Traitor in Chief

bruce_schneier has a good, long article and collection of links on the latest antics: The Security Threat of Unchecked Presidential Power.
[Yoo's memo is] a dense read and a terrifying piece of legal contortionism, but it basically says that the president has unlimited powers to fight terrorism. He can spy on anyone, arrest anyone, and kidnap anyone and ship him to another country ... merely on the suspicion that he might be a terrorist. And according to the memo, this power lasts until there is no more terrorism in the world.

This is indefinite dictatorial power. And I don't use that term lightly; the very definition of a dictatorship is a system that puts a ruler above the law. In the weeks after 9/11, while America and the world were grieving, Bush built a legal rationale for a dictatorship. Then he immediately started using it to avoid the law.

This is, fundamentally, why this issue crossed political lines in Congress. If the president can ignore laws regulating surveillance and wiretapping, why is Congress bothering to debate reauthorizing certain provisions of the Patriot Act? Any debate over laws is predicated on the belief that the executive branch will follow the law.

And isn't it nice that the New York Times sat on this story for a full year before publishing it? They knew about this before the election! And earlier this month, when they finally decided to run the story (and only decided to do so to avoid being scooped by a book by one of their own reporters!):

On Dec 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president's desperation. [...] Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story -- which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year -- because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker.
Tags: , ,

33 Responses:

  1. karlshea says:

    Not even suprised.

  2. moof says:

    there's an LA times article (unctuous registration required) that says the only reason the NYT published it was because the reporter's book about the subject was coming out anyway.

  3. So... the question is, what can really be done, though?

    From wikipedia, because I'm not even going to pretend I remember this shit:

    Impeachment

    Procedurally, it is a two-step process. The House of Representatives must first pass "articles of impeachment" by a simple majority. The articles of impeachment constitute the formal allegations. Upon their passage, the defendant has been "impeached."

    Next, the Senate tries the accused. In the case of the impeachment of a President, the Chief Justice of the United States presides over the proceedings. Otherwise, the Vice President, in his capacity of President of the Senate, or the President pro tempore of the Senate presides. This would include the impeachment of the Vice President him- or herself. In order to convict the accused, a two-thirds majority of the Senators present is required.

    Procedurally, it is a two-step process. The House of Representatives must first pass "articles of impeachment" by a simple majority. The articles of impeachment constitute the formal allegations. Upon their passage, the defendant has been "impeached."

    Next, the Senate tries the accused. In the case of the impeachment of a President, the Chief Justice of the United States presides over the proceedings. Otherwise, the Vice President, in his capacity of President of the Senate, or the President pro tempore of the Senate presides. This would include the impeachment of the Vice President him- or herself. In order to convict the accused, a two-thirds majority of the Senators present is required.

    Following conviction, the Senate may vote to punish the individual only by removing him from office, or by barring him from holding future office, or both. Alternatively, it may impose no punishment. However in the case of executive officers, removal follows automatically upon conviction. The defendant remains liable to criminal prosecution. It is possible to impeach someone even after the accused has vacated his office in order to disqualify the person from such emoluments of office as a pension.

    Now what are the chances this is ever going to happen with the current Senate and House? Even if the Democrats got a majority in 2006? We're talking two thirds here. I guess there's always the chance that future fuckups are on the way to such a degree that the Republicans will just want to pack it up and cut all ties with Bush, but what ELSE COULD EVEN HAPPEN TO MAKE THIS A REALITY? I don't want to think about it. The post-presidential impeachment bitchslap does sound kind of nice. I didn't even know they could do that!

    ... The more you know ...

    • ctd says:

      My personal hope regarding that two-thirds is that enough of the Great American Voting Mass will be moved by:

      -The desire to be tough on crime
      -Ire over an Ivy League fancypants who thinks he's special
      -The plethora of Godwin's Law arguments coming down the pike

      • strspn says:

        DailyKos is a great place to strategize, but there are so many people there these days that it's hard to skip the fluff and misinfo. MyDD, Kos's "blogfather" is perhaps better in that respect, but doesn't have as many breaking news and action items that anyone can do.

      • Well, what else is there to talk about when the President is breaking the law? Man, this sucks, we have a King now. Oh well. Let's go get a soda!

        Oh yeah, and don't even THINK ABOUT IT. Seriously. Don't even think about it. There's laws against that too. Or course laws don't matter when the COUNTRY IS IN DANGER!!!!!

        *** I AM NOT THREATENING THE PRESIDENT ***

    • dojothemouse says:

      Successful impeachment & conviction isn't the only benefit to be gained from an impeachment attempt. It might, temporarily, impair the Republican legislative & executive branches ability to do more fucked up shit.

      So it's not necessarily a good idea, but it's not a bad idea just because they wouldn't get 2/3.

    • paisleychick says:

      Here's an idea....

      We wait until next year when the Democrats regain controll of Congress, thus making Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House. Then we can impeach both Bush & Cheney. With them out of the picture, we have our first female President - from San Francisco, no less....

