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Senate floor debate on FISA

Senate work on amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has again begun in the Senate. Various amendments are being offered and debated. So far, they are:

  • Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Maryland) – FISA court oversight of NSA’s minimization procedures that the court had previously sanctioned. Rockefeller supports this amendment.
  • Senators Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) – John Tester (D-Montana) -Jim Webb (D-Virginia) – a measure for tagging and sequestering communications between foreign and U.S. sources, so that if there is no intelligence value to it it would not be used. It would still be available for analysis, but if it were used, the FISA court would be notified afterwards. The government would no longer be able to listen in at will on the communications of innocent Americans without any court oversight (warrantless wiretapping). This would at last, put some civil liberties protections on the mass gathering and surveilling all communications (phone and e-mail) U.S. to foreign or vice versa.
  • Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) – 4 year sunset of the new FISA, as it will be amended. Rockefeller supports the amendment. The National Security Agency resides in Maryland.
  • Senator Feingold (D-Wisconsin) – The FISA court could put information use limitations in place, if the information was illegally obtained, except in cases of emergency, or if the original error were corrected. It reinforces targeting only people outside the U.S. The Attorney General and DNI would be required to work to make the targeting and minimization procedures more protective of innocent Americans. Rockefeller opposes this amendment.

Update: For a great play by play of the debate go and read Marcy Wheeler’s Live Blogging of it at Empty Wheel.

Ironically the Justice Department has just issued a subpoena to the Pulitzer prize winning New York Times reporter Jim Risen, who first broke the story of the existence of the Terrorist Surveillance Program in December of 2005. The demand is that Risen reveal the original source of the leak about the TSP. Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com had the full story on Saturday and it was a chilling one. To quote:

Yesterday, the NYT reported that Jim Risen was served with a grand jury Subpoena, compelling him to disclose the identity of the confidential source(s) for disclosures in his 2006 book, State of War. The Subpoena seeks disclosure of Risen’s sources not for the NSA program (for which he and Lichtblau won a Pulitzer Prize), but rather, for Risen’s reporting on CIA efforts to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program. Nonetheless, Risen’s work on State of War is what led to his discovery that the Bush administration was illegally spying on Americans without the warrants required by law.

And there was another governmental action that could be chilling, if I were open to that. But I am used to it by now. Today there was a visit to my blog by a reader from the Department of State in Washington, who had followed a link pertaining to my recent writing about Senator Bond and his arguments about the FISA legislation. I am now more understanding of why our diplomacy is a bit thin. The Department is evidently, more interested in matters of foreign intelligence than in foreign relations.

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