Friday, October 19, 2007

FISA: Trust but Verify

I had the distinct honor this past week of participating in a Colorado ACLU Fall Forum panel on electronic surveillance and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The panel featured such luninaries as Jean Dubofsky, the first woman justice on the Colorado Supreme Court (pictured), talking about the Denver Police Intelligence files; Bill Hochman, Colorado College history professor and FISA legislation expert; and Pat Huhn, Pikes Peak Community College English professor who keeps tabs on data mining.

One thing we all agreed on is that civil libertarians could reach reasonable compromises with the National Security Agency as to how domestically-located switches and routers could be used for monitoring legitimate terror networks -- provided a revamped version of the Protect America Act provided specificity. That same specificity should be applied to telecom carriers seeking indemnity from helping government agencies without obtaining warrants -- in fact, Sen. Patrick Leahy said this week he'd look at indemnity, provided no blank checks were offered. The people fighting such explicit and formal legislation are not necessarily the intelligence agencies. Instead, there is a clear majority among Republicans in Congress, a significant minority among Democrats, and far too many media pundits, who do not want the topic of signals intelligence discussed under any venue. They want us to simply trust leaders like Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, former head of NSA. Hats off to Glenn Greenwald of, who blasted the entire editorial-page staff of The Washington Post, as well as Joe Klein from Time, for saying that we should simply amend FISA in open-ended ways and hope our leaders are honest. As Greenwald said, this kind of thinking is dangerous for democracy. As my old pal Ronald Reagan said about Soviet arms-control treaties, "Trust, but verify."

NEWS FLASH: In the October 20 edition of The New York Times, the editors gave us a long and very hard-hitting editorial blasting the Oct. 18 Senate compromise on FISA. The editorial was titled "With Democrats Like These..." and concluded by saying that the only thing worse than having a single party rule Washington prior to late 2006, was having the Democrats win both houses and still have a single party ruling Washington. You can say that again!

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