Administration Backs Off Claim of Imminent National Security Threat in Bid to Get Immunity for Telecom Companies

After proclaiming that the nation’s security was in imminent danger due to the refusal to give telecommunication companies immunity, the Bush Administration has backed off the claim and now says that there has been no interruption in intelligence. Nevertheless, the Administration has continued to argue that that it is ultimately a choice between giving financial protection to corporations or risk a massive terrorist attack.

The White House backed off the claim made by Attorney General Michael Mukasey and National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell to Congress. The White House refused to allow any temporary extension of the surveillance program — choosing instead to play this game of chicken. Even when members offered to substitute the government for the companies as the liable party in dozens of pending lawsuits, the Bush Administration refused — confirming that the Administration wants not just to protect these companies but to block any ruling on the legal merits of this unlawful program. For years, the Administration has insisted that it acted legally. It is now shutting down the program in a gambit to avoid such review.

According to a letter, the Administration now says that the companies have agreed to continue the program without the legal protection — or for that matter legal authority.

“We learned last night after sending [the original] letter that . . . new surveillances under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act will resume, at least for now, . . . We appreciate the willingness of our private partners to cooperate despite the uncertainty.”

That “uncertainty” should include the uncertain legality of continuing to act without legislative authority.

Nevertheless, in the campaign to keep fear alive, Mukasey and McConnell added:
“Unfortunately, the delay resulting from this discussion impaired our ability to cover foreign intelligence targets, which resulted in missed intelligence information.”

Of course, the impairment may have something to do with their decision to allow the law to expire in an effort to pressure immunity for the companies.

It will now rest with the House and whether the members will finally stand up to the White House on a national security issue.

In an extraordinary victory of special interests over the public interest, Republican and Democratic senators voted to give the companies immunity — rejecting a variety of amendment such as the substitution of the government for the companies are liable for any damages. The amendments clearly showed that this was not about national security or even litigation costs for these companies — it is about preventing courts from finding the obvious and declaring the surveillance program (which members of both parties knew about) to be manifestly unlawful.

The President clearly overplayed his hand on this one with a fear-mongering speech over terrorist destruction — in an effort to secure financial benefit for major corporations. There is not a scintilla of public interest in such an act and if the House cannot remain firm on this position, all is truly lost. The greatest danger would be a secret deal to pass a different house measure that would then go to closed conference with the Senate — where people like Jay Rockefeller would put the immunity back in and both houses approve the result under objections.

For the latest on this story, click here.

12 thoughts on “Administration Backs Off Claim of Imminent National Security Threat in Bid to Get Immunity for Telecom Companies”

  1. Professor Lomonaca hit the nail on the head. Actually several nails on the head. I am not surprised that someone from the National Review gets his fact wrong as the Professor points out. I will go a step further than Professor Lomonaca. President Bush will not only be known in History as the President who turned the moral light of the world into a gulag of torture. I believe that President Bush may become the first former American President to be brought up for war crimes after he leaves office. The evidence to convict him and others for torture in violation of the Geneva convention and U.S. law is in the public domain and should be used to put him behind bars.

  2. karen marie, I must hasten and say I am not sure it was Qwest except through the logical deduction they have been the sole holdout from the original telecoms who went along with the NSA requests.

    “What happened to the country i used to live in?”

    I think the government took the famous attitude: “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” and added the sentence: “and don’t tell me the gory details of how you do it.”

    And a broadcast media that had mutated into something other than news, with something other than journalistic ethics.

  3. wow. i was hoping qwest wasn’t going to be the answer. i was hoping that it was one of the other pigs already at the trough kicking up to try to get some extra “somepin-somepin.”

    so apparently qwest has decided that it is better/safer to break the law than not. all i can say is, the bush admin is looking more like a mafia crime family every day, hard though it may be to believe that they could possibly top themselves with each day’s drip drip drip of bush admin criminal/questionable “activities.”

    and congress refuses to act.


    ten years ago i wouldn’t have taken a bet for a million dollars that i would be sitting here today feeling like i am potentially risking everything — including being alive — by posting comments on the internets. good thing no one made that bet — i don’t have the money to pay it and, thanks to bush and his crew, i will probably end up dying homeless in the street.

    anyone else remember, during the 2004 election campaign, kerry muttering something about iraq costing the US $200 million (not billion or trillion, “million”) to “prosecute” the iraq war? anyone else remember bush’s sneering, dismissive response to that? anybody else remember the media piling on and ridiculing kerry for saying what was plain to anyone with only slightly more sense than the village idiot and further pushing the party line by continually parroting the meme “the war will pay for itself” — wtf?

    what planet do we live on again? have i been asleep? am i now asleep? what happened to the country i used to live in?

