Defenders of President Bush’s secret spying program argue that it would have been impractical for the administration to seek amendments to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the weeks after 9/11. Here’s Bill Kristol in the most recent issue of the Weekly Standard:
Was the president, in the wake of 9/11, and with the threat of imminent new attacks, really supposed to sit on his hands and gamble that Congress might figure out a way to fix FISA, if it could even be fixed?
The fact is the administration sought, and received, major amendments to FISA just weeks after 9/11 through the PATRIOT Act. Specifically, Section 218 of the PATRIOT Act loosened the requirements of FISA. Previously, the government was required to certify that obtaining foreign intelligence was the purpose of the surveillance. Section 218 allowed surveillance to be approved even if obtaining foreign intelligence was only a purpose of the surveillance. It sounds like a small change, but it is considered one of the most controversial provisions in the PATRIOT act.
The Bush administration argued then, and continues to argues today, that this change was essential for national security. We now know it’s all a ruse. Time spent in Congress debating Section 218 of the PATRIOT Act was a charade. President Bush ignores FISA completely when it suits his purposes.