Obama’s new FBI chief approved Bush’s NSA warrantless wiretapping scheme
James Comey becomes just the latest symbol of the Obama legacy: normalizing what was very recently viewed as radical
Thursday 30 May 2013
One of the biggest scandals of the Bush administration (which is really saying something) began on December 16, 2005. That was when the New York Times’ James Risen and Eric Lichtblau were finally allowed to reveal what they had learned more than a year earlier: namely, that President Bush, in 2002, had ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on the electronic communications of US citizens without first obtaining warrants from the FISA court as required by 30-year-old criminal law. For the next three years, they reported, the NSA “monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants.” The two NYT reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for that story.
To say that progressives and liberals bellowed sustained outrage over that revelation is to understate the case. That NSA program was revealed less than two months after I first began writing about political issues, and I spent the next full year overwhelmingly focused on that story, and also wrote my first book on it. In progressive circles, the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program was the pure symbol of Bush/Cheney radicalism and lawlessness: they secretly decided that they were empowered to break the law, to commit what US statutes classified as felonies, based on extremist theories of executive power that held that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, was entitled under Article II of the Constitution to eavesdrop however he wanted in the name of national security, even if it meant doing exactly that which the law forbade.
The FISA law provided that anyone who eavesdrops without the required warrants – exactly what Bush officials did – is committing a felony “punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both” – for each offense. Moreover, all three federal judges who actually ruled on the merits of the Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program concluded that it violated the law.