Cheney, In "Nightline" Interview Tonight, Misleads And Spins About Surveillance Act Rules
Vice President Cheney says that if the U.S. had surveillance capability before Sept. 11, 2001, perhaps there wouldn't have been terrorist attacks that day.
It's a false claim.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requires a warrant or court order to conduct electronic surveillance. And from 1979 to 2002, the FISA court did not reject a single warrant, issuing 15,264.
President Bush's secret, warrant-less domestic surveillance program, which during his Saturday radio address he admitted to personally authorizing, did not give the National Security Agency any new capability. It just circumvented the rules, which say the NSA must obtain a warrant before proceeding.
But that doesn't stop Cheney from spinning things.
"And, in fact, it is a program that is, by every effort we've been able to make, consistent with the statutes and with the law. It's the kind of capability [that], if we'd had before 9/11, might have led us to be able to prevent 9/11," he said to ABC's Terry Moran, for a Nightline broadcast to air tonight.
Moran twice asks Cheney whether the administration needs permission from a court to "eavesdrop on communications in America."
Cheney sidesteps in his answer, in an effort to justify the Bush Administration's sidestepping of FISA rules. He twice indicates the Bush program has been reviewed by the Justice Department. He make a vague reference to the program being consistent with the USA Patriot Act. He offers that it has been "signed up to by the attorney general of the U.S."
And that the administration has "briefed Congress on it — just a few members, the leadership — on over a dozen occasions." In other words, the Republican leadership was in the know, and the rest of us were in the dark.
So why mislead?
Perhaps Cheney is spinning because he wants to give the conservative noise machine another reason not to blame the Bush Administration for 9/11. The 9/11 Commission placed blame on both the Bush and Clinton administrations, but that's not good enough for most conservatives -- they just want to blame Clinton.
A couple of weeks ago, conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham asked listeners what Clinton did to fight terrorism. "Nothing," she answered rhetorically, then corrected herself to say that Clinton did "bomb an aspirin factory." Then she made a reference to Monica Lewinsky, and laughed.
While that sort of ignorance fuels conservative talk radio, no doubt Cheney's interview tonight will only provide the Ingrahams of the world with more ammunition.