FISA Extension Gets a Bipartisan Pass


Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

It is always rare in Washington these days when a bipartisan majority passes any bill in the House of Representatives or the Senate.  However, while most of the media interest last week was fixed on the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations and the subsequent legislation that was passed and signed into law, maybe the media missed the more important legislation.  That missed legislation was a 5 year extension of the FISA amendments that was granted by the Senate in a bipartisan 72-23 vote last week.  “The Senate voted 72-23 last week to extend the FISA Amendments Act another five years, which President Obama signed Sunday. Unfortunately, the public discussion of George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program may soon fade back into the shadows.”  ACLU

This is a continuation of the same Bush-era FISA bill that was alleged to spy on almost anyone’s electronic communication, all without warrants.  So, instead of sunshine being used to bring some accountability and transparency to this secret spying, for Five more years, American’s phone calls and text messages can be monitored almost at will by the government with little or no judicial restraint.  What is Congress and the Intelligence community hiding from the American people?

The only good news that I can see in the passage of this five-year extension is that a few Senators made significant attempts to amend the bill to provide for more disclosure and review of this secret process.  “Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a long-time member of the Intelligence Committee, valiantly fought for a year- and-a-half for basic information about how this surveillance program affects Americans and put a hold on the bill until a debate and amendment process was scheduled. He finally got a vote to force disclosure of whether the National Security Agency is vacuuming up wholly domestic communications or searching through FISA taps for Americans, yet it failed by a vote of 42-52. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also went to the mattress over the secret FISA court opinions that determine whether we have constitutional rights to privacy in foreign intelligence investigations. He put the Senate to a vote on whether the administration should be forced to release the court opinions, supply unclassified summaries of them, or explain why they should be kept secret. That one went down 37-54. Simply put, if the public were to find out what the government is doing with our information, or how many of us are affected, the program would be “destroyed,” according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).”  ACLU

Mother Jones hit the nail on the head when it described what happened when the Senate voted to extend the FISA amendments.  “As the Senate debated the renewal of the government’s warrantless wiretapping powers on Thursday, Republicans who have accused President Barack Obama of covering up his involvement in the death of an American ambassador urged that his administration be given sweeping spying powers. Democrats who accused George W. Bush of shredding the Constitution with warrantless wiretapping four years ago sung a different tune this week, with the administration itself quietly urging passage of the surveillance bill with no changes, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) accusing her Democratic colleagues of not understanding the threat of terrorism.”  Mother Jones

Does it amaze anyone else that the only thing that the Hatfields and McCoys of the Senate can get together on with a 72-23 margin is a bill that most of them don’t understand and which allows unfettered spying on ordinary Americans?  Does Sen. Feinstein actually think that Americans don’t realize that we are still under the threat of terrorism?  Why can these Senators come to a bipartisan result on measures that allow Uncle Sam to listen in on anyone’s communications, but they cannot agree with each other when it comes to the universal non-partisan issue of global climate change or necessary and reasonable gun control measures?

Both the ACLU article and the Mother Jones article linked above highlight that fact that common sense amendments to provide more disclosure on what the government is doing with our communications that were made by a few Senators with some support is evidence that we are getting closer to the day when the Senate will draw a line in the sand and require protections for citizens in their communications. The vote total for the vote on the extension bill actually included 3 Republicans voting against the extensions.  I hope Democratic Senator Schumer would explain his vote along with Senator Levin who also voted in favor of extending this warrantless wiretapping.  At some point these Senators and other Democratic Senators need to actually represent the people they claim they are protecting.  

While I am glad that some of the amendments proposed to the bill garnered 30 or 40 votes, I am not as optimistic as the ACLU in their hopes for an end to these draconian spying measures.  I guess I should be happy that some Senators have begun to question the Intelligence Community and the Obama Administration on these Bush-era FISA amendments, but I will hold my applause until the final act.  What do you think the Senate should do about the proposed amendments?  Can we be protected from terrorists without losing our rights?  I don’t know if we will ever find out!  I hope I am wrong.

56 thoughts on “FISA Extension Gets a Bipartisan Pass”

  1. “I hope that we can get some sunshine on the CIA report. However, I am not holding my breath.”


    We’ll probably never see it, but I’ll keep hoping.

  2. ap,
    I hope that we can get some sunshine on the CIA report. However, I am not holding my breath.

  3. Here’s more on Brennan. Now know why he looked so grim.
    To be dealt to administer and steer that snake pit of the CIA is not an easy task if he wants to change things Previous ones with excellent merits have been let out to pasture after max 3 years.