      Seems like a pipe dream, and probably is.

  4. dojothemouse says:

    There is solid evidence that the terrorists might attack polling places.

    They should postpone elections until we've found all the terrorists.

  5. gargargar says:

    Bush made it very clear what is required to perform a wiretap on 4/20/2004. I realize that ignorance of the law is no defense, but surely there's some gold star labeled "premeditated" that we can hang on this one.

  6. kallisti says:

    Here is the article, posted here with the paranoia that maybe the US government might force it off if Ars Technica they knew about it...Here's an excerpt:

    http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20051220-5808.html
    http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20051220-5808.html

    The new technology at the root of the NSA wiretap scandal

    12/20/2005 12:38:54 PM, by Hannibal

    "CALEA opened up a huge can of worms, and PGP creator Phil Zimmermann sounded the alarm back in 1999 about where the program was headed:

    "A year after the CALEA passed, the FBI disclosed plans to require the phone companies to build into their infrastructure the capacity to simultaneously wiretap 1 percent of all phone calls in all major U.S. cities. This would represent more than a thousandfold increase over previous levels in the number of phones that could be wiretapped. In previous years, there were only about a thousand court-ordered wiretaps in the United States per year, at the federal, state, and local levels combined. It's hard to see
    how the government could even employ enough judges to sign enough wiretap orders to wiretap 1 percent of all our phone calls, much less hire enough federal agents to sit and listen to all that traffic in real time. The only plausible way of processing that amount of traffic is a massive Orwellian application of automated voice recognition technology to sift through it all, searching for interesting keywords or searching for a particular speaker's voice. If the government doesn't find the target in the first 1
    percent sample, the wiretaps can be shifted over to a different 1 percent until the target is found, or until everyone's phone line has been checked for subversive traffic. The FBI said they need this capacity to plan for the future. This plan sparked such outrage that it was defeated in Congress. But the mere fact that the FBI even asked for these broad powers is revealing of
    their agenda."

    Read the quote above carefully, and see if it doesn't ring any bells for you. The salient points that Zimmermann makes are these:

    * In 1995, back when the Pentium Pro was hot stuff, the FBI requestedthe legal authorization to do very high-volume monitoring of digital calls.
    * There's no way for the judicial system to approve warrants for the number of calls that the FBI wanted to monitor.
    * The agency could never hire enough humans to be able to monitor that many calls simultaneously, which means that they'd have to use voice recognition technology to look for "hits" that they could then follow up on with human wiretaps.

    It is entirely possible that the NSA technology at issue here is some kind of high-volume, automated voice recognition and pattern matching system. Now, I don't at all believe that all international calls are or could be monitored with such a system, or anything like that. Rather, the NSA could very easily narrow down the amount of phone traffic that they'd have to a
    relatively small fraction of international calls with some smart filtering.

    First, they'd only monitor calls where one end of the connection is in a country of interest. Then, they'd only need the ability to do a roving random sample of a few seconds from each call in that already greatly narrowed pool of calls. As Zimmermann describes above, you monitor a few seconds of some fraction of the calls looking for "hits," and then you move on to another fraction. If a particular call generates a hit, then you zero in on it for further real-time analysis and possible human interception. All
    the calls can be recorded, cached, and further examined later for items that may have been overlooked in the real-time analysis.

    In a recent press conference, Deputy Director for National Intelligence Michael Hayden said the following (via Defensetech):

    And here the key is not so much persistence as it is agility. It's a quicker trigger. It's a subtly softer trigger. And the intrusion into privacy -- the intrusion into privacy is significantly less. It's only international calls. The period of time in which we do this is, in most cases, far less than that which would be gained by getting a court order."

    • jwjr says:

      Now, I don't at all believe that all international calls are or could be monitored with such a system, or anything like that. Rather, the NSA could very easily narrow down the amount of phone traffic that they'd have to a
      relatively small fraction of international calls with some smart filtering.

      Don't know why you don't believe it, but consider that this is likely to be a good example of a problem to which Moore's law applies. Feasibility today of monitoring 1% in an automated way implies likely feasibility of monitory 100% in approximately 10 years at the same cost in hardware.

      It seems to me likely to the point of near-inevitability that within at most a couple of decades such real-time voice recognition based monitoring and keyword searches will be feasible and affordable to the NSA on pretty much all the voice traffic they can get their hands on, up to all that there is.

      Human beings are not exponentially increasing their verbal output. The average person only emits so many words or symbols per day, whether spoken, written, typed or what have you. Having a computer log and process in real-time all of those words that a microphone or key logger can capture *is* still becoming exponentially cheaper. The storage capacity is going up even faster, so it should be possible to start even sooner by capturing a backlog, opportunistically doing only the most suspect stuff in real-time, and eventually catch up to real-time for all of it.

