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NY Post Exploits Kidnapped U.S. Troops To Push For Expanded Spying Authority

Last month, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told Congress that “a May wiretap that targeted Iraqi insurgents was delayed for 12 hours by attempts to comply with onerous surveillance laws, which slowed an effort to locate three U.S. soldiers who had been captured.”

As Congress works to restore court oversight of the spy program this week, conservatives in Congress have initiated a PR campaign to build support for President Bush’s spying program. Roll Call reports:

Republicans are planning to use the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three U.S. soldiers in Iraq earlier this year to put a “human face” on the issue, the House staffer explained. … Republicans believe using real-world examples of how a weak FISA has put U.S. troops in danger will help galvanize public support for their position.

Marcy Wheeler observes that today, the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post embraced this campaign, publishing a politically-charged article reiterating the conservatives’ talking points:

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U.S. intelligence officials got mired for nearly 10 hours seeking approval to use wiretaps against al Qaeda terrorists suspected of kidnapping Queens soldier Alex Jimenez in Iraq earlier this year, The Post has learned. […]

“The intelligence community was forced to abandon our soldiers because of the law,” a senior congressional staffer with access to the classified case told The Post.

In reality, the delay in obtaining the order can largely be traced to the red tape and incompetence within the Bush administration. Here’s why:

1) Gonzales’ DoJ unprepared for battle. Alberto Gonzales’ Justice Department “wrangl[ed]” with intelligence officials on whether there was “probable cause” for surveillance. Filled with inept political cronies, the DoJ said it encountered “novel legal issues” that it hadn’t considered, necessitating a four hour delay.

2) DoJ missing in action. Mired in scandal, Gonzales was speaking to a group of U.S. attorneys and couldn’t be reached for two hours in order to sign off. “Deputy AG Paul McNulty had resigned already; Solicitor General Paul Clement ‘had left the building’; and the other responsible official, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein was not yet authorized to approve the emergency order.”

3) Emergency warrants obtainable in ‘five seconds.’ McConnell claimed an earlier FISA court ruling requiring warrants for foreign-to-foreign surveillance had caused the lag time. But to “get an emergency warrant, you just have to believe the facts support the application that someone is an agent of a foreign power,” according to a government source. “That takes approximately five seconds to establish if you’re going after an Iraqi insurgent.”

Competence — not unfettered spying power — is what the Bush administration needs.

UPDATE: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) said today the “inexcusable delays in the collection intended to save Specialist Alex Jimenez, Private First Class Joseph Anzak, and Private Byron W. Fouty was the fault of internal bureaucratic bungling by the Bush Administration, not the law.” Read the full Reyes memo HERE.