It’s not okay: Senate Intelligence Committee members seek probe

Reuters reports that “Democratic and Republican calls mounted on Tuesday for U.S. congressional hearings into President George W. Bush’s assertion that he can order warrantless spying on Americans with suspected terrorist ties.” According to

Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe, Republican Senators, joined Carl Levin, Dianne Feinstein and Ron Wyden, Democratic Senators on Tuesday in calling for a joint investigation by the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees into whether the government eavesdropped “without appropriate legal authority” … [b]ut the White House on Tuesday brushed aside calls for congressional hearings [saying] “This is still a highly classified programme and there are details that it’s important not be disclosed.”

Meanwhile, a judge has resigned from the FISA court which is supposed to provide warrants for such eavesdropping, “concerned that information gained from the warrantless surveillance under Bush’s program could have then been used to obtain warrants under the FISA program.” The spying appears to have included purely domestic calls as well.

Bush first president to admit to impeachable offense

Senator Barbara Boxer has sent a letter to four presidential scholars asking about Bush-authorized domestic spying. The text follows:

On December 16, along with the rest of America, I learned that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without getting a warrant from a judge. President Bush underscored his support for this action in his press conference today.

On Sunday, December 18, former White House Counsel John Dean and I participated in a public discussion that covered many issues, including this surveillance. Mr. Dean, who was President Nixon’s counsel at the time of Watergate, said that President Bush is “the first President to admit to an impeachable offense.” Today, Mr. Dean confirmed his statement.

This startling assertion by Mr. Dean is especially poignant because he experienced first hand the executive abuse of power and a presidential scandal arising from the surveillance of American citizens.

Given your constitutional expertise, particularly in the area of presidential impeachment, I am writing to ask for your comments and thoughts on Mr. Dean’s statement.

Unchecked surveillance of American citizens is troubling to both me and many of my constituents. I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter as soonas possible.


Grades came out this morning. Due to an unexpectedly strong showing this quarter, I finish out with a 3.50 GPA at CSU East Bay (3.31 higher education cumulative). I have now fulfilled the terms of the graduation agreement with my department; the only thing that can still prevent me graduating on schedule is if the bureaucracy disapproves that agreement.

Meanwhile, the admission to the graduate program is now progressing; the claim that it was contingent on graduation was incorrect. Because just about everyone is now on vacation, it is likely I will only be provisionally admitted, but this should enable me to register.

Israel prepares attack against Iran

Iran has apparently convinced just about everyone that contrary to claims its nuclear program has only peaceful purposes, it is seeking nuclear arms. And its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has outraged the world by suggesting that the holocaust committed against Jews (and others) by the Nazis was a myth placed “above God, religion and the prophets.” Its foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, claims that what Ahmadinejad really meant was that “if certain people have created troubles for the Jewish community they should bear the expenses” rather than the Palestinians, on whose land Israel was founded.

The suggestion that Israel ought to be relocated–nearly 60 years after its founding–to Europe or North America is still considered outrageous. Iran has claimed that it will act militarily only in self-defense, but the Sunday Times reports that “[Mottaki] met leading figures from three Islamic militant groups to co-ordinate a united front against Israel days before a recent escalation of attacks against Israeli targets shattered fragile ceasefires with Lebanon and the Palestinians.”

“Israel — and not only Israel — cannot accept a nuclear Iran,” [Israeli Prime Minister] Sharon warned recently. “We have the ability to deal with this and we’re making all the necessary preparations to be ready for such a situation.”

According to the Sunday Times, “Israel’s armed forces have been ordered … to be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran.” Israel has previously acted against Iraqi nuclear development.

New York Times story on eavesdropping

According to the article:

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration and senior American intelligence officials quickly decided that existing laws and regulations restricting the government’s ability to monitor American communications were too rigid to permit quick and flexible access to international calls and e-mail traffic involving terrorism suspects. Bush administration officials also believed that the intelligence community, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the N.S.A., had been too risk-averse before the attacks and had missed opportunities to prevent them.

Europeans disingenuous on extraordinary rendition

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell reacted to European government outrage over extraordinary rendition in an interview with Sir David Frost on BBC World:

There’s a little bit of the movie Casablanca in this, where, you know, the inspector says ‘I’m shocked, shocked that this kind of thing takes place’.

Well, most of our European friends cannot be shocked that this kind of thing takes place… The fact that we have, over the years, had procedures in place that would deal with people who are responsible for terrorist activities, or suspected of terrorist activities, and so the thing that is called rendition is not something that is new or unknown to my European friends.

