Friday, February 29, 2008

Fact Checking can be Fun!

Newsweek has done a terrific story that I think you might find to be very very interesting.

I'm sure ya'll have noticed that there are ads running on TV and on Radio now that are slamming Congressional Democrats for their FISA votes. Congresswoman Boyda is one of them. I could link to the video, but I don't want to lend credibility to the lie.

The ads are run by a group called Defense of Democracies. I knew when I first saw the ad and the disclaimer at the bottom that it was probably a shady 527 run by the "rooty tooty republicans for less democrats society." Wow was I right.

"The ads began running Friday, Feb. 22 in 17 media markets targeting 15 Democratic members of the House. A national version was up and running Monday on the major cable networks, and it was expected to air for most of this week. It appeared during a commercial break in Tuesday night's MSNBC-sponsored debate between Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The group behind the ad, Defense of Democracies, was set up just last week. It was spun off from a nonprofit called Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which was formed after 9/11 and is headed by Clifford May, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee. The three listed members of the foundation's board of directors are Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of the business magazine Forbes and a Republican candidate for president in 1996 and 2000; Jack Kemp, candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988 and GOP nominee Bob Dole's running mate in 1996; and Jeane Kirkpatrick, best known as Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations. Kirkpatrick died in 2006, however. A few Democrats were sprinkled in among the parent group's advisers (as well as Democrat-turned-Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman), but several of the most prominent, including Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and Donna Brazile, the former campaign manager for Al Gore's presidential bid, have resigned because of this ad. Brazile issued a statement calling the ad campaign "misleading and reckless" and saying it would "have the effect of emboldening terrorists."

The piece moves forward to specifically target each word and detail the ways in which it is both misleading and includes important facts that the ad conveniently leaves out.

Narrator: Midnight. February 16. The law that lets intelligence agencies intercept al-Qaeda communications expires.
This is simply not true. First, if government eavesdroppers want to listen in on communications between two suspected terrorists who are outside the U.S., they can. That would likely include a lot of al-Qaeda-related chats. No warrant is necessary as long as the communication isn't intercepted over a wire in the U.S.

Second, even if one of the parties targeted for tapping is in the U.S., the government still can rely on the granddaddy of laws that deal with wiretapping as a foreign sleuthing tool, the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under FISA, intelligence-gatherers must apply to a special court for a warrant to tap the communications of a person in the U.S. The process can be cumbersome, although officials have said that court approval sometimes takes only minutes. And if there's an emergency and the government has strong evidence, the wiretap can proceed before an order is sought; authorities have up to 72 hours to get their application to the FISA court, which seldom swats the government down. Of the 2,181 applications made to the FISA court for authority to conduct electronic surveillance or physical searches in 2006, just one was denied, and only in part, according to the Justice Department's annual report on the statute.

What the ad's narrator really means is that a law updating and expanding FISA to make the government's work easier, which was passed last August, has expired. The Protect America Act was given a life of only six months because lawmakers wanted to put something in place while continuing to debate its civil liberties and national security implications before deciding whether to make it permanent. That's the law that vaporized on Feb. 16, with disagreements between the House and Senate still unresolved.

The Protect America Act, among other things, expanded the range of situations in which the government could operate without a FISA warrant. Controversy arose because the wording of the law could have allowed the government to wiretap the conversations and e-mails of Americans without a court order when targeting a foreigner abroad.

Narrator: Senate Democrats and Republicans vote overwhelmingly to extend terrorist surveillance. But the House refuses to vote and instead goes on vacation.

It's true that the Senate passed a bill replacing the Protect America Act, and it was largely to the White House's liking. It's not as though the House sat on its hands, however. It passed its own bill, the Restore Act, back in November.

The Bush administration opposes the House bill, as do its allies at Defense of Democracies, and the point of the ad is to pressure House members to accede to the Senate version...

I know this is a lot of information. But this is important. As we mentioned earlier today:

"The Senate bill would give telecommunications companies retroactive immunity from lawsuits arising from their cooperation with the Bush administration's post-9/11 intelligence-gathering program. In December 2005, the New York Times broke a story revealing that after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, President Bush secretly authorized a program that allowed the government to bypass FISA in pursuit of terrorists, even when collecting communications in the U.S. More than 40 lawsuits contending that the program was illegal and that telecom companies violated citizens' constitutional rights by participating in it are pending in federal court in California, consolidated from around the country. Bush has accused Democrats who oppose this immunity provision of shilling for the trial lawyers' bar, and he has cast the House Democrats as roadblocks on this issue almost daily...

Critics of the immunity provision point out that it provides blanket immunity and is not specifically targeted to lawsuits arising from the companies' cooperation with the post-9/11 program. Some suspect there may be another secret program that hasn't yet come to light. Telecom companies already have immunity for actions they take in connection with surveillance conducted under the law.
But wait... here's the golden part. This is where it gets crazy

The ad's play to public fear echoes the tactics used by the administration to put strong pressure on Congress. In an interview late last year with the El Paso Times, McConnell even went so far as to say that without quick approval of the law, "some Americans are going to die" because of continuing public discussion of the issue. The reporter asked McConnell how he makes the case that the new law is important.

El Paso Times: You have to do public relations, I assume?

McConnell: Well, one of the things you do is you talk to reporters. ... The fact we're doing it this way means that some Americans are going to die, because we do this mission unknown to the bad guys because they're using a process that we can exploit and the more we talk about it, the more they will go with an alternative means. ...

El Paso Times: So you're saying that the reporting and the debate in Congress means that some Americans are going to die?

McConnell: That's what I mean. Because we have made it so public.

Wow... I mean.... wow. Seriously.... what do you say to this? I think I just threw up a little in my mouth..... Anyone seen the movie The Lives of Others? Nice little German flick about what it was like living under communism... deserves a poignant mention.


Anonymous said...

thank you so much for this post...truly awesome!!

Anonymous said...

Wow its been nearly three days and we haven't seen hide nor hair of Christian Morgan in the comments section. Have you nothing to say? Maybe you're feeling a little guilty for putting your organization's name on that crappy little attack ad you guys put out knowing full well it was completely false.

Anonymous said...

To clarify, I am referring to the KS GOP's radio ad citing this same series of events, not the Defense of Democracies television ad.

This blog is not affiliated in any way with the Kansas Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Nancy Boyda, the Office of Congresswoman Nancy Boyda, or the campaign to re-elected Congresswoman Nancy Boyda. All commentary herein not directly attributed must be considered the opinion of the authors of this blog and not of any other individual, including Congresswoman Nancy Boyda.