I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Intelligence Committee votes not to investigate NSA eavesdropping

To be updated . . . (updated - updated again)

There are a couple of Kos diaries claiming that the Intelligence Committee has voted not to hold hearings. According to VMCKimmey:

Just saw this on CNN. Looks like Snowe and Hagel caved! The compromise "Sell Out" creates a new subcommittee to oversee the NSA domestic spying. The NSA program must be approved every 45 days by the new subcommittee and there is a five year sunset clause to make the whole program go away. This is what we got instead of an investigation, instead of holding this criminal administration accountable for their crimes.

I am sure there will be much more confirmation and details and much more to say about this. I will update this post as more information is available.

Nobody who has lived outside of a cave for the last five years could possibly be surprised by any of this. One of the reason we are at the point we're at in our country -- where we have a President who not only breaks the law but claims he has the right to do so, while the media barely finds any of it worthy of much attention -- is because the Congress has completely abdicated its responsibilities at the altar of cult-like obedience to White House decrees. That's just one of the many rotted roots in our government.

I doubt that many people who want to ensure that the Administration is held accountable for their law-breaking were placing their hopes in the likes of those principle-free, easily manipulated "independent Republicans" such as Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel. If this scandal is to be resolved how it ought to be, it won't be because of anything they do.

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David Shaughnessy reports the same thing - that CNN reports that the Intelligence Committee voted against holding hearings.

Just as a reminder, here is an excerpt of the December 21, 2005 oh-so-resolute statement issued by Sen. Snowe demanding NSA hearings:

U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) and a bipartisan group of Senate Intelligence Committee members today called for a joint inquiry by the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees into the President’s authorization of domestic electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens.

“Revelations that the U.S. government has conducted domestic electronic surveillance without express legal authority indeed warrants Congressional examination. I believe the Congress – as a coequal branch of government – must immediately and expeditiously review the use of this practice,” said Snowe.

And here are excerpts from the letter she signed on the same date along with that GOP maverick Sen. Hagel (same link):

We write to express our profound concern about recent revelations that the United States Government may have engaged in domestic electronic surveillance without appropriate legal authority. These allegations, which the President, at least in part, confirmed this weekend require immediate inquiry and action by the Senate.

We respectfully request that the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Committee on the Judiciary, which share jurisdiction and oversight of this issue, jointly undertake an inquiry into the facts and law surrounding these allegations. The overlapping jurisdiction of these two Committees is particularly critical where civil liberties and the rule of law hang in the balance. . .

It is critical that Congress determine, as quickly as possible, exactly what collection activities were authorized, what were actually undertaken, how many names and numbers were involved over what period, and what was the asserted legal authority for such activities. In sum, we must determine the facts. . . .

We have extensively debated these issues. At no time, to our knowledge, did any Administration representative ask the Congress to consider amending existing law to permit electronic surveillance of suspected terrorists without a warrant such as outlined in the New York Times article.

We strongly believe that the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees should immediately seek to answer the factual and legal questions which surround these revelations, and recommend appropriate action to the Senate.

Powerful, huh? That's really standing up to the Administration. Guess they changed their mind and decided that their concern wasn't that "profound" after all, and that it wasn't all that "critical" to find out "exactly what collection activities were authorized, what were actually undertaken, how many names and numbers were involved over what period."

Could our government be any more broken?

UPDATE: I had some Internet connection problems the last couple hours which prevented me from adding updates to the post until now. I'll have much more on this tomorrow. In the meantime, Jane Hamsher has a thorough run-down of analysis and commentary here; a detailed Knight-Ridder report on what occurred is here; a Washington Post article here; and a press release issued by Sen. Rockefeller's office is here. And Emptywheel has some interesting analysis along with an argument for appointing Sen. Feingold to the newly created sub-committee to purportedly oversee the Administration's eavesdropping activities.

Whether the Administration is held accountable for its actions will ultimately be determined not by whether the GOP-controlled Intelligence Committee votes to hold hearings, but will be almost exclusively a function of whether the public demands accountability and consequences.

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