By Marjorie Cohn
After a January 24 debate in the Senate on amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Senate appears ready to capitulate once again to the Bush administration’s agenda of sacrificing liberty for questionable security.
On the day before Congress was slated to take up this issue, Dick Cheney addressed the Heritage Foundation, the most influential right-wing think tank. He was given a thunderous reception, to which he quipped, “I hold an office that has only one constitutional duty – presiding over the Senate and casting tie-breaking votes.” But the most powerful vice president in this nation’s history was about to strong-arm Congress into doing the administrations’ bidding.
Invoking the memory of September 11, 2001 twelve times, Cheney said it was “urgent” that Congress update the FISA law immediately and permanently. Notwithstanding the administration’s well-known violations of FISA months before 9/11, Cheney claimed they had used “every legitimate tool at our command to protect the American people against another attack.” He omitted the illegal tools the administration has admitted using, that is, Bush’s so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program” and a massive data mining program. FISA makes it a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, for the executive to conduct a wiretap without statutory authorization. The TSP has been used to target not just the terrorists, but also critics of administration policies, particularly the war in Iraq.
Although Cheney repeatedly linked amending FISA with protecting America, there is no evidence Bush’s secret spying program has made us any safer. Indeed, in 2006, the Washington Post reported that nearly all of the thousands of Americans’ calls that had been intercepted revealed nothing pertinent to terrorism. About the same time, the New York Times quoted a former senior federal prosecutor, who described tips from intelligence officials involved in the surveillance. “The information was so thin and the connections were so remote, that they never led to anything, and I never heard any follow-up,” he said.
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