from the in-times-of-war,-we'll-do-whatever-we-want dept
Both memos [PDF links: first, second] have multiple redactions. The first memo has had entire groups of pages withheld, as well as pages so heavily-redacted they may as well have been deleted. Additional details are scant, leaving readers to read between the redactions in hopes of cobbling together the government's rationale for the warrantless wiretapping of calls originating in the United States.
What does remain is mostly post-9/11 justifications about needing to respond to a new threat in new ways. And that "new way" was apparently to give the President a blank surveillance check to do with what he wished.
The broad outlines of the argument — that the president has inherent constitutional power to monitor Americans’ communications without a warrant in a time of war — were known, but the sweep of the reasoning becomes even clearer in the memos written by then-Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, who was head of President George W. Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel.The Stellar Wind program, as it was known, was implemented in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, without Congressional approval. The warrantless wiretapping was rationalized into legality years after implementation, and memos like these were the delivery vehicles. The government doesn't trust Americans to understand why it believes a pseudo-war justifies violations of civil liberties. Those parts are blacked out. What we're left with is supposed to be enough.
“We conclude only that when the nation has been thrust into an armed conflict by a foreign attack on the United States and the president determines in his role as commander in chief . . . that it is essential for defense against a further foreign attack to use the [wiretapping] capabilities of the [National Security Agency] within the United States, he has inherent constitutional authority” to order warrantless wiretapping — “an authority that Congress cannot curtail,” Goldsmith wrote in a redacted 108-page memo dated May 6, 2004.
And it's not just Stellar Wind. Other dragnet programs (internet/email/phone metadata) are rationalized as well in these pages. The May 6, 2004 memo by Jack Goldsmith does everything it can to eliminate Fourth Amendment protections, as Marcy Wheeler points out.
It shows that the memo discusses content, discusses telephony metadata, discusses something else, then concludes that content and metadata are both kosher under the Fourth Amendment.The second memo, also written by Goldsmith, does more of the same. This one throws in the then-recent decision by the Supreme Court, finding the detainment of a US citizen (Yaser Esam Hamdi) in Afghanistan was justified because it occurred during a time of war. According to Goldsmith, intercepting communications without a warrant is a "fundamental and accepted" part of waging war. Again, the argument finds in favor of the Executive Branch acting unilaterally to combat terrorism. Anything more detailed or subtly written is buried behind black bars or removed entirely.
But the gist of it is: Smith v. Maryland means intelligence agencies can collect nearly anything they deem metadata without tripping over the Fourth Amendment -- and if these small limits are exceeded, the Executive Branch has the power to override any objections.