One benefit of the process the Senate is using to develop a FISA bill is that, by rejecting the SJC bill then considering amendment after amendment that had been part of the SJC bill, we begin to learn what the government really plans to do with its wiretapping program, as distinct from what it has said it was doing (see Ryan Singel making the same point).
Recall that the administration has claimed, repeatedly, that its only goal with amending FISA is to make sure it can continue to wiretap overseas, even if that communication passed through the US. We always knew that claim was a lie, but the letter from McConnell and Mukasey finally makes that clear. Even still, they’re rebutting Feingold’s amendments–which they say “undermine significantly the core authorities” of the bill–with a bunch of misrepresentations about them, to avoid telling two basic truths (which Whitehouse and Feingold have said repeatedly, but which the Administration refuses to admit).
- They’re spying on Americans and refuse to stop
- They intend to keep spying on Americans even if the FISA Court tells them they’re doing so improperly
As I explained, the letter includes a list of amendments that, if they were passed, would spark a veto. Those include three Feingold amendments:
- 3979: segregating information collected on US persons
- 3913: prohibiting reverse targeting
- 3915: prohibiting the use of information collected improperly
All three of these amendments share one overall purpose–they limit the way the government uses this “foreign surveillance” to spy on Americans.
The Mukasey-McConnell attack on segregation is most telling. They complain that the amendment makes a distinction between different kinds of foreign intelligence (one exception to the segregation requirement in the amendment is for “concerns international terrorist activities directed against the United States, or activities in preparation therefor”), even while they claim it would “diminish our ability swiftly to monitor a communication from a foreign terrorist overseas to a person in the United States.” In other words, the complain that one of the only exceptions is for communications relating terrorism, but then say this will prevent them from getting communications pertaining to terrorism.
Then it launches into a tirade that lacks any specifics:
It would have a devastating impact on foreign intelligence surveillance operations; it is unsound as a matter of policy; its provisions would be inordinately difficult to implement; and thus it is unacceptable.