NEW YORK — Former National Security Agency director Bobby Ray Inman lashed out at the Bush administration Monday night over its continued use of warrantless domestic wiretaps, making him one of the highest-ranking former intelligence officials to criticize the program in public, analysts say.
“This activity is not authorized,” Inman said, as part of a panel discussion on eavesdropping that was sponsored by The New York Public Library. The Bush administration “need(s) to get away from the idea that they can continue doing it.”
…In 1978, Inman helped spearhead the effort to pass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which makes it illegal to eavesdrop on American citizens without court approval. Inman said he wouldn’t have a problem sidestepping that law — as a “limited response to an emergency situation,” like the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But nearly five years since those strikes, the NSA is continuing to track phone calls and e-mails without warrants.
Inman didn’t contest the Bush administration’s claim that the FISA courts can’t keep up with the NSA’s new breed of surveillance. “My problem is not going to Congress to revise the statute to deal with the problems I didn’t think of in ’78,” Inman said. “We can do what the country needs and work within the law.”
Inman put the White House’s reluctance to change the surveillance regulations squarely on the shoulders of Vice President Dick Cheney. He noted that Cheney formerly served as chief of staff to President Gerald Ford, who was in power before the FISA restrictions were put in place. Cheney never really agreed with the controls, Inman asserted. “The ultimate test,” the retired admiral added, will be whether President Bush “walks away from the vice president on this.”
That pretty much dovetails with my feelings on the issue – if the law isn’t sufficient to protect the country then change the law. Republicans would never tolerate a Democrat who unilaterally set aside laws, in fact the freep, a useful barometer of rightwing sentiment in general, practically had a collective stroke over the written aspects of FISA law. Forget about extralegal activities, for them it was nearly unbearable to have a Democrat execute the law as it exists on the books. If the freep and Bush defenders in general think that their party should be able to do things that would have knocked them over dead six years ago then fine, do it above the table and write it into law. Don’t act like some administrations have a right to ignore laws that other administrations do not.
But I get ahead of myself. Inman, who served under Carter, seems doomed to be ignored by wiretapping defenders as a Partisan Activist. That requires one to ignore that he also served under Reagan and that every government official in history has served a president of one party or another, but the will is strong. Prove me wrong, guys, but you will understand if I don’t hold my breath.