    Why, you don’t ask, was HW Bush there less than a year.
    Because he had been a wheeler-dealer who knew the ropes while still at Yale. He did not need more time. He had got what he came for. Getting a secret contract in two copies between his own private intelligence empire and the Saudi intelligence chief and also with the Royals. Mission accomplished. Carter kicked him out, sober honest and naive as Carter was.
    Choice to Lead C.I.A. Faces a Changed Agency


    John O. Brennan may have to decide whether the C.I.A. should remain at the center of secret American paramilitary operations or rebuild its traditional espionage capabilities.

    Lets bet on his choice. CIA has never had a traditional cover officers manned espionage capability. All they had were embassy lads with no cover at all, clearly identified after 2 weeks. What good were thay, but were attractive jobs for careerist. They were part of and on the State Dept. cost budget.
    Congress gave billons after 9/11 to get just some cover officers, and all they got were doctored figures.

    See Human Factors, by Ishmael Jones.
    Over 15 years undercover work overseas.. Unexcelled record except by one.
    And the uncrowned king of agent recruiting and intel gathering of strategic nuclear info from foreign agents, evaluated on an annual basis. He has an appendix written giving suggestións for reform. Can we send a copy to Brennan?

  4. Posting w/o having read comments.

    Hope this idea has not been covered. Since, as Rafflaw hinted (?) here or elsewhere, that secret dossiers are being accumulated on all American for analysiis under different criteria. That itself is another story and a need for protest.

    I feel certain, that FISA et al can be abused so as to allow politicians in Congress to request and get political and personal data dossier on opponents and their supporters: expenses for a mistresses, payment on illegitamate children, laundering operations (coordinated with Treasury seek systems,), etc etc etc. Even who they hire as political consultants. Telcalls on strategy etc. An welcome addition. So there seems to be a contingent who will forever guard this source, helpful and essential as it becomes. Who says only lobbyists can lobby with bribes. NSA can too..

    Wonder when candidates will also ask for equal rights…Tough titty. You don’t vote yet, but just in case we might do you a favor, says NSA.

    The easiest way to find truth, or a close approxitmation:
    Take an outrageous existing phenomenon isnGovt.; and extrapolate to beyond the borders of your nightmares. Helps me. But frightening.

    But haven’t we seen so much 1984 already in place, that we should understand that the borders are highly extendable and the future seem to be theirs, as yet..

  5. Attn: NPRers

    The only terrorists in the USA are fake Patsy terrorists created and groomed by domestic intelligence services who, by law, are not supposed to be operating domestically…and yes, I know that a loophole law was passed and signed by our liberal (sic) President who used to teach Constitutional law.

  6. SWM, The Republicans didn’t support Rice because of her pitiful performance after Benghazi. And, while Obama really wanted her you didn’t see many Dems coming out to have her back. I think, and many others think, Rice got snookered. Obama wanted Hillary to go out and give the horseshit version of what occurred to help the campaign. Hillary is saavy enough to have said, “No f@ckn’ way, I still have a career.” So..Rice got the call, said “yes, sir” and got screwed. You can see Rice almost worships Obama. That’s dangerous in politics, particularly for the worshipper. That’s my take.

  7. “In one of their more desperate moves, the neocons, who have shown zero interest in the plight of gay servicemembers in the past, decided to play the gay card. Some of them may even have shoveled money at the Log Cabin Republicans to get them to reverse position on the Purple Heart Republican (LCR won’t tell who financed the Hagel smear ad in the NYT). But the reality is that Hagel has clearly evolved, which again offers an opportunity, not a threat:

    The charges of Hagelian insensitivity to gay rights, based on several of past votes and one 1990s comment, have largely evaporated. Hagel, like most of the country, has “evolved” on the issue. If the question comes up in the hearings, it will be as a coming out party for acceptance of the gay rights revolution by the Republican establishment. Those who have been involved in the struggle will cheer, as indeed will many who have done no more than observe, often skeptically, from the sidelines.

    It seems to me that politically-attuned gays, far from engaging in AIPAC-style smearing, should be thrilled to see a Republican military figure openly backing open gay military service as a nominee for defense secretary. He’s a blow both to the neocons and the Christianists. Which, believe it or not, is why many of us supported Obama in the first place: a voice of reason against the fanaticism, utopianism and cant of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld years. ” Andrew Sullivan, Daily Beast

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