Threatening Congress

Just in time for another round of FISA legislative debate, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell is on the Hill drumming up the threat of Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

A senior intelligence official said Tuesday evening that the testimony was based in part on new evidence that Qaeda operatives in Pakistan were training Westerners, most likely including American citizens, to carry out attacks. The official said there was no indication as yet that Al Qaeda had succeeded in getting operatives into the United States.

I can’t tell you if this threat is real or not. But I can remind you and everyone in the Senate that any time the US government wants to eavesdrop on an American, they need a court order. The FISA Court (FISC) has an approval rate of 99.9% of government surveillance requests, meaning that even if Al Qaeda is developing Americans into terrorists, the FISC is more than capable of recognizing the threat and giving our intelligence and law enforcement agencies the tools they need to monitor them.

Last August the Protect America Act was rushed through the Senate under a cloud of fear-mongering and terror threats by the White House and their top intelligence officials. Glenn Greenwald writes:

they sent out Mike McConnell days before the August recess to tell everyone in Congress that they better pass the bill before they leave or The Terrorists would kill us all and the blood would be on the hands of Congress for failing to give the President what he wanted

So Congress hastily passed the PAA, leading us to where we are now, with the Senate debating whether or not to give George Bush and Dick Cheney everything they want again. Greenwald sarcastically captures the operable Republican argument surrounding the FISA legislation and McConnell’s warnings:

We better forget about checks and balances and oversight and restraints of any kind and everything else and just make sure that the President can spy on our emails and telephone calls with no oversight, otherwise Al Qaeda is going to slaughter us in our Homeland. And we also better make sure that telecommunications corporations don’t have consequences when they break the law, otherwise we’re doomed, because Al Qaeda is coming.

The simple reality is that when we are governed by fear, we are less safe. Requests to hand over our rights and our liberties in the face of the latest threat must be met with outright distain. Americans are not prepared to live in fear, even if the Republicans are. The threat posed by Al Qaeda is not an existential one to the United States, but if we respond to it by stripping powers from co-equal branches of government, removing civil liberty protections from our citizenry, and suspending the rule of law to protect the financial interests of our largest telecom companies, then we are allowing the fundamental shape of our nation to change in the face of these terror threats.

I would hope that the Senate changes course from last August and stands tall in the face of the latest fears being hawked by the administration. No threat warrants the creation of a police state. No threat warrants the shredding of the US Constitution.

Cross posted at the CREDO Blog.

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