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.
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