Friday, March 10, 2006

Snooping whitewashed

"Lapdogs" is the kindest description for members of Congress who've bailed President Bush out of deliberate violations of the 1978 post-Watergate law prohibiting government eavesdropping without a warrant.

Republicans of the Senate Oversight Committee on Intelligence cancelled an investigation of lawless wiretapping, and they've given the go-ahead to more snooping with promises the White House will be watched more closely. That must make President Bush tremble.

Brushing aside the law enacted after President Nixon's abuses to rein in rogue presidential conduct is arrogance that leaves U.S. civil liberties in ribbons.

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas explained the retreat from intelligence oversight responsibility was because the White House would not allow its eavesdropping, however illegal and unauthorized, to be compromised. Outrageous.

So, where does this leave the super-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance judges who must authorize wiretaps?

Presumably, President Bush and his agents will continue on their merry way, deciding when the Fourth Amendment protecting citizens against unreasonable searches and seizure is worth obeying, but otherwise bugging and searching wherever, whenever they decide.

How secure are ordinary citizens? The FBI on Thursday reported 100 violations of the Patriot Act, including tapping the wrong telephones, continuing a tap for more than a year after a warrant expired, and listening to 181 calls rather than obtaining billing records as planned.

With compliant Republicans willing to rationalize and bless presidential lawlessness, midnight no-knock visits by federal agents surely are in our future.

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