By Philip Giraldi
During a radio address last Saturday, US President George W Bush's reference to the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was little more than a circular argument designed to reach a preordained conclusion.
The NIE's judgments on the state of al-Qaeda and the threat it poses to the US homeland are by no means universally accepted, though one hopes that the classified version makes some attempt to place its more dubious findings in context.
Nonetheless, Bush cited the NIE's findings on al-Qaeda in urging Congress to "modernize" the structure of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to permit US intelligence agencies to monitor more communications by terrorists, including the Internet and "disposable cell phones".
Bush claimed that the NIE confirmed that al-Qaeda was using its presence in the Middle East - read Iraq - to communicate with its supporters and plot new attacks against the United States. But there is no consensus view in intelligence circles that al-Qaeda in Pakistan is attempting to exploit its affiliate in Iraq to carry out strikes on the US homeland, as the White House asserts.
The NIE does not even say that, suggesting instead that al-Qaeda might be trying to "leverage" its namesake in Iraq in an attempt to obtain recruits and money. The NIE's judgments about al-Qaeda in Iraq are questionable, delegitimizing the president's advocacy of FISA reform.
No one could possibly object to intercepting terrorist communications, but there is a logical inconsistency in the FISA reform proposal and the evidence cited by Bush to support it. The threat is described as "plotting" in the Middle East - again, read Iraq, which the White House has frequently described as the epicenter for the "war on terror".
But the assertion that al-Qaeda in Iraq is a genuine danger to the United States is lacking in credibility and is little more than a Bush administration attempt to create a straw-man enemy where none really exists to bolster support for increasingly unpopular policies.
Most terrorism experts believe that al-Qaeda in Iraq is not controlled by Osama bin Laden, that its operational agenda is focused on Iraq itself, and that it has no capability or desire to export its insurgency. It is undeniably convenient for the Bush administration to imply that al-Qaeda in Iraq is interchangeable with al-Qaeda in Pakistan because that becomes, ipso facto, a justification for sustaining the "surge" of troops in Iraq.
On the domestic front, FISA only relates to communications involving US residents. Bush is clearly seeking open-ended authority to intercept communications without any due process, and he apparently intends to do so in the United States, not in Iraq and its neighboring countries, where he already has that ability.
Whether America's intelligence and security services are even demanding more freedom to tap phones and other communications to thwart terrorist attacks is unclear, but there is no evidence to suggest that any terrorist success anywhere has resulted from a lack of investigative tools in the hands of the authorities. It is possible that a case can be made for a change in the current policy, but the White House and its supporters in Congress have not made that case.
The US House of Representatives' Republican leader, John Boehner, citing September 11, 2001, has described the White House proposal as a necessary step to "break down bureaucratic impediments to intelligence collection and analysis". It is not at all clear how unlimited access to currently protected personal information that is already accessible through an oversight procedure would do that. "Modernizing" FISA would enable the government to operate without any restraint. Is that what Boehner actually means?
It is not as if FISA is much of an impediment anyway. Administration assertions to the contrary, FISA as currently constituted already permits full access to suspected terrorist communications. The requests to initiate a wiretap or other intrusion are almost always approved and they can be implemented on an ad hoc basis by law enforcement even without a formal ruling. The FISA court itself consists of judges who are widely considered to be automatically inclined to accept the government case, and not to deny it on constitutional or probable-cause grounds.
Critics of the proposed changes note that the White House will apparently seek to grant telecommunications companies - hitherto reluctant to turn over their records or permit electronic intrusion into their networks without a court order - blanket immunity from criminal prosecution or civil liability. If that is so and the attempt to change the law is successful, it will mean that the US government will be empowered to obtain the communications of any American at any time without any process involved to protect individual rights.
Philip Giraldi, a former US Central Intelligence Agency officer, is the Francis Walsingham fellow for the American Conservative Defense Alliance.
The following should appear at the end of every post:
According to the IRS, "Know the law: Avoid political campaign intervention":
Tax-exempt section 501(c)(3) organizations like churches, universities, and hospitals must follow the law regarding political campaigns. Unfortunately, some don't know the law.
Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from participating in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to campaigns at the federal, state and local level.
Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes. Section 501(c)(3) private foundations are subject to additional restrictions.
Political Campaign Intervention
Political campaign intervention includes any activities that favor or oppose one or more candidates for public office. The prohibition extends beyond candidate endorsements.
Contributions to political campaign funds, public statements of support or opposition (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of an organization, and the distribution of materials prepared by others that support or oppose any candidate for public office all violate the prohibition on political campaign intervention.
Factors in determining whether a communication results in political campaign intervention include the following:
- Whether the statement identifies one or more candidates for a given public office
- Whether the statement expresses approval or disapproval of one or more candidates' positions and/or actions
- Whether the statement is delivered close in time to the election
- Whether the statement makes reference to voting or an election
- Whether the issue addressed distinguishes candidates for a given office
Many religious organizations believe, as we do, that the above constitutes a violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That said, we make the following absolutely clear here:
- The Real Liberal Christian Church and Christian Commons Project not only do not endorse any candidate for any secular office, we say that Christianity forbids voting in such elections.
- Furthermore, when we discuss any public-office holder's position, policy, action or inaction, we definitely are not encouraging anyone to vote for that office holder's position.
- We are not trying to influence secular elections but rather want people to come out from that entire fallen system.
- When we analyze or discuss what is termed "public policy," we do it entirely from a theological standpoint with an eye to educating professing Christians and those to whom we are openly always proselytizing to convert to authentic Christianity.
- It is impossible for us to fully evangelize and proselytize without directly discussing the pros and cons of public policy and the positions of secular-office holders, hence the unconstitutionality of the IRS code on the matter.
- We are not rich and wouldn't be looking for a fight regardless. What we cannot do is compromise our faith (which seeks to harm nobody, quite the contrary).
- We render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. We render unto God what is God's.
- When Caesar says to us that unless we shut up about the unrighteousness of Caesar's policies and practices, we will lose the ability of people who donate to us to declare their donations as deductions on their federal and state income-tax returns, we say to Caesar that we cannot shut up while exercising our religion in a very reasonable way.
- We consider the IRS code on this matter as deliberate economic duress (a form of coercion) and a direct attempt by the federal government to censor dissenting, free political and religious speech.
- It's not freedom of religion if they tax it.
And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. (Matthew 17:24-26)