The Strangest Bedfellows
Imagine you're the acting head of the Department of Justice, and you had that title because your boss has been in an Intensive Care Unit struggling for his life for six days. You get a phone call late at night, and the caller tells you that the White House Counsel is on his way with the Chief of Staff to your boss's hospital bed with a paper to sign authorizing the continuation of a progamme you strenuously disagree with. Just before his hospitalization, you and your boss had decided the Vice President had been going way too far with his wiretapping/surveillance, and decided not to renew your support for it. Your entire department is willing to resign over the issue.
You immediately think the White House is trying to pull a fast one, so you call your security detail, you call the FBI Director and tell him to get armed agents to the room, and you get dressed. Your men pick you up, put on the lights and sirens, and race to the ICU of George Washington hospital, to the bedside of your boss. You sprint up the stairs, get there, and stand between the bed he's lying on and the window of his private room. You say hello in hushed tones to him and his wife, tell them why you're there, and you wait.
Moments later, the White House Counsel and Chief of Staff arrive, carrying a piece of paper and a pen for your boss to sign it with. Your boss, known for being a hawkish conservative and despised by the "Left," tells them to stuff it and that due to his illness, you're the Attorney General. At that moment, four FBI agents arrive, and they have orders to let no one be removed from the room involuntarily. The Counsel and the Chief of Staff are startled by the agents. They purse their lips, look at you, turn, and leave without saying another word.
Is this an episode of "24," of "Lost," a re-run of the "X-Files?" No. It all happened in 2004 over warrantless wiretapping. After a decent interval, you leave the hospital room and your cell phone rings. The Chief of Staff is livid, and demands a meeting with you in the White House. Immediately. You tell him you will not meet without a witness present. Later, in the light of day, you bring your witness, and you meet. They pressure you to sign the paper. You refuse, and soon resign your position.
The Bush Administration has been using domestic surveillance to listen not just to Al-Qaeda. It listens to all its political opponents. It records all the communications of Congress and its staffers that it can. That's a big reason why it's so difficult to get Congressional votes against its agendas. Alberto Gonzales was the White House Counsel in the story above. James Comey was the Deputy Attorney General who rushed to the hospital bed. Andrew Card was the White House Chief of Staff. John Ashcroft was the Attorney General fighting for his life. The security and FBI agents were some poor bastards rousted out of an evening. After Comey resigned, Alberto Gonzales took his place as head of the Justice Department. I should not have to connect the dots for you about what has been happening with surveillance since then.
The aftermath of this story is that Ashcroft resigned for health reasons and hasn't been heard from since. James Comey gave testimony to Congress about the events above this week. All phone calls of Congressional representatives that can be recorded and transcribed, are. Almost all phone conversations which pass through Western networks are being word-spotted, sifted, and graded. Up to and including yours and mine. This isn't paranoia. It's my business, and it's how new speech technology and the old paranoia of power works. In every situation where surveillance was legal, it has been applied to everything it could be. That's what criminals do when they're in power, and want to hang onto it.
Keep talking. Talk about whatever you want without fear, but be sure to throw in extra stuff about pulsating cabbages and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Become the surveilled. By doing so, you're jamming a paranoid power structure, making it spend more on its meaningless watching and twitching, and it'll just fall faster.
And big kudos to James Comey, personal friend of Patrick Fitzgerald, for his principled stand, his resignation, and his testimony in front of Congress. I'll even throw in a big hug to that bashful choir-singer John Ashcroft for raising his head off his pillow and telling the White House to f%#& off.