• Obama expands use of unconstitutional secret courts; proceedings kept from American public
By Victor Thorn
When the Obama administration decides that a particular threat is “imminent” and requires a warrant to either electronically spy on suspects or launch drone attacks, officials seek approval from secret courts established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Passed by Congress in 1978 following the high-profile Church Committee hearings that revealed widespread bugging, wiretaps and other illegal activities committed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA), FISA was supposed to alleviate abuses of power by presidents and their henchmen.
Three decades later, not only has the executive branch become even more brazen in its activities, FISA decisions chronicled by AMERICAN FREE PRESS over the past few months still remain clouded in secrecy. Even more disturbing, when seeking warrants from clandestine FISA courts, government prosecutors don’t even need to provide evidence. They only need to bring up what they consider to be “relevant suspicions.” Those targeted by the feds in these secret, unconstitutional courts, aren’t notified of these hearings, nor are they present during court proceedings to defend themselves. Afterward, judges refuse to publicize summaries of their rulings.
FISA courts are currently presided over by 11 justices—all prosecutors, nine of them Republicans—each of whom was appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts. As AFP illustrated last month, Roberts’s ruling on the healthcare reform law known as Obamacare was highly suspect, potentially due to him being compromised.
Acting as little more than a rubber stamp for the president and his spook agencies, between 2001 and 2012 FISA courts approved 20,909 search warrants while only denying 10. During Obama’s last three years in office, not a single warrant has been rejected by FISA judges.
Consider how much power these justices wield. Over the past few decades they’ve overseen the trial of former Dick Cheney staffer Scooter Libby, who was accused of leaking the identity of a CIA agent in order to quash criticism of the Bush administration’s push for war on Iraq. They were involved in the trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted on charges of corruption and sentenced to prison. They also weighed in on the Whitewater scandal, Ruby Ridge, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Paula Jones’s sexual harassment case against Bill Clinton, the NSA’s order to tap Verizon’s phone records and limiting public access to Richard Nixon’s presidential documents.
Although negative reactions to NSA snooping and Internal Revenue Service witch hunts have crossed party lines, Democratic congressional leaders seem strangely silent on the secret court issue. Yet in 2005, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) floated the possibility of starting impeachment hearings against President Bush for his use of warrantless wiretaps.
Representative John Lewis (D-Ga.) went a step further in his objections to Bush’s use of secret courts.
“The president should abide by the law,” Lewis demanded. “He deliberately, systematically violated the law. He is not a king. He’s the president.”
Since Obama has far surpassed the transgressions committed by Bush and Cheney, shouldn’t Boxer and Lewis hold him to the same standard?
Obama Transparency Promise a Fraud
During a June 17 interview with PBS host Charlie Rose, President Barack Obama insisted that his secret FISA courts which authorize NSA surveillance requests are transparent. However, it’s difficult to be transparent about a subject if the majority of people don’t even know it exists.
For instance, how many Americans realize that a windowless courtroom lurks deep beneath the recently constructed U.S. Capitol Visitors Complex? In a March 2, 2009 article, the Washington Post’s Del Quentin Wilbur wrote of this congressional star chamber:
“Workers encased the [basement] room in reinforced concrete. Then came thick wood-and-metal doors that seal into the walls. Behind these walls they labored in secret for two years, building a courtroom, judge’s chambers and clerk’s office.”
Yet, if transparency was the rule, why did the most seasoned politicos in Washington, D.C. remain unaware of this project?
Further, if these courts function under the presumption of transparency, why are those subjected to FISA orders shackled by gag orders, not permitted to make a single copy of what these edicts withhold?
When approached from a different angle, Obama vowed in 2010 and 2011 to declassify a significant portion of FISA court rulings. Not surprisingly, this promise of transparency hasn’t been fulfilled, as all rulings remain immune from FOIA requests and other congressional inquiries.
Man Who Heckled Obama Apologist Speaks With AFP
On June 22, Netroots Nation, a loosely-affiliated network of liberal activists which hosts an annual media convention, invited Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to speak at an afternoon luncheon. After she delivered a tepid keynote address, attendees tore into Pelosi, hitting her with questions about the Obama administration’s ever-increasing surveillance state.
Amid boos and jeers as Pelosi defended NSA snooping, Mark Perkel, a progressive blogger and small business owner, yelled:
“No secret courts. No secret laws.” Moments later, guards pulled Perkel from the conference room.
On July 1, this writer contacted Perkel to understand why the crowd so vehemently opposed Pelosi’s views.
“Pelosi lied to everyone during her speech, and I couldn’t stand it any longer,” said Perkel. “She tried to convince us that what Obama is doing is nothing like what Bush did, but in fact, Obama’s reach is far greater. Pelosi called for Bush’s impeachment, but with Obama she took impeachment off the table.”
When asked about Pelosi’s reaction to being heckled by those most loyal to her, Perkel explained:
“She was shocked that this supposedly friendly crowd saw through her lies. It caught her off-guard. Now she has to tell Obama back in Washington that the people aren’t buying his lies about the NSA’s tactics making us safer.”
Perkel next described his motive for taunting Pelosi.
“As an Obama supporter, I feel completely scammed by what he’s doing,” said Perkel. “The entire left is in stunned disbelief that Obama is perpetuating the policies of George Bush. Once Obama took off his mask, beneath it was Dick Cheney. I did all this work to get Obama in office, and it’s like Dick Cheney’s still in the White House. I think Obama has done more to damage American credibility than Bush did, because the entire world believed his lies about hope and change.”
AFP inquired about the message sent that day.
“Pelosi tried to convince us that we need to voluntarily surrender our freedom,” said Perkel. “But the crowd clearly told her: We have no intention of doing that.”
Victor Thorn is a hard-hitting researcher, journalist and author of over 40 books.