  4. Oh, I forgot.

    The Anthrax mailings to Pat Leahy and T Daschle and some of the “liberal” news media.

  5. Whose CEO is now in prison. (along with Gov. Siegelman)

    And whose company was approached by the NSA months BEFORE 9-11.

    People are going to be shocked when the full scope of the prosecutions of opposition figures both corporate and political becomes public.

    This is as close to a Stalinist system of state terror as we have ever approached (and I am counting the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Palmer era, and the McCarran Act era)

  6. “administration officials told lawmakers that the final holdout among the companies had relented and agreed to fully participate”

    what company is being referred to here as “the final holdout”?

  7. As cleverly iniquitous as they were in proceeding to advance their own agenda,as well, they aren’t looking too swift now. Furthermore, even if some active terrorist threat were looming on the horizon, anything this administration says now is immediately suspect.

    As I’ve stated before, impeachment doesn’t quite cover it for me, AND I fully expect something monumental on the books – before the end of this term !,0,1950249.story

    Kicking the lame duck out

    Legally, do those agitating for impeachment have a case? Politically, would pursuing impeachment be wise at this point? Byron York and Jeff Lomonaco debate.
    February 21, 2008

    Today, Lomonaco and York evaluate calls for removing Bush from office. Previously, they assessed Bush’s relationship with Congress and discussed his remaining agenda. They’ll conclude their debate tomorrow with an exchange on the president’s legacy.

    Dems don’t have the desire
    By Byron York


    Today’s topic, as requested by our editors, is, “Legally, do those agitating for impeachment have a case? Politically, would pursuing impeachment be wise at this point?”

    All I have to say is, Hurry! Eleven months from today will be President Bush’s first full day out of office. If they want to impeach him before that, Democrats are going to have to act fast.

    As far as the first question is concerned: There’s no requirement for there to be a legal case for impeachment. Many years ago, Gerald Ford was ridiculed for saying that grounds for impeachment were anything the House of Representatives said were grounds for impeachment. He was right.

    The House can do what it wants, and if, in their collective wisdom, members of the House want to impeach Bush for cycling without a helmet (although, to my knowledge, the president always wears appropriate safety gear when he goes on his brutal all-terrain bike rides), they can.

    In November 1983, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who today is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and would play a key role in any impeachment action, introduced a resolution to impeach President Reagan for invading Grenada. According to a United Press International report from the time, the resolution written by Conyers and six other Democrats argued that the invasion was unconstitutional because it “usurped Congress’s power to declare war, ignored treaty obligations, and violated First Amendment rights of the public and press in preventing reporters from covering the invasion in its first few days.” So there.

    These days, you would think that Conyers, 25 years older, would be a bit more circumspect about the issue. But he and his staff have spent a long time carefully putting together a case to impeach Bush. In August 2006, before Democrats won the House, Conyers released a 350-page report entitled, “The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War, and Illegal Domestic Surveillance.” On the day it was released, Conyers wrote on the DailyKos and Huffington Post websites, “Approximately 26 laws and regulations may have been violated by this administration’s misconduct. The report compiles the accumulated evidence that the Bush administration has thumbed its nose at our nation’s laws, and the Constitution itself.”

    Now, Conyers didn’t use the word “impeachment.” But his talk of broken laws as well as the entire organization of his report made clear that he was working on a road map for impeachment. The only problem is that most of his fellow Democrats thought it was a terrible idea. In late 2006, just before the elections that brought Democrats to power, Nancy Pelosi pooh-poohed the whole impeachment idea. “Impeachment is off the table,” she told CBS back then.

    “And that’s a pledge?” she was asked.

    “Well, it’s a pledge in the — yes, I mean, it’s a pledge,” Pelosi said. “Of course it is. It is a waste of time.”

    So politically, I think it’s clear Democrats believe that pursuing impeachment proceedings would not be wise at this point. And the fact that they have been in power for a year and haven’t done anything about proves the point. Smart decision.


    Byron York is the White House correspondent for National Review.
    No impeachment doesn’t spare Bush his legacy of torture
    By Jeff Lomonaco

    I’ve never given a whole lot of thought to impeachment because, it always seemed to me, the Republicans’ impeachment of President Clinton made the process almost insurmountably illegitimate in the eyes of the public. Without a highly skilled manager, such as Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) — chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform — in charge, impeachment has always seemed destined for failure. So I’ve never really considered the merits of it.

    But I can certainly understand the impulse motivating those agitating for impeachment: It is the desire to know what the government is doing and to hold it accountable for its conduct. I am surprised that even as you seem to recognize some of the Bush administration’s worst breaches — illegal warrantless surveillance, torture as policy — you don’t seem that troubled by them.

