Does anyone seriously think that all this warrantless wiretapping is being used solely to "thwart" terrorists? If stopping terrorism is what you are trying to accomplish, then the existing FISA laws are more than adequate. It was under the old law that intelligence agencies managed to identify Al Qaeda's intent to attack us in 2001. You remember that don't you?
Shortly after this, the FBI identified Zacarias Moussaoui as a potential terrorist with plans involving an aircraft.
1) The Minneapolis agents who responded to the call about Moussaoui's flight training identified him as a terrorist threat from a very early point. The decision to take him into custody on August 15, 2001, on the INS "overstay" charge was a deliberate one to counter that threat and was based on the agents' reasonable suspicions. While it can be said that Moussaoui's overstay status was fortuitous, because it allowed for him to be taken into immediate custody and prevented him receiving any more flight training, it was certainly not something the INS coincidentally undertook of their own volition. I base this on the conversation I had when the agents called me at home late on the evening Moussaoui was taken into custody to confer and ask for legal advice about their next course of action. The INS agent was assigned to the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force and was therefore working in tandem with FBI agents.
2) As the Minneapolis agents' reasonable suspicions quickly ripened into probable cause, which, at the latest, occurred within days of Moussaoui's arrest when the French Intelligence Service confirmed his affiliations with radical fundamentalist Islamic groups and activities connected to Osama Bin Laden, they became desperate to search the computer lap top that had been taken from Moussaoui as well as conduct a more thorough search of his personal effects. The agents in particular believed that Moussaoui signaled he had something to hide in the way he refused to allow them to search his computer.
But, even before that, the FBI was aware that Middle Easterners were signing up for flight training and acting in a suspicious fashion.
Two months before the suicide hijackings, an FBI agent in Arizona alerted Washington headquarters that several Middle Easterners were training at a U.S. aviation school and recommended contacting other schools nationwide where Arabs might be studying.
"FBIHQ should discuss this matter with other elements of the U.S. intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix's suspicions,'' the agent recommended in the memo obtained by The Associated Press.
The FBI sent the intelligence to its terrorism experts in Washington and New York for analysis and had begun discussing conducting a nationwide canvass of flight schools when the Sept. 11 tragedies occurred, officials told AP.
AP reported last month that Filipino authorities alerted the FBI as early as 1995 that several Middle Eastern pilots were training at American flight schools and at least one had proposed hijacking a commercial jet and crashing it into federal buildings.
The Phoenix memo urged FBI headquarters to assemble a list of U.S. aviation academies and to instruct field offices across the country to make ``appropriate liaison'' with their local schools where other Middle Easterners might be training.
The information was shared with intelligence analysts who monitored terrorist threats and was even sent to the FBI office in New York that had the most experience with terrorism cases, officials said.
After the suicide attacks, the FBI quickly descended upon flight schools nationwide, identifying academies in Florida, Arizona and elsewhere where the leaders of the 19 hijackers trained.
And it is not like we were totally dependent on our own intelligence activities for warnings about terrorist attacks.
MI6 warned the American intelligence services about a plot to hijack aircraft and crash them into buildings two years before the September 11 attacks.
Liaison staff at the American embassy in Grosvenor Square in London were passed a secret report by MI6 in 1999 after the intelligence service picked up indications from human intelligence sources (Humint) that Osama Bin Laden’s followers were planning attacks in which civilian aircraft could be used in “unconventional ways”.
Just two weeks before the suicide attacks, a radio station in the Cayman Islands received an unsigned letter claiming that three Afghans who'd entered the country illegally were agents of Osama bin Laden.
The anonymous author warned that they "are organizing a major terrorist act against the U.S. via an airline or airlines."
On Sept. 6, the letter was forwarded to a Cayman government official and sat on his desk until after the Sept. 11 attack.
Experts talk about "Failure of the secret service"
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
According to this newspaper, more than six months ago, Western and Near Eastern news media received information and hints regarding planned attacks on “American and Israeli symbols, which stand out” by hijacked airplanes, not only in the United States.
According to the German secret service, the American, Israeli and apparently also the British secret services had adequate warnings. The American services had taken these warning seriously and increased the secret service measurements for the investigation. There have been disagreements, however, in regard to the method of defense against these kinds of attacks.
I could go on, with examples of warnings from Jordan, Russia, and even Afghanistan, but you get the point.
So what does all this mean? It means THE SYSTEM WORKED! The supposedly antiquated surveillance/intelligence system that they are claiming needs to be loosened and expanded to "protect" us from terrorist attacks worked fine, but no one paid any attention to the warnings.
Now they want a system that has no judicial checks, no oversight, and no safeguards in order to conduct widespread surveillance of Americans. In fact, rather than wait for congress to give them such a power, they got three phone companies to give them that kind of access (until they didn't pay their bills and it was withdrawn).
If we don't really need a new law to protect us, why expand the current law? Imagine all the things you could keep tabs on if you were an unscrupulous political thug like say, Dick Cheney or Karl Rove. Imagine if you wanted to get the goods on powerful political enemy that has made life difficult for your corporate masters.
Consider the case of Eliot Spitzer, former terror of Wall Street, now disgraced patronizer of prostitutes. How did Spitzer get caught? According to the official story so far:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's inquiry began in October 2007, when it was triggered at least in part by a bank that filed "suspicious activity" reports on the New York governor with the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, according to a federal law-enforcement official and a lawyer involved in the matter. Suspicious activity reports are filed with the Internal Revenue Service when banks detect something unusual either through their tellers or software, including transfers of large amounts of cash, unknown counterparties, or the use of known tax havens and money-laundering centers.
And exactly what has the government been doing with its illegal surveillance program?
According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records. The NSA receives this so-called "transactional" data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government, such as the NSA's own Terrorist Surveillance Program, formed to intercept phone calls and emails between the U.S. and overseas without a judge's approval when a link to al Qaeda is suspected.
And by "counter-terrorism programs", they mean the FBI.
I postulate, here and now, that the purpose of this new law is not as much to "protect us from terrorism" as it is a device to provide an ex post facto shield for illegal spying. While the legal fiction for the illegal spying has been "national defense", it is probably more about enemies political, than enemies foreign. By expanding the law and granting immunity to the telcos, Bush hides his previous crimes and legalizes his future crimes.
Any Democrat who supports a new FISA bill, ESPECIALLY one with an immunity clause, is potentially signing their political death warrant.