President Bush and his minions keep offering up "new and improved" (though already disproved) defenses for the NSA domestic spying operation.
David Sirota offers a terrific breakdown of the shifts from "it was legal" to "we needed to act faster" to "the paperwork was too hard."
Now we have a new White House strategy: straight-up lying. (Here's what Holden had to say about it).
Of course, GOP loyalists have been quick to follow the administration's lead. In fact, over the holidays I ran into prominent Republicans who dutifully mouthed the administration's talking points.
So, in case you, like me, run into Republicans in the course of your life -- or even if you only run into them on TV -- and feel the need for a quick response to set the record straight, here is a handy pocket guide.
Trying to prove that he wasn't acting unilaterally and without oversight, the president has taken to claiming that the spy program was "constantly reviewed by Justice Department officials" -- making it sound to all the world that the initiative had received the law enforcement community's seal of approval.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
As the New York Times has reported, there was widespread concern about the legality of the program at the Justice department, with a number of high-ranking officials raising objections to it, including deputy attorney general James Comey, who refused to sign off on its continuation. Comey's refusal prompted Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales (in his role as White House counsel) to go to the bedside of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was hospitalized for gallbladder surgery. But even Ashcroft had his doubts about the constitutionality of the program -- which tells you all you need to know about how dicey it really was.
Their concerns led the White House to add some restrictions to the program -- but these restrictions weren't actually very restrictive since they still allowed the NSA to listen in on whatever calls it wanted without having to get the approval of Justice Department officials.
So when Bush and company try to sell the idea that Justice was part of the no-warrant team, don't buy it. The program may have been "constantly reviewed" but it wasn't "approved."
Lie # 2:
Lie #2 is a companion to Lie #1's implication that everybody was on board with the spy program. It's the president's insistence that it was "reviewed by members of the United States Congress" and that it's "a program to which the Congress has been briefed."
Again, it sounds like the legislative branch was consulted and signed off on what the White House was doing. Again, not true.
Here are the facts: a very, very limited number of Senators and House members were briefed on the program -- with 14 of 535 senators and representatives receiving briefings over the last four years. What's more, those receiving these highly classified briefings were strictly prohibited from speaking about what they heard -- which kind of puts a crimp in one's ability to mount any opposition to the program. Former intelligence committee counsel Suzanne Spaulding offers chapter and verse on this "Congress has been briefed" smokescreen.
And getting briefed is a far, far, far cry from exerting oversight -- or even offering an opinion. As Tom Daschle puts it, "We were told we were being informed and not consulted."
Indeed, as Media Matters points out: "Of the seven Democratic lawmakers known to have been briefed by the program, three objected at the time and three more say they weren't given adequate information about the program." Jay Rockefeller put his objections into a letter to Dick Cheney, saying the program raised "profound oversight issues." Nancy Pelosi also put her concerns in writing. Bob Graham says his briefing left out any mention that the NSA would be listening in on calls of U.S. citizens. Even Jane Harman, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, and a supporter of the program, told me over the weekend that she wants to introduce legislation to curb its excesses.
So much for the idea that Congress actually had a hand in this.
Bush has repeatedly attempted to underplay the reach of the spy operation. "This is a limited program," he claimed recently, "designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America. And I repeat, limited. And it's limited to calls from outside the United States to calls within the United States."
Hogwash. First of all, it's not true that the program was "limited to calls from outside the U.S." Even the White House admits that the NSA listened in on calls initiated in the U.S. too.
Second, I don't know about you, but the fact that the NSA has eavesdropped on thousands of people doesn't strike me as "limited."
And how does that stat jibe with the president's claim that the warrantless wiretaps were "limited" to "known numbers of al Qaeda members or affiliates"? Are there really thousands of known al Qaeda members or affiliates in the U.S.?
Plus, the program allowed the NSA to tap into our telecommunication system's main arteries, creating what the New York Times termed "a large data-mining operation."
I guess it all depends on what your definition of "limited" is. And of "reviewed." And of "briefed." And of "lying through your teeth."
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