Tap into correct info | AspenTimes.com

Tap into correct info

Mick Ireland

KSNO disc jockey Steven Lee has every right to share his right-wing opinions with us on KSNO between tunes. I have the right, maybe the obligation, to correct any misinformation disseminated with those opinions.On Tuesday at about 7:45 a.m., Mr. Lee claimed that none of us have anything to worry about from wiretaps, “Don’t worry when your calling your buddy about taking a few turns” is approximately how he summarized his defense of unauthorized telephone intercepts by the National Security Agency. Under current law, such intercepts are allowed only by court order.How it is Mr. Lee knows who is being tapped and who is safe from snooping is unclear since the Bush administration has refused to get court authority for NSA taps and hasn’t disclosed to the public any such information. It’s not clear how Mr. Lee is so sure the NSA wiretaps are harmless when even the Bush administration admits through Freedom of Information disclosures that the FBI has tapped into or investigated such organizations as the Catholic Workers, Greenpeace and people for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on the grounds that such organizations have “links” to more nefarious organizations. The New York Times (www.nyt.com) reports this chilling little summary in Tuesday’s paper:”One FBI document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a ‘Vegan Community Project.’ Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group’s ‘semi-communistic ideology.’ A third indicates the bureau’s interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.”Perhaps Mr. Lee never places a call to vegans, animal rights activists or Catholics who are deemed by unknown agents to have “semicommunist” beliefs, whatever that means. Maybe none of his friends are Quakers, another “terrorist” or “linked” organization that the feds have spied on. Wiretap and domestic spying has a long and inglorious history. Power corrupts, and the absolute power to snoop without oversight corrupted the FBI and other agencies long ago. Mr. Lee may not remember the infiltration of Vietnam war protest groups or the wiretaps on Dr. Martin Luther King, but those and other outrages led to the very laws that his president now seeks to subvert.In May of this year, Newsweek reported that NSA had distributed as many as 10,000 names of U.S. citizens to government agencies without notifying the citizens that their names and conversations had been collected and without any review by any court or outside agency of the propriety of such intelligence sharing. I don’t think Mr. Lee or anyone can guarantee that all those citizens were wrongdoers and that none of taps included innocent conversations. Locally, I remember and can still document the wiretaps that were illegally placed on locals in the drug investigation of Steven Grabow in 1984. Phones were tapped contrary to court orders and bugs were placed in rooms where the court had forbidden their placement. Locals were listened to, some of them discussing what Mr. Lee calls a “few turns” and nothing more. The law required the DEA to inform the wiretap targets within 90 days, but many learned only from the newspaper that they had been listened to, and some never knew they were tapped. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows the administration to create wiretaps immediately without court authorization provided an application is filed within 72 hours to the secret court reviewing such applications. Since 1978 The FISA court has approved 16,000 applications and denied four. On Wednesday, one of the 11 FISA judges quit the court, apparently concerned that the illegal wiretapping was tainting the work of the court. Is it possible or even probable that the real reason the administration does not want oversight for its requests is its fear that even the FISA court would not approve of some of the latest targets for wiretaps? Perhaps Mr. Lee is confident this administration will resist the corruption of absolute wiretap power, but the historical experience is much to the contrary.Mick Ireland is a Pitkin County commissioner and a resident of Aspen.

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