It’s been six weeks now since it was discovered that the FBI had invented the existence of absolutely fake terrorist plots in order to grab American journalists’ phone records to find the source of a politically embarrassing leak.
The FBI avoided the use of a warrant thanks to the passage of the Patriot Act. A warrant would have required that an agent appeared before a judge to swear that she or he had a reason for snooping on American journalists, to verify that a terrorist plot existed, to avow that there was probable cause to believe a crime was being committed. The FBI had none of these. The FBI had bupkis. The FBI just wanted to find out the identity of an embarrassing leaker. It wouldn’t have been wise for the FBI to make a bold-faced lie to a federal judge in the hunt for an embarrassing leaker, because federal judges have the power to impose penalties. The FBI must have thanked its lucky stars for the passage of the Patriot Act, which lets the FBI simply assert the existence of fake terrorist plots to phone companies. When phone companies find out they’ve been lied to, they can’t do jack about it. Even though lying to get Americans’ phone records is still against the law, there’s no one any longer to hold the FBI to account for its lawbreaking…
…except for the Congress, that is. If the Congress chose to do something about the FBI’s lawbreaking, lying surveillance scheme, then it could. But the Congress hasn’t done anything. It’s six weeks now since the plot emerged. John Conyers‘ House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the matter, has not done a single thing in regards to the scandal. It hasn’t passed a bill. It hasn’t passed a resolution of censure. It hasn’t even held a hearing, and none is scheduled. A hearing on the trademarking of rum, on the other hand, has gotten onto the schedule of the House Judiciary Committee. There are priorities, after all.
Patrick Leahy‘s Senate Judiciary Committee, which also has jurisdiction over the matter, has not done a single thing in regards to the scandal. It hasn’t passed a bill. It hasn’t passed a resolution of censure. It hasn’t even held a hearing, and none is scheduled. A hearing on the merger of Comcast with NBC, on the other hand, has been held. Judiciary Committee member Al Franken is sticking his neck way out there, demanding, demanding! that Comcast make 30 Rock episodes available online. That’s what The People want.
Outside of the committee process, no member of Congress in either body has acted independently to write any bill addressing the FBI’s actions, tightening surveillance laws to prevent the FBI from abusing its authority, or even declaring the sense of the Congress that the FBI might want to obey the law in the future. Senator Russ Feingold indirectly referred to this problem in a speech last week, right before he went along with a unanimous consent decree to reauthorize the Patriot Act by a voice vote. Feingold’s indirect reference in one line of a speech the most that any of the 535 members of the United States Congress has done to address the illegal invention of terrorist plots to justify surveillance by the FBI. That’s it. That’s all. There’s nothing else.