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Well, we know what the administration thinks about the Dems' surveillance bill. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, as you'd expect, has a different take.

Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney with EFF, told me that the group is "very glad that the House leadership has taken a courageous stand against the administration's demands for telecom amnesty." Bankston is one of the lead attorneys in EFF's class action suit against AT&T for illegal spying.

"We've been advocating that the only reasonable compromise is a solution to the state secrets problem, where the government prevented the telecoms from putting forward their defense" he said. "It will guarantee that the courts actually rule on the heart of the issue: did the telecoms break the law?"

"So we're very pleased that the House has listened to us."

A statement from Senate intelligence committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) on the House's bill:

“I have worked hard in recent weeks to reconcile the differences between the Senate and House FISA bills and produce legislation that strengthens intelligence collection against foreign terrorist targets and addresses liability protection for telecommunications companies. Regrettably, the Administration and Republicans chose to boycott these discussions and refused to play a constructive role in producing such a bill that could have strong bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House.



“Today’s House proposal reflects progress in bringing the two bills together, and it is a step in the right direction. But, considerable work remains.



“I continue to believe that the Senate FISA bill can be made even better through a limited number of changes, such as a shorter sunset, strengthened exclusivity, and improved accountability – modifications that in no way inhibit the collection authorities needed by the Intelligence Community.



"As soon as the House sends us this new bill, we will once again roll up our sleeves and get back to work on a final compromise that the House, Senate and White House can support."


Rockefeller's support, of course, would be essential for any compromise bill to carry the Senate. But he's supported retroactive immunity for the telecoms and it appears from his statement that he's got a number of problems with the House bill.

You knew that the administration wouldn't like the House Democrats' new surveillance bill. And indeed they don't. This afternoon, Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell released a statement criticizing the bill, saying that "we are concerned that the proposal would not provide the Intelligence Community the critical tools needed to protect the country."

They focused on the bill's requirement for warrants to precede surveillance and the lack of retroactive immunity for telecoms as two particular areas of "concern."

They also don't like the two-year sunset period set out for the bill, saying that the "uncertainty created by a short sunset does not provide the stability needed for intelligence operations." And that congressional commission to investigate the program? They don't like that either, saying that it would only "redo the extensive oversight done by the intelligence committees in Congress over the past two years."

They conclude:

“We remain prepared to continue to work with Congress towards the passage of a long-term FISA modernization bill that would strengthen the Nation's intelligence capabilities while protecting the constitutional rights of Americans, so that the President can sign such a bill into law.”


And what do the Dems have to say to all this? Here's a statement just out from House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) and House intelligence committee Chair Silvestre Reyes (D-TX):

“The Administration, which has refused to even attend negotiation sessions between the House and the Senate, has now apparently launched another round of scare tactics and falsehoods. The American people expect government officials to wrestle with these difficult issues and reach common sense solutions that protect Americans from terrorism and preserve our civil liberties. Unfortunately, the President’s advisors seem more inclined to issue ‘my way or the highway’ press releases concerning a bill the Administration hasn’t even read. The Congress will continue to give this issue the careful consideration it deserves and we hope the Administration will change course and join us in this effort.”

In his statement announcing his resignation today, Adm. William Fallon "cited the disrespect of the President in a recent magazine article, the resulting embarrassment, perceptions of differences between his views and Administration Policies and the resulting distraction from CENTCOM missions."

That article, of course, was Thomas P.M. Barnett's 7,500-word hagiographical profile of Fallon in this issue of Esquire. Below are the key excerpts to give you an idea of why Fallon might have been so uncomfortable with it:

[W]hile Admiral Fallon's boss, President George W. Bush, regularly trash-talks his way to World War III and his administration casually casts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as this century's Hitler (a crown it has awarded once before, to deadly effect), it's left to Fallon-and apparently Fallon alone-to argue that, as he told Al Jazeera last fall: "This constant drumbeat of conflict . . . is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions."

What America needs, Fallon says, is a "combination of strength and willingness to engage."

Those are fighting words to your average neocon-not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to "nuclear holocaust."

How does Fallon get away with so brazenly challenging his commander in chief?

The answer is that he might not get away with it for much longer. President Bush is not accustomed to a subordinate who speaks his mind as freely as Fallon does, and the president may have had enough….

…well-placed observers now say that it will come as no surprise if Fallon is relieved of his command before his time is up next spring, maybe as early as this summer, in favor of a commander the White House considers to be more pliable. If that were to happen, it may well mean that the president and vice-president intend to take military action against Iran before the end of this year and don't want a commander standing in their way.


And later in the piece:

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Just out from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on the resignation of Admiral William Fallon as commander of CENTOM:

“I am concerned that the resignation of Admiral William J. Fallon, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and a military leader with more than three decades of command experience, is yet another example that independence and the frank, open airing of experts’ views are not welcomed in this Administration.



“It is also a sign that the Administration is blind to the growing costs and consequences of the Iraq war, which has so damaged America’s security interests in the Middle East and beyond. Democrats will continue to examine these matters very closely in the coming weeks and months.”

You know that EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson is no slouch at rebuffing Congressional inquiries. He's never met a question he couldn't talking-point his way through. And his staff is quite skilled at redaction.

