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Friday, February 17, 2006

Retroactive! 

At the end of Preston Sturges's wartime comedy The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944), Betty Hutton (as Trudy Kockenlocker) brings instant worldwide notoriety to the obscure backwater of the title by giving birth to sextuplets. This blessed event poses a bit of a dilemma, because Miss Kockenlocker does not appear to be legally married and cannot remember the father's name, and the love-starved schnook who was willing to marry her anyway, Eddie Bracken (as Norval Jones), is in jail for impersonating a member of the armed forces. The corrupt politicos who occupy the state house, Brian Donlevy (as Gov. McGinty) and Akim Tamiroff (as the Boss), realize that the only way to avoid an international scandal is to sanitize Trudy's sordid past but pronto.

So McGinty orders Norval released from jail and commissions him as a colonel in the State Militia. "RETROACTIVE! As of last year!" screams the Boss. Since Norval had earlier tried to marry Trudy under a phony name, McGinty now pronounces the marriage legal. "RETROACTIVE!" screams the Boss. As for Trudy's earlier, but mysteriously unrecorded marriage to the absentee father, whose name is something like "Ratzskiwatzski," McGinty annuls it. "RETROACTIVE!" screams the Boss.

We mention it because something not altogether dissimilar happened in the Senate today. From the editorial page of the New York Times (via Zemblan patriot J.D.):
Is there any aspect of President Bush's miserable record on intelligence that Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is not willing to excuse and help to cover up?

For more than a year, Mr. Roberts has been dragging out an investigation into why Mr. Bush presented old, dubious and just plain wrong intelligence on Iraq as solid new proof that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was in league with Al Qaeda. It was supposed to start after the 2004 election, but Mr. Roberts was letting it die of neglect until the Democrats protested by forcing the Senate into an unusual closed session last November.

Now Mr. Roberts is trying to stop an investigation into Mr. Bush's decision to allow the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without getting the warrants required by a 27-year-old federal law enacted to stop that sort of abuse.

Mr. Roberts had promised to hold a committee vote yesterday on whether to investigate. But he canceled the vote, and then made two astonishing announcements. He said he was working with the White House on amending the 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, to permit warrantless spying. And then he suggested that such a change would eliminate the need for an inquiry.

Stifling his own committee without even bothering to get the facts is outrageous. As the vice chairman of the panel, Senator John Rockefeller IV, pointed out, supervising intelligence gathering is in fact the purpose of the intelligence committee.

Mr. Rockefeller said the White House had not offered enough information to make an informed judgment on the program possible. It is withholding, for instance, such minor details as how the program works, how it is reviewed, how much and what kind of information is collected, and how the information is stored and used.

Mr. Roberts said the White House had agreed to provide more briefings to the Senate Intelligence Committee — hardly an enormous concession since it is already required to do so. And he said he and the White House were working out "a fix" for the law. That is the worst news. FISA was written to prevent the president from violating Americans' constitutional rights. It was amended after 9/11 to make it even easier for the administration to do legally what it is now doing.
So Mr. Bush broke the law? What are you waiting for? Abolish the law! (Pat Roberts as "the Boss": "RETROACTIVE!")

And this from the House:
Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee said Thursday that they had agreed to open a Congressional inquiry prompted by the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program. But a dispute immediately broke out among committee Republicans over the scope of the inquiry . . . .

[A]n aide to Representative Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who leads the committee, said the inquiry would be much more limited in scope, focusing on whether federal surveillance laws needed to be changed and not on the eavesdropping program itself.
Some mildly encouraging news, because we can't bear to leave you this way:
A federal judge ordered the Bush administration Thursday to release documents about its warrantless surveillance program or spell out what it is withholding, a setback to efforts to keep the program under wraps . . . .

U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy ruled that a private group will suffer irreparable harm if the documents it has been seeking since December are not processed promptly under the Freedom of Information Act. He gave the Justice Department 20 days to respond to the request from the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

"President Bush has invited meaningful debate about the wireless surveillance program," Kennedy said. "That can only occur if DOJ processes its FOIA requests in a timely fashion and releases the information sought."
Meanwhile, if you were wondering what exactly Alberto Gonzales meant when, in his testimony last week, he kept referring to "the program the President admitted to," NSA whistleblower Russell Tice has a hint for you:
A former NSA employee said Tuesday there is another ongoing top-secret surveillance program that might have violated millions of Americans' Constitutional rights.

Russell D. Tice told the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations he has concerns about a "special access" electronic surveillance program that he characterized as far more wide-ranging than the warrentless wiretapping recently exposed by the New York Times but he is forbidden from discussing the program with Congress.

Tice said he believes it violates the Constitution's protection against unlawful search and seizures but has no way of sharing the information without breaking classification laws. He is not even allowed to tell the congressional intelligence committees - members or their staff - because they lack high enough clearance.

Neither could he brief the inspector general of the NSA because that office is not cleared to hear the information, he said.

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