I've been meaning to blog about this whole domestic spying/Patriot Act renewal fiasco, but I've had trouble keeping up with the story between Christmas shopping and opening presents. There's a lot to it, but through the fog of political spin, the story is becoming more clear. The Miami Herald put together a fairly simple, comprehensive report about the domestic spying policies that are in question. Basically, W. authorized the implementation of a (formerly) top-secret program to track telephone conversations and e-mails from this country to suspected terrorists overseas.
Opponents say the domestic surveillance threatens the civil liberties that W. strives to defend. Adding fuel to the fire, U.S. District Judge James Robertson announced his resignation from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees government applications for secret surveillance, citing concern that the surveillance program that Bush authorized was legally questionable. (The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act made it illegal to spy on U.S. citizens in the United States without getting a court order.)
In response to criticism, W. said, "I've reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks, and I intend to do so for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill our American citizens." And add a point to his scorecard for gaining Colin Powell's endorsement of the program yesterday.
W's actions really shouldn't suprise anyone. W. has always held the preservation of American power before protecting American freedoms. Can you say, "Patriot Act?" W. can:
"The Patriot Act is essential to protecting the American people against the terrorists. The Act tore down the wall between law enforcement and intelligence officials so that they can share information and work together to help prevent attacks. ... The Patriot Act has helped us disrupt terrorist plots and break up cells here in the United States. I will work closely with the House and Senate to make sure that we are not without this crucial law for even a day."
The Patriot Act is also the most highly criticized piece of legislation ever enforced. Eloquently described by the Washington Post, "The Patriot Act, approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, made it easier for the FBI to conduct secret searches, monitor telephone calls and e-mails, and obtain bank records and other personal documents in connection with terrorism investigations." It also supports W.'s ability to authorize controversial anti-terrorism programs, like domestic spying.
The Patriot Act is scheduled to expire Dec. 31. So, W. wrote Santa and asked him for a renewal of the Patriot Act for Christmas. And while it didn't come in a wrapped box, W. got a six-month extention of the act, so that Congress can resume efforts next year to rewrite it for the longer term. It's truly a Christmas miracle.