA before Iowa Democrats voted on June 3. Why didn’t the Register’s assignment editors give this issue some space this spring?

Glenn Greenwald has been writing extensively on FISA over at Salon, and I highly recommend his latest post, Chris Dodd’s speech and a glimmer of hope for stopping the FISA bill. It’s long and includes some great quotes from Dodd and Senator Russ Feingold, as well as many other links to good commentary on this issue.

Speaking of Feingold, Josh Orton of MyDD linked to the Progressive Patriots Fund Campaign Store. (Feingold is the honorary chair of that fund.) At the store you can buy t-shirts and mousepads with the slogan “Don’t Spy On Me” and a drawing of a telephone cord curled up like the famous Revolutionary War-era “Don’t Tread On Me” flag featuring a rattlesnake.

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Senate may delay FISA vote until after July 4 recess

The invaluable Kagro X says the Senate vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act may be delayed until after the July 4 recess. Click the link to read why–it’s a bit complicated.

Daily Kos user dday has more on the story, but cautions that a final FISA vote could still take place in the Senate this week.

Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is willing to filibuster this very bad bill, but right now it looks like we don’t have the 41 votes to defeat a cloture motion.

I don’t pretend to understand all the parliamentary maneuvering, but I do know that if you don’t have the votes to stop a bad bill today, delaying the vote can’t hurt and may even help your cause.

The House of Representatives passed the FISA bill last Friday. In the Iowa delegation, Steve King, Tom Latham and Leonard Boswell voted for the bill, while Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley voted against it.

FISA capitulation: Which Iowa Democrat voted with the Republicans?

The House of Representatives approved the so-called “compromise” on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that in fact gave the Republicans and the White House everything they wanted.

One of Iowa’s three Democratic representatives voted with the Republicans. Can you guess which one without peeking here at the roll call vote?

That’s right, Leonard Boswell voted with the Republicans.

Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack stuck with the majority of the House Democratic caucus and voted against this bill.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama came out against the immunity provision in the FISA bill today. His full statement on the bill is here, but the most important part seems to be this comment about the telecom immunity provision:

I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.

Some people who follow this issue closely feel Obama’s statement didn’t go far enough. In particular, it is not clear whether “work in the Senate to remove this provision” would include supporting a filibuster of the bill.

In the good news column, Rob Hubler, Democratic candidate in the fifth district, sent the blogger Glenn Greenwald a strong statement opposing retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies. Here is a copy of that statement, which the Hubler campaign sent to me:

Dear Mr. Greenwald,

As  the Democratic nominee for Congress in Iowa’s Fifth Congressional District, I want you to know that I appreciate very much the initiative you  have taken to oppose and expose the FISA Amendments Act of  2008. This bill effectively guarantees retroactive immunity  for telecom companies that participated in the President’s illegal wiretap  program, and fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home.

If elected, I would vigorously oppose this measure, which would essentially  require the court to grant immunity, and authorize surveillance on citizens without adequate checks and balances to protect their  rights.

I  believe that the constitutional rights of everyday Americans are at issue  here, and full accountability is needed.  No President  should ever have unchecked power.

As  a member of Congress, I will support legislation that preserves appropriate  court review of all surveillance of U. S. citizens, and I will not vote for immunity for telecom companies.

Americans  in the U. S. with no connection to suspected terrorists should never have  their privacy abridged by an overzealous, unchecked executive  branch.


Rob  L. Hubler

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ACTION: Call Boswell today on FISA bill

The House of Representatives may vote very soon on a bad compromise that would in effect grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies in the new version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

If you live in Iowa’s third district, please call Congressman Leonard Boswell TODAY at 202-225-3806 to tell him to stand up for civil liberties and oppose the Senate version of the FISA bill.

His staff will notice if they get a lot of calls on this issue.

Background: Boswell was one of the “Blue Dogs” who supported the Republican position on this bill in February.

He changed his position a month later and stood with the majority of House Democrats.

The New York Times blog has more on the FISA compromise here.

Boswell changes stand on FISA bill

The U.S. House has been debating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The invaluable Kagro X, one of the very best analysts ever to post at Daily Kos, explained some of the complicated legislative maneuvers in this post yesterday. Kagro X gave the short version of what’s going on in this post earlier today.

Click that first link if you’ve been disappointed in Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, because he did a very clever thing on this bill.

You will recall that Leonard Boswell was one of 21 House Democrats to work with Republicans to try to secure retroactive immunity for telecom companies in this bill. Some background information is here.

Well, today Boswell has joined with the majority of House Democrats. mcjoan has more at Daily Kos, including a statement from Boswell.

Raise your hand if you think Boswell would have changed his position on this issue if he were not facing a primary challenge from Ed Fallon.

UPDATE: mcjoan explains what happened here:


Boswell and 12 other blue dogs stuck with the Democrats today. Good for them.

SECOND UPDATE: Call Boswell’s office and thank him for this vote:

Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, D-Iowa — Phone: (202) 225-3806, Fax: (202) 225-5608

According to Daily Kos user Los Diablo,


* [new] I just got off the phone with his D.C. office (9+ / 0-)

Recommended by:

   Rolfyboy6, Miss Blue, oldjohnbrown, 3goldens, Ma Joad, mffarrow, robroser, eco d, llamaRCA

and they thanked me for thanking him because they are getting a hammered with negative calls because he supported this.

Senator Tom Harkin: Bush has vetoed him more than any senator.

by Los Diablo on Fri Mar 14, 2008 at 12:18:30 PM PDT

By the way, I love Los Diablo’s signature line about Harkin!

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Dodd stands up for civil liberties; which Senate Democrats will stand with him?

Today is a big day in the Senate. Majority leader Harry Reid has decided not to honor Chris Dodd’s hold on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Dodd objects to a provision that would grant retroactive immunity to telecom companies that illegally helped the U.S. government spy on Americans.

For background on the issue and Dodd’s filibuster plans, see this diary by DavidNYC and this diary by drational. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a version of this bill that would not give retroactive immunity to telecoms, but unfortunately, Reid is going to introduce the version that came out of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which would grant immunity.

In light of some Senate Democrats’ inability to stand up to the Bush administration on a whole range of issues lately, I am not optimistic that we will find 41 votes to uphold Dodd’s filibuster. Or, to put it another way, I fear that the other side will easily get enough Democrats on board to reach the 60 votes needed to break Dodd’s filibuster.

But let’s all hope I am wrong.

Memo to Senators Clinton, Obama, and Biden, who often tout their leadership qualities on the stump: show us you’re a leader by standing with Dodd today.

UPDATE: Head over to Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com) and MyDD (www.mydd.com), where several posters and diarists are keeping us all up to date on what’s going on today in the Senate. Video clips of Dodd speaking on the Senate floor are at MyDD.

SECOND UPDATE: The maneuvering was a little confusing today, but Dodd was able to buy us some time as Harry Reid pulled consideration of this bill until next month. Watch Dodd explain who helped him accomplish this and what still needs to be done:

Thank you, Senator Dodd. He’s my second choice, and I will absolutely try to help him get a delegate in my precinct if I can do so without costing John Edwards a delegate.

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