      • wilecoyote says:

        But isn't this how ECHELON already operates, according to those who have been dennouncing its existence? Massive surveillance and computer-based pattern recognition, I mean. I don't know why you guys are talking about it as something that is still to come "in a couple of decades" or that "is being implemented right now", if supposedly ECHELON has been working for decades (unless, of course, all those reports about ECHELON are overinflated and this is really Something New).

        • jwjr says:

          Yes, but I don't think anyone has authoritatively stated that ECHELON manages to process all the voice traffic it gets its hands on in real time. Rather I think most people hypothesize that they work on subsets of interest until they narrow down the search. There has been some hinting around that maybe the main goal is trying to match some kind of voice signature.

          My point was that even they can only do, say, 1% at a time today, they'll be able to do 100% within about 10 years. And in fact 1% was batted around as a ballpark guess 10 years ago, so perhaps that moment is now. The main thing is that this is probably coming sometime soon, even if they don't have it already.

          • scolbath says:

            Not bad reasoning. I think you've captured it in your first paragraph. I tend to get irked by the whole Echelon paranoia -- I believe it really refers to the network of capture stations more than anything else.

            I actually work in the speech recognition industry, so allow me to introduce some actual figures:

            The best recognizers in the world (research, mind you, not products) score about 60% accurate on conversational, narrowband speech (i.e. chat over phone lines) and about 85% accurate on read, wideband speech (i.e. tv news). Let's assume you obtain this accuracy rate running on a dual-core Xeon 3ghz machine (approx $2k) -- largely true. You'd be VERY VERY lucky to really achieve that 60% rate out of the lab.

            If you wanted to capture "everything" (for some values of everything) and run real-time alerting on it for specific keywords, which is what Echelon is purported to do. If "everything" is 100,000 simultaneous channels, that's about $200m of hardware -- not unreasonable, but not insignificant either. I actually think the channel number is far too conservative.

            But at 60% Word Error Rate, you will be getting 4 out of 10 words *wrong* -- generating a stunning False Alarm rate. Remember, every FA is something a HUMAN would have to look at. You'll also miss an equivalent number of real hits, as well.

            Obviously, you can do better if you just focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan, or on certain phone numbers, etc. The true tinfoil hatters may say "well, clearly the NSA has VASTLY superior speech recognition software". Possibly, but I have no way of evaluating that claim, other than to say: those recognition rates are evaluated yearly based on results provided by the best academic and industrial groups in the world. The funding to attain those results is provided largely by the DoD. If you think that the NSA has somehow magically managed to hit a 99% accuracy rate using some special sauce, well, here is your roll of tinfoil :-)

            Where we'll be in 10 years is anyone's guess.

  7. transgress says:

    (i hadnt read 'Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act')

    One interesting thing of the FISA is that it contradicts itself:

    Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year if the Attorney General certifies in writing under oath that-

    (A) the electronic surveillance is solely directed at-

    (i) the acquisition of the contents of communications transmitted by means of communications used exclusively between or among foreign powers, as defined in section 1801 (a)(1), (2), or (3) of this title; or

    (ii) the acquisition of technical intelligence, other than the spoken communications of individuals, from property or premises under the open and exclusive control of a foreign power, as defined in section 1801 (a)(1), (2), or (3) of this title;

    (B) there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party; and

    However if you look at section 1801(a)(2):

    (2) a faction of a foreign nation or nations, not substantially composed of United States persons;

    So here we define a foreign power as something not 'substantially composed of' United States persons, meaning that a foreign power can include United States persons, however we also say we cannot spy on a United States person, but then we are at a loss for definition of foreign power because of the conflicting directives.

    Either way, its fucked. (the spying that is)

    • greyface says:

      If that contradiction were significantly direct to be insoluable to the law, a really minute amount of modern law would stand.

      As it happens, spying on the US Citizen members of a foreign power requires more scrutiny and oversight than spying on the non-US-Citizen members of a foreign power. And all the happy laws sit down and have tea together tra-la-la.

      "seeming to contradict" just means that the living interpretive elements of being a judge come to play. Thankfully, judges are expected to understand and interpret the language, rather than simply parse and apply it.

  8. mapzter says:

    I really like that Dick Cheney is defending this, by saying it's a decision to rebuild parts of the president's power, which was weakened after Watergate.

  9. otterley says:

    And isn't it nice that the New York Times sat on this story for a full year before publishing it? They knew about this before the election!

    Last I checked, Presidential elections were held in November, not December. According to my calendar, then, by the time the NY Times knew about the order, the election was long over.

    • jwz says:

      From the LA Times article:

      But two journalists, who declined to be identified, said that editors at the paper were actively considering running the story about the wiretaps before Bush's November showdown with Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

  10. spoonyfork says:

    This is probably an old joke but I just found out about it today on total accident while looking for the Worst President Ever cafepress store. If you google for "worst president ever", the first link returned is the W bio on the White House website. I found this rather amusing in a puerile way.

  11. lohphat says:

    How about the 1973 War Powers Act? There are others as well which the numbed sheep of the public condone by inaction.

    Popular government is dead.