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The Senate intelligence committee's surveillance bill is hot off the presses, and our crack team of overworked TPMm interns is hard at work adding it to our Document Collection.

You can read the bill here and use the comment thread to highlight what you think is notable.

Adm. Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, isn't saying straight out whether or not he supports the Senate intelligence committee's surveillance bill. While it might seem as if the bill -- the text of which is still unavailable -- gives McConnell even more latitude to conduct surveillance than his cherished Protect America Act does, McConnell is playing it close to the vest.

"Our FISA team will look closely at the wording of the bill to make sure it does not have unintended consequences," says McConnell spokesman Ross Feinstein. "We will continue to work on a bipartisan basis to make sure any FISA modernization bill meets the requirements that the [director of national intelligence] has set."

The Washington Post reported yesterday that McConnell was on board with the bill. But it looks like the DNI is wary of committing himself to anything yet. The last time McConnell indicated his approval of a congressional surveillance measure, after all, it didn't turn out so well.

Over at Wired's Threat Level blog, Ryan Singel takes a look at how generous the telecommunication companies have been to Senate intelligence committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). As Singel notes, Rockefeller had received very little in contributions from the telecoms through last year. But that "changed around the same time that the companies began lobbying Congress to grant them retroactive immunity from lawsuits seeking billions for their alleged participation in secret, warrantless surveillance programs that targeted Americans."

He provides a vivid illustration:



Last month, Newsweek reported on the power lobbyists who've been working hard for the telcos to get an immunity provision.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before the FBI opened an investigation into shady State Department inspector general Howard "Cookie" Krongard. House oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has accused Krongard both of quashing numerous inquiries into corruption in Iraq and retaliating against employees who alerted committee staff to the problem. Now, National Journal reports (not available online), the FBI wants to ask Krongard's former employees some questions:

FBI agents recently interviewed a former senior official at the State Department's Office of the Inspector General as part of a preliminary inquiry by a federal oversight group into charges that the department's IG, Howard Krongard, blocked investigations of suspected fraud and waste by contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ralph McNamara, who was a deputy assistant inspector general at State, was forced out of his job over the summer after raising concerns that Krongard had thwarted investigations into the safety of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which is still under construction. McNamara said in an interview that he met with the agents at FBI headquarters in September for about an hour and answered questions about Krongard... The FBI's interview with McNamara signals new potential headaches for Krongard, who has been the subject of complaints by six other current and former staffers in the IG's office of impeding investigations into contract fraud and waste in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of those aides have received protection from retaliation under the federal whistle-blower statute.

It took two days of hearings for the Senate Judiciary Committee to reinforce its consensus that Michael Mukasey should be attorney general. The panel asked Mukasey tough questions about torture, detentions, surveillance and the president's inherent wartime powers. But those questions might have been misdirected. That's because an obscure Justice Department lawyer, Steven G. Bradbury, the acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), might actually be more important to the war on terrorism than the attorney general.

It's also a position that's arguably more important to the administration too, since the OLC chief has the power to issue what former chief Jack Goldsmith called "an advance pardon" for dubious activities.

Yet while Bradbury has been serving as the acting head of the office since early 2005, he's never been confirmed for the spot. Senate Democrats continue to express opposition to Bradbury's nomination and say he remains in the position illegally.

Bradbury, a respected conservative lawyer, was nominated by President Bush in June 2005 to fill the void left by Goldsmith. The Office of Legal Counsel's job is to give guidance about whether certain government policies or presidential prerogatives are legal. But it's not meant to be an advocate for the president himself -- that's the White House counsel's responsibility. Goldsmith, in an agonizing reappraisal during 2003 and 2004, ended up rescinding earlier OLC directives about interrogation, expressed discomfort over administration plans to try terrorism suspects in military tribunals, and was part of a near-revolt in DOJ over warrantless surveillance, all of which is documented in Goldsmith's meditation on presidential authority, The Terror Presidency.

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In a letter today, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) urged the acting attorney general to fire voting rights section chief John Tanner. Citing Tanner's remarks earlier this month that "minorities don't become elderly the way white people do: They die first," Obama wrote that "Through his inexcusable comments, Mr. Tanner has clearly demonstrated that he possesses neither the character nor the judgment to be heading the Voting Rights Section." He concluded: "For that reason, I respectfully request that you remove him from his position."

Tanner made the comments as justification for his decision to overrule Justice Department staff attorneys and approve a Georgia voter ID law that was subsequently halted by a federal appeals court. Tanner made the novel argument that such laws actually discriminate against whites.

