WaPo has given us two bone-chilling reports on the Patriot Act. The first, a couple weeks ago:

By Dan Eggen, Washington Post|October 24, 2005

WASHINGTON — The FBI has conducted clandestine surveillance on some US residents for as long as 18 months at a time without proper paperwork or oversight, according to classified documents scheduled to be released today.

Records turned over as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit also indicated that the FBI has investigated hundreds of potential violations related to its secret surveillance operations, which have been stepped up dramatically after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but which are largely hidden from public view.

In one case, FBI agents kept an unidentified target under surveillance for at least five years, including more than 15 months without notifying Justice Department lawyers after the subject had moved from New York to Detroit.

An FBI investigation found that the delay was a violation of Justice Department and prevented the department “from exercising its responsibility for oversight and approval of a foreign counterintelligence investigation of a US person.”

In other cases, agents obtained e-mail messages after a warrant expired, seized bank records without authority, and conducted an improper “unconsented physical search,” according to the documents.

Although heavily censored, the documents provide a glimpse into domestic spying, which is governed by a secret court and overseen by a presidential board that does not publicize its deliberations. The records also emerge as the House and Senate battle over whether to put new restrictions on the controversial USA Patriot Act, which made it easier for the government to conduct searches and surveillance but has come under attack from civil liberties groups.

The records were provided to the Washington Post by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group that has sued the Justice Department for records relating to the Patriot Act.

David Sobel, the advocacy group’s general counsel, said that the documents raised questions about the extent of possible misconduct in counterintelligence investigations, and that they underscore the need for greater congressional oversight of clandestine surveillance within the United States.

“We’re seeing what might be the tip of the iceberg at the FBI and across the intelligence community,” Sobel said.

FBI officials disagreed, saying that none of the cases have involved major violations, and that most amount to administrative errors. The officials also said any information obtained from improper searches or eavesdropping is eventually destroyed.

“Every investigator wants to make sure that their investigation is handled appropriately, because they’re not going to be allowed to keep information that they didn’t have the proper authority to obtain,” said one senior FBI official, who declined to be identified by name because of the ongoing litigation. ”But that is a relatively uncommon occurrence.”

Today, there’s more:

The FBI came calling in Windsor, Conn., this summer with a document marked for delivery by hand. On Matianuk Avenue, across from the tennis courts, two special agents found their man. They gave George Christian the letter, which warned him to tell no one, ever, what it said.

Under the shield and stars of the FBI crest, the letter directed Christian to surrender “all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person” who used a specific computer at a library branch some distance away. Christian, who manages digital records for three dozen Connecticut libraries, said in an affidavit that he configures his system for privacy. But the vendors of the software he operates said their databases can reveal the Web sites that visitors browse, the e-mail accounts they open and the books they borrow.

Christian refused to hand over those records, and his employer, Library Connection Inc., filed suit for the right to protest the FBI demand in public. The Washington Post established their identities — still under seal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit — by comparing unsealed portions of the file with public records and information gleaned from people who had no knowledge of the FBI demand.

The Connecticut case affords a rare glimpse of an exponentially growing practice of domestic surveillance under the USA Patriot Act, which marked its fourth anniversary on Oct. 26. “National security letters,” created in the 1970s for espionage and terrorism investigations, originated as narrow exceptions in consumer privacy law, enabling the FBI to review in secret the customer records of suspected foreign agents. The Patriot Act, and Bush administration guidelines for its use, transformed those letters by permitting clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies.

The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters — one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people — are extending the bureau’s reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.

Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.

The burgeoning use of national security letters coincides with an unannounced decision to deposit all the information they yield into government data banks — and to share those private records widely, in the federal government and beyond. In late 2003, the Bush administration reversed a long-standing policy requiring agents to destroy their files on innocent American citizens, companies and residents when investigations closed. Late last month, President Bush signed Executive Order 13388, expanding access to those files for “state, local and tribal” governments and for “appropriate private sector entities,” which are not defined….


A national security letter cannot be used to authorize eavesdropping or to read the contents of e-mail. But it does permit investigators to trace revealing paths through the private affairs of a modern digital citizen. The records it yields describe where a person makes and spends money, with whom he lives and lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and reads on the Web, and who telephones or e-mails him at home and at work.

Please read it. There are some good editorials here, here and here.

  • Bill Moyers discussed the state of the nation and its press at a fundraiser for the might Texas Observer. Here’s a good excerpt:

    For Texas is run by the rich and the righteous, and the result is a state of piracy and piety that puts the medieval papacy to shame.

    There was your governor a few weeks ago, surrounded by cheering God-folk in Fort Worth, holding a pep rally in behalf of punishing people on account of sex. Who was the main speaker? None other than the Reverend Rod Parsley of Ohio. Look out for Reverend Parsley. He heads a $40 million a year televangelist ministry based in Columbus with access worldwide to 400 TV stations and cable affiliates. Although he describes himself as neither Republican nor Democrat but a “Christo-crat” – a gladiator for God marching against “the very hordes of hell in our society” – he nonetheless shows up with so many Republicans in Washington and elsewhere that he has been publicly described as the Republican Party’s “spiritual advisor.”

    And what does he advise them? He tells them “the god of Islam and the god of Christianity are not the same being.” He tells them that “the separation of church and state is a lie perpetrated on Americans – especially on believers in Jesus Christ.” But his main message is the scapegoating of gay people – a message so full of lies, distortions, and loathing that you cannot help but think of the 1930s when the powerful and the pious in Germany demonized Jews and homosexuals in order to arouse and manipulate public passions. In 1938 Himmler even organized a special section of the Gestapo to deal with homosexuality and abortion and on October 11 of that year he declared in a speech: “Germany’s forebears knew what to do with homosexuals. They drowned them in bags.” You know Governor Perry can’t even imagine such horrors, much less condone such horrors, but you want to grab him by the lapels and shake him and tell him that preaching hate is the first spark to the kindling of evil.

