FIGURING OUT FISA….PART 2….James Risen writes in the New York Times today about the recent changes to FISA:
Congressional aides and others familiar with the details of the law said that its impact went far beyond the small fixes that administration officials had said were needed to gather information about foreign terrorists. They said seemingly subtle changes in legislative language would sharply alter the legal limits on the government’s ability to monitor millions of phone calls and e-mail messages going in and out of the United States.
….For example, if a person in Indianapolis calls someone in London, the National Security Agency can eavesdrop on that conversation without a warrant, as long as the N.S.A.’s target is the person in London.
Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said Sunday in an interview that the new law went beyond fixing the foreign-to-foreign problem, potentially allowing the government to listen to Americans calling overseas.
But he stressed that the objective of the new law is to give the government greater flexibility in focusing on foreign suspects overseas, not to go after Americans.
“It’s foreign, that’s the point,” Mr. Fratto said. “What you want to make sure is that you are getting the foreign target.”
….The new law gives the attorney general and the director of national intelligence the power to approve the international surveillance, rather than the special intelligence court. The court’s only role will be to review and approve the procedures used by the government in the surveillance after it has been conducted. It will not scrutinize the cases of the individuals being monitored.
If I’m reading this right, the White House appears to be confirming that it believes the new law explicitly allows eavesdropping not just on foreigners talking to foreigners, but also on Americans talking to foreigners. All they have to do is claim that the real target is the foreigner and that a “significant purpose” of the eavesdropping is related to intelligence gathering. Not terrorism, mind you, just intelligence generically. What’s more, they don’t even have to go to the minimal trouble of making that claim to a court. They can just make it and approve it themselves.
So that’s that. The government is now legally allowed to monitor all your calls overseas with only the most minimal oversight. But don’t worry. I’m sure they’ll never misuse this power. They never have before, have they?