July 23, 2024

House FISA Bill Denies Telco Amnesty

The House of Representatives today voted to pass a Democratic plan to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, defying President Bush’s demand that telecom companies that cooperated with the Justice Department be granted immunity for their actions.

As I’ve said repeatedly, it makes no sense to penalize the telecoms for doing what they thought they had to do to protect our nation while allowing the driving force behind the information gathering process to escape punishment. 

The Democratic plan would allow telecommunications companies to be sued for their role in the administration’s much-disputed warrantless surveillance program.

The twisted logic that "explains" why they want to beat up on the telecoms from Michigan Democrat John Conyers:

"We are not going to cave into a retroactive immunity situation.  There’s no law school example in our memory that gives retroactive immunity for something you don’t know what you are giving it for. It just doesn’t work in the real world or on the Hill either."

I know it’s been 7 years and all, but didn’t Bill Clinton grant a rather perverse form of retroactive immunity to a number of his cronies, including the blatantly corrupt Dan Rostenkowsi, the powerful Democratic Congressman from Chicago?  Must be my imagination.

Predictably, Republicans and the security departments likely to be negatively impacted by the bill, should it become law, were not pleased:

A joint statement from the Department of Justice and the office of the director of national intelligence said that based on initial reports, "We are concerned that the proposal would not provide the intelligence community the critical tools needed to protect the country."

The statement also restates the administration’s position that immunity protection is necessary so the program can continue.

"Exposing the private sector to continued litigation for assisting in efforts to defend the country understandably makes the private sector much more reluctant to cooperate. Without their cooperation, our efforts to protect the country cannot succeed," it said.

Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, warned Wednesday that the House proposal "would, in essence, shut us down" and sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter outlining his objections to the legislation.

This is, of course, not true.  But the bill doesn’t make their jobs any easier, even though it’s sure to be compromised into oblivion.

The bill now goes to the Senate, but both the Senate and President Bush have made it clear that they will not support the bill without an immunity provision.

Also predictably, Salon’s Glen Greenwald, who has been beating the anti-immunity drum like a rented mule that dropped dead while hauling his soapbox wagon through Donner’s Pass, is patting himself on the back hard enough to hurt himself.

Glen’s obtuse, irrelevant logic:

It is, of course, true that this bill will have a hard time passing the Senate

What matters is not that this bill becomes law, but that the Rockefeller/Cheney bill does not. And House Democrats, including Blue Dogs, are obviously comfortable with defending the bill they just passed as more than sufficient to protect the nation, extend fairness to telecoms, and safeguard basic liberties. So there should never be any reason why they feel compelled to vote for the Rockefeller/Cheney bill, or any bill granting amnesty, given that they have just done their jobs. That is the real benefit of today’s vote.

Ridiculous.  If there were meaningful crimes committed in the process of gathering intelligence in the wake of 9/11 the telecoms’ transfer of information to the security apparatus is the least of them.  What is more interesting is who the Bush administration officials were that sought and used the illegally obtained information. 

If the transfer of communications records to the government is of such importance – and I think it is important – why are there no public inquiries being made into those officials who are the root of the problem?


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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