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Bush-Era Spying 'Made Legal' Under Obama
Security officials defend legality of government's top-secret surveillance system
Despite feigned outrage over the use of "illegal" surveillance techniques employed under the Bush administration, in the follow up to this week's news of a massive government surveillance system, revelations have come forth regarding President Obama's role in not only the expansion of existing surveillance methods but also of the codification of laws that permit the violation of Americans' civil liberties.
Speaking with Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace about what President Obama has done with surveillance programs inherited from the Bush administration, Michael Hayden, former director of both the NSA and CIA answered:
In terms of surveillance? Expanded [the programs] in volume, changed the legal grounding for them a little bit. [...]
We’ve gotten more of these records over time. With the amendment to the FISA Act, in 2008, which Senator Obama finally voted for, NSA is actually empowered to do more things than I was empowered to do under President Bush’s special authorization.
"We misunderstood Barack Obama years ago when he slammed the Bush administration for arbitrary intrusion in the privacy of citizens, in the name of the war on terrorism," writes political blogger Juan Cole, referencing the President's 2007 declaration that he would "provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our constitution and our freedom."
"No more illegal wiretapping of American citizens, he promised. But note that he didn’t say ‘no more wiretapping,’" Cole continues. "Apparently Obama only meant that he would pass laws and issue presidential decrees that allowed the government to violate civil liberties, so that the vast domestic surveillance was legal, in contrast to its illicit character under Bush. It isn’t the surveillance that he was promising to curtail."
In a statement issued Saturday, Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., defended the legality of the top-secret government surveillance program, PRISM, under Section 702 of FISA, as approved by Congress in 2008.
As the Washington Post reports:
Section 702 provides the post-911 legal framework for the “targeted acquisition” of intelligence about foreign persons outside the United States. The information can be obtained only under a FISA court order and a written directive from the attorney general and the director of national intelligence.
Under Section 702, the attorney general and director of national intelligence must show the FISA court that they have procedures “reasonably designed to ensure” that their intercepts will target foreigners “reasonably believed” to be overseas.
According to "lawmakers and company officials," this umbrella law allegedly permits the NSA to issue secret court orders that work as "one-time blanket approvals for data acquisition and surveillance on selected foreign targets for periods of as long as a year," the Post continues.
“Service providers supply information to the Government when they are lawfully required to do so,” Clapper added.
Also Saturday, a spokesman from Clapper's office told Reuters that the National Security Agency requested a criminal probe into the leak that revealed the NSA's secret surveillance programs. According to the reporting, the crimes report is now passed on to the Justice Department who will determine whether investigation is warranted.
Though a Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, Reuters reports that officials "expected the Justice Department to take the case," which comes as no surprise to many considering the current administration's "unprecedented attack" on whistleblowers to date.
As the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald—who largely broke the PRISM story—notes:
Ever since the Nixon administration broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychoanalyst's office, the tactic of the US government has been to attack and demonize whistleblowers as a means of distracting attention from their own exposed wrongdoing and destroying the credibility of the messenger so that everyone tunes out the message. That attempt will undoubtedly be made here.