Spying Abuses 'Systemic' In Recent Months -- Which Is Exactly What the 2008 FISA Law Was Designed to Do (Glenn Greenwald, April 16, 2009, Salon) The article reports that the spying abuses are "significant and systemic"; involve improper interception of "significant amounts" of the emails and telephone calls of Americans, including purely domestic communications; and that, under Bush (prior to the new FISA law), the NSA tried to eavesdrop with no warrants on a member of Congress traveling to the Middle East. The sources for the article report that "the problems had grown out of changes enacted by Congress last July in the law that regulates the government's wiretapping powers." . . . These widespread eavesdropping abuses enabled by the 2008 FISA bill -- a bill passed with the support of Barack Obama along with the entire top Democratic leadership in the House, including Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, and substantial numbers of Democratic Senators -- aren't a bug in that bill, but rather, were one of the central features of it. Everyone knew that the FISA bill which Congressional Democrats passed -- and which George Bush and Dick Cheney celebrated -- would enable these surveillance abuses. That was the purpose of the law: to gut the safeguards in place since the 1978 passage of FISA, destroy the crux of the oversight regime over executive surveillance of Americans, and enable and empower unchecked government spying activities. This was not an unintended and unforeseeable consequence of that bill. To the contrary, it was crystal clear that by gutting FISA's safeguards, the Democratic Congress was making these abuses inevitable. . . . Sen. Russ Feingold condemned the bill on the ground that it "fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home" because "the government can still sweep up and keep the international communications of innocent Americans in the U.S. with no connection to suspected terrorists, with very few safeguards to protect against abuse of this power." Rep. Rush Holt -- who was actually denied time to speak by bill-supporter Silvestre Reyes only to be given time by bill-opponent John Conyers -- condemned the bill because it vests the power to decide who are the "bad guys" in the very people who do the spying. . . . Abolishing eavesdropping safeguards was the central purpose of the FISA bill. It was why Dick Cheney and Michael McConnell were demanding its passage. . . . Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin at the time wrote: Most Americans don't realize that the FISA compromise comes in two parts. The first part greatly alters FISA by expanding the executive's ability to wiretap and engage in much broader searches of communications than were permissible under the law before. It essentially gives congressional blessing to some but not all of what the executive was doing under President Bush. President Obama will like having Congress authorize these new powers. He'll like it just fine. People aren't paying as much attention to this part of the bill. But they should, because it will define the law of surveillance going forward. It is where your civil liberties will be defined for the next decade. . . . hordes of trusting Obama supporters immediately seized on that blatantly false assertion ("the bill Obama supports strengthens oversight!") and began reciting it in defense of their candidate. Now, a mere nine months later, The New York Times reports that the bill enabled and caused massive abuses of the NSA's eavesdropping powers. Imagine that: if you gut even the minimal oversight provisions designed to check presidential eavesdropping abuses, abuses will not (as Democrats and Obama surrogates claimed) decrease, but will actually increase substantially. . . . Note the wall of extreme secrecy behind which our Government operates. According to the article, various officials learned of the NSA abuses and then secretly told some members of Congress about them, and those individuals have been secretly discussing what should be done. The idea that the Government or Congress should inform the public about the massive surveillance abuses doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone other than the whistleblowers who leaked what they knew to The New York Times. . . . Since being elected President, Barack Obama has done everything in his power to block judicial proceedings that would examine allegations that the NSA has been abusing its eavesdropping powers and illegally intercepting the telephone and email communications of Americans. Put another way, Obama -- using radical claims of presidential powers of secrecy -- has been preventing disclosure of the very abuses disclosed by this article and preventing legal scrutiny, all by claiming that even George Bush's illegal NSA spying programs are "state secrets" that courts must not adjudicate. That's what the "state secrets" controversy is about -- Obama demanding that courts be barred from examining or ruling on any of these abuses and imposing consequences, based on his claim that these activities are so secret that they must never see the light of day. . . . Obama officials claimed [Does anybody still believe him?] in response that the abuses are being corrected and that eavesdropping activities are now in compliance with the safeguards of the law. The problem, however, is that "the law" -- thanks to the Democratic Congress -- now has exceedingly few safeguards in it. It allows massive domestic spying without meaningful oversight, and renders these eavesdropping abuses inevitable. That was true in June, 2008 when the FISA-gutting law was passed, and it is just as true now.