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FISA warrants on a roll - but who needs a warrant?

A toast to Dick

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Comment The Honorable Richard B. Cheney...Dear Mr. President.....

Drum roll, please.

It's like the Price is Right for conspiracy theorists, the annual release to Congress of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) statistics. How many this year? Did the court tell the spooks to pound sand even once?

The FISC is the secretive American court that approves or rejects - well, mostly approves - requests by the DOJ, National Security Agency (NSA), and other agencies to conduct top secret surveillance on individuals within the US who might - or might not - be threats to national security.

Considerable ink has been spilled over warrantless wiretapping on the part of the NSA that circumvented the court - even though the court already had the authority to approve wiretaps and other surveillance retroactively within seventy-two hours, under exigent circumstances. Those statistics are, of course, off the books, so we'll have to make do with what was provided.

So how did they do this year? Well, 2007 was another banner year for the FISC, with a record 2,371 requests and 2,370 approvals. Technically, the court rejected three last year, but two approvals were requests originally submitted the previous year, so it's a net of one. Of course, since 1979, only a handful of requests have ever been rejected outright by the court.

We don't need no stinkin' warrants

In fact, according to statistics compiled by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), it took the FISC twenty-four years to reject its first FISA application, in 2003. Of course, the Cheney administration argument for warrantless wiretapping authority is as specious as it is disingenuous - the administration claims that it takes two hundred hours to prepare a warrant, rather than the seventy-two allowed retroactively, which means that either the new breed of spook is almost three times as slow as its ancestors, and that the seventy-two hours should be stretched to two hundred hours to accommodate the current level of incompetence, or they're lying.

Sadly, experts warn us there's a good chance that warrantless wiretapping will leave the country less safe, rather than more.

It's hard to believe that this already neutered attempt at judicial review is to be bitch-slapped again, especially after the NSA admitted - er, it was an accident, of course - to purely domestic spying, but, since retroactive immunity for telecoms that conspired with the Bushies to pee on the Fourth Amendment is the only dispute left on the table, that does appear to be the case.

Fifth columnists rejoice

Of course, true totalitarianism requires the spirit of a quisling, which is why so much work must be outsourced. Millions of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARS) on Americans were quietly filed by American businesses, often incompetently or incorrectly, before Governor Spitzer met the call girl of his dreams - many processed by hand by a Native American tribe in North Dakota, if the rumor holds true. Halliburton wins a contract for domestic "temporary detention centers," and patrols the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and Senator McCain's pal Senator Lindsay Graham waxes on about the need for vigilance against "fifth columnists." A certain infrastructure has been laid for unforeseen domestic circumstances.

Although he is, technically, the President of the Senate, seeing Cheney formally addressed as "Mr. President" by a high-ranking DOJ official seems a bit rich. Here's to you, Dick. ®

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