McConnell: 20 Lawyers Worked on FISA Fix

National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell engaged in a long and meaty q and a with the El Paso Times on the FISA Amendment and NSA program.

He mentions a few times that he had "20 lawyers" working on the "fix" and at one point he says they were working on it for two years.

[W]e sent up a version like Monday, we sent up a version on Wednesday, we sent up a version on Thursday. The House leadership, or the Democratic leadership on Thursday took that bill and we talked about it. And my response was there are some things I can't live with in this bill and they said alright we're going to fix them. Now, here's the issue. I never then had a chance to read it for the fix because, again, it's so complex, if you change a word or phrase, or even a paragraph reference, you can cause unintended ...

Q: You have to make sure it's all consistent?

A: Right. So I can't agree to it until it's in writing and my 20 lawyers, who have been doing this for two years, can work through it. So in the final analysis, I was put in the position of making a call on something I hadn't read.So when it came down to crunch time, we got a copy and it had some of the offending language back in it. So I said, 'I can't support it.' And it played out in the House the way it played out in the House.

He also talks about the liability of phone companies for working with the NSA program. (He says we'll need to add an immunity from liability provision to the bill when Congress reconvenes.) He also reviews what happened in the Senate and talks about what the "offending language" was. It had to do with minimization.


He concludes with this rather astonishing claim:

Q. So you're saying that the reporting and the debate in Congress means that some Americans are going to die?

A. That's what I mean. Because we have made it so public.

[Hat tip to reader Scribe.]

Update: The AP reports on the interview, particularly the phone company aspects here. As to the timing FISA Court rulings we've been hearing about:

McConnell said a ruling that went into effect May 31 required the government to get court warrants to monitor communications between two foreigners if the conversation travels on a wire in the U.S. network. Millions of calls each day do, because of the robust nature of the U.S. systems.
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    From LambertStrether (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 08:54:35 AM EST
    1. The trad press, from the very beginning of this story, has conflated voice surveillance (wiretap) with data surveillance (email, blogs, web traffic, public records, data mining, and the social networking software that ties it all together). Whenever the administration wishes to obfuscate the scale of the program, they do the same thing, and this interview with McConnell is no exception.

    So, when McConnell says "Now there's a sense that we're doing massive data mining. In fact, what we're doing is surgical" he's flat out lying, for which there is a mountain of evidence.

    The NSA program, taken as a whole, is the very reverse of surgical.

    2. Further, McConnell's "kill Americans" is the first use of der dolchstosslegende ("stab in the back" theory) by a major political figure (in America today, not in Germany in the 30s). We knew that was coming; now it's here.

    [long urls removed that skewed the site. URL's must be in html format. See Corrente Wire for more]

    Lying indeed (none / 0) (#7)
    by tnthorpe on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 03:21:29 PM EST
    Yeah, my post below assumes naively that one can be a statesman and not just a politician shilling for a runaway executive branch. The Corrente links show an alarming story. There are many many other reasons to dislike the new FISA and the people promoting it. Though Rove may have left the building, it still looks like it's all politics all day long at the White House.

    there's more to that "kill Americans" (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by scribe on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 09:34:18 AM EST
    than just the dolchstosslegende, though that's quite accurate, and telling.  First, there was "Enhanced interrogation" - a term originated by the Gestapo for their torture-interrogation programs.  Then, there was the whole use of the Big Lie, a recurrent theme in Rethug politicking.  And so on.

    But, set that aside for a minute and go to another angle with me.

    The question I'd always like to ask (and require an answer - not a dodge - to) these jackas*es when they say "X# Americans will die because of whatever" is this:

    "How many of the X# Americans who you say will die from the whatever you claim to be fighting, would have died from other causes?"

    The answer, by the way, is "X", i.e., all of them.

    The defining, universal part of the human experience is two-fold:  we are born, and then we die.  No one has escaped this fate and, so long as there are people, no one will.  Period.

    All those people whom we mourned after they died on 9/11, were going to die anyway.  No immortals lost their lives in the making of that movie.

    We can argue over how we are to live our lives, but waving the possibility of death over us to herd us somewhere or into living our lives in a particular manner is both intellectually dishonest, and morally fraudulent.  You, government official (or anyone else, for that matter), cannot threaten a person who has come to the understanding that that with which you threaten him - death and the fear of death - is going to come anyway.  That understanding frees the person achieving it to live to the fullest, until that time comes.  It could come tomorrow, or thirty or fifty years from now.  And, threatener, that understanding is what you fear, because it shows you to be the hollow, powerless fraud you are.  

    It must be horribly frustrating for those charged - by their voluntarily remaining in the jobs they hold, wielding the "authority" they wield - with the duty of herding people into whatever species of conformity or obedience they demand, when those being herded recognize the emptiness of the death-threat which is their ultimate fallback.

    Which, by the way, explains the thugs' resort to torture - it's as much out of frustration that their threats of death have no more effect on those (particularly the religiously-well-learned) who understand that the threat is merely telling someone "I'm going to give you what you are going to get anyway."  Kind of like a three-year-old pounding something which won't go together.

    Please, McConnell, don't insult our intelligence with your bullsh*t threats and fear-mongering.

    perhaps Congress caved (none / 0) (#6)
    by Sumner on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 12:42:23 PM EST
    because of that Operation Submit or Die threat.

    On an empirical level I can assure you that they personally threatened me with far worse.


    NYT post (none / 0) (#1)
    by tnthorpe on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 12:05:37 AM EST
    In the interesting interview with McConnell above he says, " Now there's a sense that we're doing massive data mining. In fact, what we're doing is surgical. A telephone number is surgical. So, if you know what number, you can select it out. So that's, we've got a lot of territory to make up with people believing that we're doing things we're not doing." This is good to hear, but in an op-ed in today's NYT by Philip Bobbitt, a former Clinton Administration NSC senior director, he asserts that "It  [formerly] made sense to require that the person whose communications were intercepted be a spy when the whole point of the interception was to gather evidence to prosecute espionage. This makes much less sense when the purpose of the interception is to determine whether the person is in fact an agent at all. This sort of communications intercept tries to build from a known element in a terror network -- a person, a telephone number, a photograph, a safe house, an electronic dead-drop -- to some picture of the network itself. By crosshatching vast amounts of information, based on relatively few confirmed elements, it is possible to detect patterns that can expose the network through its benign operations and then focus on its more malignant schemes." Link Here Again, the intentions are laudable, but it sounds to me like data mining again, with all of its many inaccuracies. A current German case may be just such an example. Link here. What both men don't engage with at all is why there was a need to pass FISA in the first place, i.e. government abuse of surveillance power. Is this a conflict between two irreconcilable necessities, the need for good intelligence on the one hand and on the other  the right to be secure from unwarranted gov't intrusion?

    The Math (none / 0) (#2)
    by DanAllNews on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 06:30:32 AM EST
    McConnell might have made better use of those twenty lawyers' time by allocating it to the 200 labor hours per warrant request he says are required. Arlen Specter even offered him more help.

    The Art Of Self-Destruction (none / 0) (#4)
    by osage on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 09:25:24 AM EST
    It's Bush Republicans like Mr. McConnell who will enable Democrats to win the 2008 elections in landslide victories.  Thank you Mr. McConnell for all you invaluable assistance.  You are voluntarily "giving" us all the ammunition we need to make you and your party politically irrelevant just by being who and what you are.  Isn't it mind-boggling how Bush Republican strategies result in being more self-destructive than whatever damage their opponents could have inflicted on them?