Ever since Johnson made his decision (against the advice of his legal and technical staff) to reject California's petition to pass strict greenhouse gas emission rules for cars and trucks, House sleuth Henry Waxman (D-CA) has been on his case. Back in February, Waxman issued a subpoena to compel the EPA to turn over certain documents. It did. Now he's on the verge of issuing his second subpoena of the investigation (pdf), as he wrote in a letter yesterday to Johnson.

That's because Waxman and his staff have been engaged in prolonged negotiations with the EPA over documents, but patience is wearing thin. The EPA, citing an “Executive Branch confidentiality interest" because the documents "reflect internal deliberations and/or attorney-client communications," has been busily redacting pages. And they also continue to withhold "communications between EPA and the White House and the Department of Justice," Waxman writes -- "hundreds of documents" worth. Johnson has refused to discuss any communications with the White House about the California waiver.

If Johnson doesn't respond with an indication of when Waxman can expect more documents by tomorrow afternoon, he writes, then he'll be forced to consider another subpoena.

This afternoon, the House is set to attempt an override of President Bush's veto of the intelligence authorization bill late last week. Bush vetoed the bill, remember, because it would have prevented the CIA from using "enhanced interrogation" techniques. Critics -- Dems, military and national security experts among them -- say that the CIA's program has accomplished nothing more than destroying the U.S.'s image in the world.

The House, of course, would require a two-thirds majority to override the veto. We'll let you know how it goes.

As The New York Times reports this morning, the House leadership's draft proposal for a surveillance bill contains a provision that would reject giving retroactive immunity to the telecoms. Instead, it would give the courts authorization to hear the classified material at issue in the case -- in essence disposing with the administration's claim of the state secrets privilege. I had a senior House aide walk me through the proposal, which is sure to infuriate the administration.

I outlined the other aspects of the Dems' draft bill on Friday. The Times adds that the proposal would create "a bipartisan Congressional commission with subpoena power to issue a report on the surveillance programs." That would be in addition to a provision requiring an audit of the warrantless wiretapping program by the Department of Justice's inspector general, the aide told me.

So here's how that telecom suit provision would work. The lawsuits against the telecoms for participation in the warrantless wiretapping program are currently tied up in court because the government has asserted the state secrets privilege. It's a state of affairs that the telecoms themselves are not happy with, as Wayne Watts, AT&T's general counsel, wrote in a letter to lawmakers last October:

When the subject matter of the litigation involves allegations of highly classified intelligence activities, private parties are disabled from making the factual showing necessary to demonstrate that the cases lack legal merit. If the courts do not swiftly dismiss such cases based on the state secrets privilege, then carriers who are alleged to have cooperated with intelligence activities are faced with years of litigation, at great financial and reputation cost, and are forced to remain mute in the face of extreme allegations, no matter how false.


The House bill seeks to solve this problem by giving the judges hearing these cases authorization to view the classified documents at issue in the case. Here, those would be the orders from the president claiming that the warrantless wiretaps were legal.

The aide said that the provision followed the same guidelines as the FISA law authorized in criminal cases where a defendant was seeking to contest classified information. The judges are required, to the extent they can, provide the plaintiffs information. He explained: "you don't want the plaintiffs to receive classified information they're not entitled to, but you do want an adversarial process here."

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The Antoin "Tony" Rezko trial has focused attention on a "vaguely worded" e-mail that alludes to Barack Obama's role in empowering a state health planning board that Rezko allegedly packed with associates - many of whom made political contributions to Obama. At the time that the e-mail was written, the board was set to expire and Obama was chairman of the Illinois Senate’s health committee. (New York Times)

The Washington Monthly features 37 short essays on torture. Though the contributors are from across the political spectrum, the unifying message of the articles" is, "simply, Stop." (Washington Monthly)

A new report from Human Rights First, entitled "Tortured Justice" criticizes "the use of evidence tainted by torture and other inhuman treatment" in the cases against detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The report also states that the use of such evidence is "tainting the legitimacy of the proceedings, both at home and in the eyes of the international community; alienating US allies and empowering terrorists." (AFP)

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If there's one thing the Bush Administration has demonstrated, it's the difficulty of proving a negative.

It took a number of months after the invasion of weapons inspectors crawling all over Iraq to show that Saddam Hussein did not, in fact, have weapons of mass destruction. And it's time to chalk up another victory for completeness.

A good portion of those 935 false statements uttered by administration officials in the run-up to the invasion had to do with claims of Iraq ties to Al Qaeda. That was, in part, thanks to the intelligence shenanigans of Doug Feith at the Pentagon, but of course it was an administration-wide mentality. Which explains that even after the 9/11 Commission found that there was no significant relationship, they kept on pleading the point.

Well, I think it's time to finally consider this negative proven:

An exhaustive review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents that were captured after the 2003 U.S. invasion has found no evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had any operational links with Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network.

The Pentagon-sponsored study, scheduled for release later this week, did confirm that Saddam's regime provided some support to other terrorist groups, particularly in the Middle East, U.S. officials told McClatchy. However, his security services were directed primarily against Iraqi exiles, Shiite Muslims, Kurds and others he considered enemies of his regime.

The new study of the Iraqi regime's archives found no documents indicating a "direct operational link" between Hussein's Iraq and al Qaida before the invasion, according to a U.S. official familiar with the report.


So what's next?

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