    The governor’s pal Rod Parsley is a master of mass psychology. He sees the church as a sleeping giant that has the ability and the anointing from God to transform America. And the giant is stirring. At a rally in July Reverend Parsley worked the crowd into a lather as he proclaimed: “Let the Revolution begin!” And the congregation responded: “Let the Revolution begin.”

    This is the man your governor wanted to help him make a television commercial. The governor seems right at home with people like this. He had them to Austin earlier this month for a “Pastors’ Policy Briefing” sponsored by the Texas Restoration Project. Pay attention to this outfit; there’s an Ohio Restoration Project and a Pennsylvania Restoration Party and I suspect by the next election there will be restoration projects in every state of the union. Their goal is to sign up “Patriot Pastors” who will call on their congregations to vote the Lord’s will on Election Day. Aided and abetted, no doubt, by a little loose change from Karl Rove’s faith-based slush fund!

    By the way, one of the speakers at that “Pastors’ Policy Briefing” here in Austin was Ohio’s secretary of state, Ken Blackwell, who oversaw the election process in Ohio last year when a surge of conservative Christian voters narrowly carried Bush to victory there. Blackwell has modestly acknowledged that “God wanted him as secretary of state in 2004” because it was such a critical election. Now he’s the divinely designated candidate for governor in 2006. Wouldn’t you like to know what he and Governor Perry talked about at that Pastor’s briefing? Unfortunately, you can’t find out, because the praying and the preaching were closed to the press and public, as befits the stealth salvation they are plotting for you. You can be confident that they agree on God being an American, but it’s possible they may have disagreed over whether the Lord’s primary voting residence is Ohio or Texas.

    Neither will you find out who put up the estimated half-a-million dollars to pay for that politically religious rally here in Austin. It’s a secret, too. Two of your noted Texas oligarchs were spotted there – James Leininger and Bo Pilgrim – and they may have dropped something into the offering plate. But it’s not known where the half million shekels came from to bring the good brethren to town where clearly they dined on more than a few loaves and fishes. God only knows who picked up the tab. But between you and me, I suspect She’s got a surprise in store for these holy warriors. America is not yet a theocracy but Texas almost is and the Republican Party already is, and I suspect God just might be pissed off at the presumption that GOP now stands for God’s Own Party.

    Here’s the point: the classicist William Arrowsmith once described in these pages the “worst of Texas attitudes” – “the rock-bottom conviction, expressed in stone throughout the state and in the hearts of politicians, that what counts is always and only wealth, that everything is for sale and can be bought.” Including, now, the Rock of Ages.

    The phenomenon of our time is how the religious, political, and corporate right, under the cloak of ‘moral values,’ has forged a mighty coalition for the looting of America. With one hand they stretch upward for the pearly gates, and with the other they reach down and behind your back to pick your pocket or your purse…

    (Update: I shortened this “excerpt;” read the rest here!)

  • Why is Tom “rampant lesbianism” Coburn on Meet the Press? Among other things, he appears to be telling Tim Russert that his training as a physician allows him to make perceptive judgements about character, based on physiological cues and body language, and that he uses these skills when meeting with Supreme Court candidates. (Did I get that right? I’ll post the transcript when I find it.) How can I get him off the television when the remote is here?(Gives a whole new meaning to “remote control” doesn’t it?) Update: here’s the transcript:

    MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask about something else, and this intrigued me when I watched you during the John Roberts confirmation hearing when you were explaining how you came to make a decision and you used your skills as a doctor. Let’s watch.

    (Videotape, September 14, 2005):

    SEN. COBURN: I’ve tried to use my medical skills of observation of body language to ascertain your uncomfortableness and ill at ease with questions and responses. I will tell you that I am very pleased both in my observational capabilities as a physician to know that your answers have been honest and forthright as I watch the rest of your body respond to the stress that you’re under.

    (End videotape)

    MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe as a physician you can tell whether a candidate for the Supreme Court is telling the truth?

    SEN. COBURN: I think you can certainly tell when they’re ill at ease with a subject and sometimes telling the truth or not. I think you can do that. I think you can do that–anybody can be trained to do that–by body language, respiratory avoidance responses. Yeah, I think you can.

    MR. RUSSERT: And have you used those skills to make judgments like that?

    SEN. COBURN: Mm-hm, I certainly have.

    MR. RUSSERT: Has any–have you ever detected someone lying?

    SEN. COBURN: Uh-huh, lots of times.

    MR. RUSSERT: In your hearings.

    SEN. COBURN: Sure.

    MR. RUSSERT: Such as?

    SEN. COBURN: Well , I’m not going to say that. You know, I’m–in lots of hearings that I’ve had on federal financial management where we’re looking at the $100 billion that we found wasted far this year from 2004, I found lots of times when people were not truthful. Absolutely.

    MR. RUSSERT: Based on your skills as a physician.

    SEN. COBURN: Yeah. And then what you do is you go then look it up and see where the problem is and all of a sudden you find, wait, this isn’t truthful.

  • I think the best measure of Karl Rove’s “distractions” is that Larry Wilkerson is getting away with this stuff. Where are the character assassins?
  • McCain says he’ll attach the torture ban amendment to every bill he touches (via Americablog).
  • I’ve got to agree with Arianna on this one. He’s getting tiresome.
  • Now can we start admitting that they’re even losing their base?
  • Image is everything, afterall.
  • Think Progress reviews the year since Bush earned all that “political capital.” Amazing.

    My intrepid co-blogger ‘abc’ is off at a non-violence conference in Palo Alto this weekend; hopefully she’ll have some words of wisdom and inspiration to report later.

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