    You say, perhaps rightly, that the administration could have gotten much of what it wanted on warrantless electronic surveillance in 2001 and 2002 if it had consulted with Congress, and I tend to agree. But the fact is that it did not go to Congress seeking those changes in the law, choosing instead to unilaterally and secretly break the law — certainly before the modification of the Terrorist Surveillance Program in 2004, and almost certainly after that as well — with the expectation that it would not get caught. That is an odd way for Vice President Dick Cheney (and the rest of the administration) to go about correcting what you suggest they sincerely believed was a constitutional imbalance dating from the 1970s.

    Your laconic tone is even more surprising with respect to the Bush administration’s policy of torture, a subject on which it seems you and I have similar overall positions. Torture is immoral and unconstitutional. (I would add that I think no case has ever been made yet that it is a prudent strategic choice either; but that’s a different matter.) If necessity genuinely compels immoral and unconstitutional conduct, then the relevant actors have a corresponding responsibility to go to the public (and Congress) as quickly as possible, explain themselves and throw themselves on the justice of the country.

    But you seem remarkably unbothered by the fact that the Bush administration took a quite different approach, making torture a policy, and one moreover that it took elaborate steps to rationalize as legal and constitutional on the basis of outlandish theories of executive power. I would guess that you keep your tone laconic in deliberate defiance of the moralizing one often hears on this topic. But one need not be self-righteous and moralizing to be deeply troubled by the administration’s breach of the prohibition on torture as a matter of policy.

    I should mention too that I think you get some of your facts wrong and mischaracterize others in such a way as to play down what happened. It is true that CIA Director Michael V. Hayden has said that waterboarding — the most discussed form of torture used by the CIA — was used on three detainees. But you seem to be wrong it was “all within a year of Sept. 11, 2001,” as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was not captured until March 2003; Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was captured November 2002. (Also of note is that John Yoo’s infamous torture memo was not even issued until August 1, 2002.)

    The reason this matters is because it tends to undermine your assertion — echoing what Cheney and Hayden, among others, have said — that officials at the time were frantically trying to prevent the next big attack that we all thought was coming. Again, you and I share a sense that preventing the next attack is an enduring and immensely difficult undertaking. But unless you are prepared to extend the notion of imminence — and its suggestion of a ticking time bomb-like scenario — into a permanent emergency where anything goes, which I certainly am not, the facts that considerable time had passed since Sept. 11, 2001, and that there was no ticking time bomb undermines your explanation for the use of waterboarding. Also, while waterboarding is the most discussed form of torture, the CIA’s so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, which include other forms of torture, were used, according to Hayden, on approximately 30 or so prisoners. So it would appear that the torture policy authorized by Bush went beyond what you imply were merely three isolated cases. It really was systematic, authorized use of torture in the absence of a ticking time bomb.

    As you suggest, now the Bush administration is simply running out the clock. That’s yet another reason impeachment is off the table. But I think there is a decent chance that Bush’s historical legacy will be defined by these breaches; and historical legacy is an important form of accountability too. Bush may be the first “Terror President,” but with some effort and a little luck, he will be the last “Torture President.”


    Jeff Lomonaco is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota and co-editor, with Murray Waas, of “The United States v. I. Lewis Libby.” He current work focuses on the tension between national security and civil liberties in the post- 9/11 period.

  8. I don’t care if there are only a few weeks remaining the Bush administration. The Democrats must take the correct, constitutional step in bringing impeachment charges against Bush and Cheney. How much more are these slugs going to get away with? I know that Persuasion 101 points out the strong strategy of “scaring” in order to have your target audience “knee-jerk” a reaction to your position. It amazes me the level and amount of times this tactic works on the “sheeple” of this country. I’m sorry I am getting to “rock granite” level with my observations and comments but I am at my wits end regarding the, as Mike Malloy says, the Bush Crime family!

  9. The logical trap they had fallen into, and now belatedly climbing out of, was the situation that they themselves were compromising national security in the cause of granting telecom immunity.

  10. “After proclaiming that the nation’s security was in imminent danger due to the refusal to give telecommunication companies immunity, the Bush Administration has backed off the claim and now says that there has been no interruption in intelligence.” – J.T.

    Darn it, JT, this is just too tempting an opportunity to pass up! “No interruption in intelligence,” were those their exact words? That begs the obvious — if somewhat lame on my part — response, which is “WHEN, at any time, has the Bush Administration ever shown anything BUT ‘interruptions in intelligence!'” I know I should smack myself for that one, but I cheerfully plead guilty to “giving in to irresistable impulse.” 🙂

Comments are closed.