Wednesday, June 07, 2006
"Magic Bullet" Specter Cuts Deal With Cheney Over NSA Issue
Sen. Arlen "Magic Bullet" Specter has come through again for the administration.
A last-minute deal Tuesday with Vice President Cheney averted a possible confrontation between the Senate Judiciary Committee and U.S. telephone companies about the National Security Agency's database of customer calling records.
The deal was announced by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee chairman, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. They said Cheney, who plays a key role supervising NSA counterterrorism efforts, promised that the Bush administration would consider legislation proposed by Specter that would place a domestic surveillance program under scrutiny of a special federal court.
In return, Specter agreed to postpone indefinitely asking executives from the nation's telecommunication companies to testify about another program in which the NSA collects records of domestic calls.
Great. Both publicly-known NSA warrantless surveillance programs already fall under the jurisdiction of FISA. Specter wants to modify the law so that the program will no longer be "extra-legal."
And if the telecoms weren't really cooperating in the program, why would Cheney have interfered with the Judiciary Committee's desire to call the telecom execs to the witness chair?
If passed, Specter's legislation would give the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court power to oversee the NSA program and render an opinion on the constitutionality of conducting domestic surveillance without a warrant. The court, established by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), normally considers case-by-case requests by intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance inside the USA.
The deal prompted protests from Democratic lawmakers, who said the Republican-controlled Congress had refused to challenge the administration's expansion of presidential authority. "Why don't we just recess for the rest of the year, and the vice president will just tell the nation what laws we'll have?" said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, ranking Democrat on the committee.
Specter has challenged the administration to justify the legality of intelligence programs inside the country.
After the hearing, Specter said his hand had been forced by the telephone companies' refusal to discuss classified programs. Representatives of more than one company--which ones were not specified in the meeting--agreed to appear, Specter said, but told the panel they would not talk about classified information. Hatch said President Bush "is willing to work with us as long as it doesn't detract from the president's constitutional powers."
If the telcom executives could truthfully testify to no involvement in the NSA domestic programs--they would.
There wouldn't be any of this "refusal to discuss classified programs" if there weren't classified programs that the telecoms are protecting.