Things are only getting worse for Tanner. In a couple weeks, he'll appear before the House Judiciary Committee, where he'll get to explain personally to its 78 year-old African-American chairman that minorities don't "become elderly." He'll also have to explain why he took the unprecedented step of publicly assuring officials in Columbus, Ohio that there had been no discrimination against African-Americans in the allocation of voting machines for the 2004 election. The fact that African-Americans had to wait in long lines deep into the night, he said, was due to "the tendency" for "white voters to cast ballots in the morning" and "for black voters to cast ballots in the afternoon."

This is second time this month that Obama has come out hard against a controversial figure from the Civil Rights Division. Earlier, he joined with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) in blocking the nomination of Hans von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Commission.

Obama's letter is below.

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The State Department is floating the idea that Blackwater's Iraq contract should be allowed to expire in May. But Blackwater clearly doesn't want that to happen. And it's seeking some new blood to reignite the spark that's gone out of their relationship.

Via R.J. Hillhouse's excellent contractor blog, it seems that Blackwater is investing in a new head of Iraq contracts. Yesterday, Blackwater posted a job opening for a regional coordinator on State's Worldwide Protective Services Contract, the official title for State contractor services on Iraq. Perhaps Blackwater just wants to have a good caretaker during its final months in Baghdad. Or maybe, as Hillhouse writes, it's "a sign that Blackwater is not planning on leaving Iraq anytime soon."

The job will operate out of Blackwater's Moyock, North Carolina offices. Interested applicants should be able to work "in a busy office environment" that's "subject to frequent interruptions" (which may or may not include FBI agents executing search warrants).

"Polling...showed public confidence in the judicial system increasing from 6% to 25%." No, that's not the Gonzales bounce; those confidence levels, a measure of Iraqi sentiment, were provided by the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction as signs of progress. Now, Iraqis are only twice as likely to prefer their fate be determined by a coin toss rather than by a jury of their peers. (ABC's The Blotter)

I guess we shouldn't be surprised. Back when Alberto Gonzales was Attorney General, he oversaw the investigation by the Inspector General into leaked information about warrantless wiretapping that spawned the now-infamous New York Times' article. But several witnesses in that investigation were also witness against Gonzales in an investigation into the legality of the wiretapping program itself (an investigation that Bush curtailed last year). Gonzales took no apparent steps to recuse himself. (Huffington Post)

Carol Lam speaks! The former U.S. Attorney has ended a notable silence to speak with her alma mater about the firestorm surrounding her very public firing this past December. (Stanford Lawyer)

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As expected, the Senate intelligence committee has passed its surveillance bill. Also as expected, retroactive legal immunity for telecommunications companies complying with President Bush's warrantless surveillance program is part of the bill. Not exactly as expected: it won't be the FISA Court that determines who complied with the program. It will be the attorney general:

The Senate bill would direct civil courts to dismiss lawsuits against telecommunications companies if the attorney general certifies that the company rendered assistance between Sept. 11, 2001, and Jan. 17, 2007, in response to a written request authorized by the president, to help detect or prevent an attack on the United States.

Suits also would be dismissed if the attorney general certifies that a company named in the case provided no assistance to the government. The public record would not reflect which certification was given to the court.


So you'll never know, if the Senate bill becomes law, if your phone company gave any communications material when the National Security Agency came calling without a warrant. Prediction: as of January 2009, Michael Mukasey can have any sinecure he likes with the telecom company of his choice. (Well, maybe not Qwest.)

In addition to the telecom provision, the bill also doesn't give the FISA Court any up-front role in foreign-targeted surveillance, unlike the Dems' now-stalled Restore Act in the House. It seems from this early report that the bill's major difference with the Protect America Act is that the FISA Court will have a larger role in reviewing the government's so-called minimization procedures -- that is, how NSA analysts redact identifying information of U.S. persons caught up in the surveillance web. For this, remarked Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the intelligence committee, "FISA has a much larger role now."

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Tim Starks of Congressional Quarterly reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to bring the Senate's surveillance bill up for floor debate in mid-November. That's despite the hold that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) plans to place on the measure -- something first reported by Election Central's Greg Sargent.

The Senate intelligence committee is still marking up the bill behind closed doors, according to staffers. A joint statement from committee leaders Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Kit Bond (R-MO) will follow when the mark-up concludes, but that may not occur today.

As for the bill's early support, here's Starks (not available online):

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., praised Rockefeller and Bond's efforts to put together a bipartisan bill, but added that "I have concerns" about the legislation. She offered no specifics.

Asked if he was comfortable with the legislation, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., would only say, "I'll be doing some stuff in markup."

Bond said "we'll see" if other Republicans line up to support the legislation, noting that senators are "as independent as hogs on ice."


Starks also reports that Reid and whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) want to see the legal documentation the White House gave to the committee about warrantless surveillance before casting their votes.

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