Senators urge Obama administration to declassify secret domestic spy court rulings
By End the Lie
United States Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, have called for the Obama administration to declassify the secret court rulings which reportedly give the federal government even wider domestic spying powers than was intended under the PATRIOT Act.
Some of my readers might remember last year when Senator Wyden revealed that there is essentially a “secret PATRIOT Act” which the government follows and refuses to explain or justify, and he apparently has not given up his quest for accountability.
The PATRIOT Act, which was pushed into law – with many legislators not even reading it – in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, gives the government of the United States ludicrously unconstitutional surveillance powers with little to no oversight.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, which is much more a secret tribunal than a court, has issued classified rulings which, according to Senators Wyden and Udall, expand the surveillance powers afforded to the government even more than the already ridiculous PATRIOT Act.
The section Udall and Wyden take the most issue with is section 215 of the PATRIOT Act which gives the opaque FISA Court the authority to authorize wildly broad warrants for nearly any type of data.
The Senators point out that under section 215, the court can authorize warrants for records from banks, internet companies and services, libraries, doctors and more.
The matter gets even more laughable when one considers the fact that the government has no obligation to draw a connection between the items they seek under section 215 and a suspected terrorist or foreign spy.
All that is required is that the government claims that the documents are relevant to an investigation and to make matters even worse, companies or individuals who receive orders under section 215 are permanently barred from telling a soul that the records were requested.
Udall and Wyden sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder voicing their concerns, although given that Eric Holder argues that secret unaccountable tribunals count as due process when it comes to the assassination of American citizens; I doubt he will even consider their arguments.
“We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act. As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows,” they state in their letter which can be viewed in its entirety here.
“This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says,” they add.
Indeed it is a major problem, as is all of the outlandish abuse of secrecy that has become the modus operandi of the Obama administration.
The only reason that Udall and Wyden are even aware of the classified rulings and legal interpretations adopted by the government is because select members of intelligence committees were briefed on the matter in February of last year.
The government has made it clear that they have no interest whatsoever in declassifying or justifying their opinions and the interpretations they use in public.
This has been made clear many times, especially in the case of the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the New York Times challenging the legality of the Obama administration’s assassination program.The Department of Justice’s declassification director Arnetta Mallory argued in court filings that “disclosure could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States,” which is essentially the same argument used in an attempt to justify the secret assassination program which has targeted Americans.
“The withheld material contains specific descriptions of the manner and means by which the United States government acquires tangible things for certain authorized investigations pursuant to Section 215,” Mallory claimed. “As such, the withheld information describes highly sensitive intelligence activities, sources and methods.”
“Disclosure of this information would provide our adversaries and foreign intelligence targets with insight into the United States government’s foreign intelligence collection capabilities, which in turn could be used to develop the means to degrade and evade those collection capabilities,” Mallory added.
Senators Udall and Wyden reject the government’s justifications, adding that their supposed justifications amount to a “chilling” line of reasoning which could result in the classifying of all federal law dealing with surveillance.
“The crux of the Justice Department’s argument for keeping the official interpretation of the law secret is that this secrecy prevents U.S. adversaries from understanding exactly what intelligence agencies are allowed to do,” they write in their two-page letter.
“We can see how tempting [it is] to latch on to this chilling logic, but we would know that it would then follow that all of America’s surveillance laws should be secret, because that would make it even harder to guess how the United States government collects information,” Udall and Wyden point out.
Dating back to 1978, the FISA court issues warrants which are completely different from those issued for the purposes of criminal investigations.
The warrants issued by the secret body, under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, give the government broad authorization to covertly monitor communications of individuals within the United States, which clearly contradicts the Fourth Amendment’s requirements for warrants.
While targets of criminal investigation are able to be told that they are being monitored and are even able to challenge the warrants in court, along with the evidence which was gathered if it is actually used in the course of prosecution, targets of government surveillance have no such abilities.
Not only are those who are targeted by FISA warrants unable to ever learn that they were under government surveillance since section 215 prevents companies from telling the target, they are also unable to challenge the legality of such activities.
According to the latest Department of Justice report obtained via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, in the 2010 year alone the mysterious FISA court approved a shocking 1,506 government requests to conduct surveillance on alleged agents of a foreign nation or alleged terrorists.
The Obama administration has proven time and time again that they have no interest in even beginning to live up to the promises of being the most transparent administration in history, and this is yet another example of this unfortunate trend.
Seeing as they refuse to explain why they think they have the authority to assassinate American citizens without charge or trial, I’m not going to be holding my breath expecting them to address the valid points raised by Udall and Wyden.
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