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Spitzer Bust Provides a Warning Regarding NSA Spying

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By Dave Lindorff

        I have no sympathy for New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the hot-shot prosecutor of call-girl operations who was hoist on his own petard, as it were. I mean, what a jerk! And aside from the hypocrisy, what a fine message he was sending to his three teenage daughters about the role of women.

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      Having said that, Spitzer's bust should give pause to those in Congress who are ready to hand President Bush a free pass to continue his six-year campaign of warrantless spying on Americans.

       We now know from yesterday's Wall Street Journal article that the spying Bush has been doing through the National Security Agency since early 2001 has included vast computer sweeps of not just internet and phone activity, but also bank and credit card transactions. These are sweeps of ordinary everyday people, with computers looking for odd transactions, or for codewords, or for transactions involving specific targeted organizations or addresses.

       What nailed Spitzer, we now learn, was a series of bank transactions he had with the bank account of the Emperor's Club VIP callgirl operation.

       Now reportedly, this particular investigation was being conducted by the IRS, which allegedly was investigating the Emperor's Club. Once the IRS discovered it had caught the New York governor in its web, it forwarded the case to the US Attorney General's Office, where it was pursued by the FBI, apparently on the instructions of AG Michael Mukasey. The investigation moved from monitoring the bank to monitoring phones, and Spitzer was captured talking to the Emperor's Club dispatcher. Bingo. Promising Democratic political career ruined.

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      Now the monitoring of the Emperor's Club was reportedly done with a court-ordered warrant. That's fine.

     But this case shows us how people can get caught up by this kind of investigation really quickly.

      Now imagine that instead of a call-girl operation, this had been a mosque or an international charity organization, and suppose you were someone who had made a call to ask about making donations to help the victims of the last earthquake in Indonesia? If that mosque, or charity, happened to be on the list of outfits being monitored by the NSA's computers, your call might well have been picked up. Then the focus would shift to your phone and your internet server, and conceivably every communication you made would be watched.

      This is the America we now live in. According to the Wall Street Journal, after a wave of national outrage forced the Bush administration to shut down its Total Information Awareness project at the Pentagon, Bush and Cheney simply moved their scheme to subject all telecommunications and bank transactions to computer monitoring over to the NSA.

      Since none of this spying activity is subject to court supervision and warrant requirements, we are left having to trust the personnel at the NSA, the so-called Justice Department, and the president and his administration, not to abuse it.

        Right. And think of the temptations!

       Want to know what the House leadership strategy is regarding renewal of the NSA wiretap authorization? Want to know whether the Congress is serious about imposing a time limit on troops in Iraq? Just start monitoring their emails and phones.

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      Want to make sure Democratic members of Congress go along with a war on Iran? Just monitor their phones and emails and catch them in conversations that are suitable for a little blackmail.

      Is this kind of thing happening? Well, I keep marvelling at the cowardly behavior of leading members of Congress like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Chair John Conyers. Maybe something is being held over their heads.

      We know that the prosecution and conviction of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman was an administration hit on a popular Democratic official. Siegelman is now in jail. Ditto Wisconsin state employee Georgia  Thompson. These blatant political prosecutions certainly weigh on the minds of all Democratic elected officials.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper www.thiscantbehappening.net. He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the (more...)
 

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