MI5 mole expelled from Sinn Fein

The story begins on 4 October 2002, when the Police Service of Northern Ireland conducted a raid on Sinn Fein offices in Stormont. Three people were arrested and charged for participation in an alleged Irish Republican Army spy ring. One of these, Denis Donaldson, “worked as a Sinn Fein Assembly Group administrator in Parliament Buildings at the time of the PSNI raid on Sinn Fein offices in October 2002, the so-called Stormontgate affair” and has confessed to being a mole for MI5 and now claims the alleged spy ring “was a scam and a fiction.”

But the allegations “led directly to the collapsing of the Northern institutions by David Trimble’s Ulster Unionists,” putting up a roadblock in the Northern Ireland Peace Process. The three accused have now been cleared, as Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions “suddenly announced that it was dropping all the charges against the trio on the grounds of ‘public interest,'” raising heated suspicions in the British parliament “what the DPP meant by ‘public interest'” and rumors spread “about the need to protect a high-placed informant…. With the fear that Donaldson’s name was about to leak out to the press and that by the weekend he would stand accused as the man the DPP had sought to protect, PSNI officers visited Donaldson’s West Belfast home to inform him that he was about to be unmasked as a long-term British agent. By late last Wednesday, Donaldson had made a statement to his solicitor and then faced a long night and day of questioning by comrades. As far as The Observer can establish, there was no use of physical violence to extract a ‘confession’ from the republican veteran.” Now that Donaldson has “confessed to 20 years of treachery, for working for the British security forces inside the republican movement, an admission that not long ago was the equivalent to signing your own death warrant,” it is the Unionists who are outraged; British Prime Minister Tony Blair had denied any knowledge of “why this prosecution was abandoned,” yet the Unionists claim that as “ultimate head of security,” Blair should have known “that Donaldson was an agent.”

[Sinn Fein’s] chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, said: “It is very, very clear from Sinn Fein’s perspective – and I think this is shared increasingly by many other people within our society – that there was a spy ring at Stormont, but it was a British spy ring controlled by securocrats, by people within the establishment who are hostile to the peace process.”

Meanwhile, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein explained that “[w]hat we believe was going on was a [MI5] spy ring at Stormont with the purposes of collapsing the institutions established under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement,” casting doubt on the British government’s sincerity in its participation in the Peace Process. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, the Irish government’s head of state, “described the whole ‘Stormontgate’ affair as ‘bizarre’ and said the latest twist was ‘as bizarre as it gets'” The British and Irish governments are supposed to be cooperating with Northern Irish Protestants/Unionists and Catholics/Republicans in creating a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. Ahern later elaborated, “This was a huge case, it doesn’t get much bigger than bringing down democratically elected institutions that people have voted for. What this is about I just don’t know.”

The Unionists are certainly right to be demanding an explanation from Tony Blair. “[Irish] Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern is to raise the issue with [British] Northern Secretary Peter Hain at talks which had already been arranged for Hillsborough on Monday.” But it’s worth noting that Donaldson’s repentence–“I deeply regret my activities with British Intelligence and RUC/PSNI Special Branch”–is apparently being taken at face value; even as Sinn Fein expelled Donaldson, Gerry Adams said he was under no threat from Republicans and that Donaldson had been about to be “outed” by the British.

Despite Adams’ assurances, Donaldson has fled; his “house in West Belfast was found abandoned, with informed sources saying there was no prospect of him returning to Ulster or the Republic of Ireland because of the risk of being killed…. [I]t is feared that individuals within the Republican movement would want to kill him in revenge for having been a British mole.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein is exposing more spies.

Bush unrepentant about domestic spying

President Bush made no apologies for authorizing “a secret eavesdropping programme in the US more than 30 times since the September 11 attacks and he lashed out at those involved in publicly revealing it.”

“This authorisation is a vital tool in our war against the terrorists. It is critical to saving American lives. The American people expect me to do everything in my power, under our laws and Constitution, to protect them and their civil liberties and that is exactly what I will continue to do as long as I am President of the US,” Bush said.

Revelations of the program in The New York Times were a lightning rod for criticism when the Senate failed to pass a motion of cloture to terminate a filibuster against the PATRIOT Act extension.

PATRIOT Act extension defeated in Senate

According to the Associated Press, “[t]he Senate voted 52-47 to advance a House-passed bill to a final vote, eight short of the 60 needed to overcome the filibuster backed by nearly all Senate Democrats and a handful of the 45 Republicans.” Revelations that the National Security Agency had been spying on individuals inside the United States were damning.

“Today’s revelation makes it crystal clear that we have to be very careful, very careful,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

No Republican defended the reported practice, and the bill’s chief Republican supporter joined in the criticism. “There is no doubt that this is inappropriate,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He pledged hearings in 2006.