Heath Shuler Wants To Protect Telecom Spying


dont-worry.bmpHiya Hooligans,

I just got off the phone with the Shuler folks, and they’re set to vote for immunity for big telecom companies who wiretapped for the Bush administration. Their rationale as I understand it is this:

1. It’s unfair to punish companies for responding to a request from the White House and Justice Department. They were asking for companies to help fight terrorism, so why subject them to lawsuits for being patriotic?
2. It would place an undue economic burden on the telecoms to fight off lawsuits regarding the illegal wiretaps.
3. They’re just ready to move past this, get a FISA bill passed, and get to work on other legislation. Because the Senate keeps sending a bill without immunity to them, it would just be kicking the can down the road to disagree again.

My replies to the Shuler folks were these:

1. Qwest Communications decided against breaking the law. Why couldn’t other companies do the same?
2. The judicial branch can decide whether these companies were acting in good faith by complying with the Bush administration’s request for them to break the law.
3. This sets a precedent that anytime the Executive Branch asks a private company to break a law, they will be protected from prosecution.

You can contact Congressman Shuler’s office to let them know where you stand on this by clicking here. Shuler’s folks told me they’d received a few calls from “the more active people” in the district but that no one was protesting the office. Hmmmmmm…

Doug Gibson explains that telecom immunity means:

“let’s talk about the renewal of the Protect America Act. Right now, despite Chris Dodd’s pledge to filibuster the bill, the current Senate version (S 2248) – which will grant telecom companies retroactive immunity for giving the NSA access to pretty much every phone call made by every American citizen for no one knows how long – is probably going to pass. That’s right: telephone companies broke the law, and the Senate wants to give them a “get out of jail free” card.”

Here’s a link to the sample letter Doug created if you need more information. Contact Heath Shuler to let him know whether you agree with him or not.

Categories : Action, Heath Shuler


  1. Arratik says:

    Shuler’s folks told me they’d received a few calls from “the more active people” in the district

    Translation: “Because we didn’t get too many phone calls regarding this issue, it’s safe to assume that most of the people in NC-11 really don’t mind being violated by the Bush Administration.”

  2. Gordon Smith says:

    Exactly Arratik,

    And I think that listening to constituents is pretty good way to run a representative government. It simply requires that citizens participate and that legislators listen. Shuler’s SAVE Act is a pretty good example of responding to what citizens want. While I don’t agree with a lot of the ILLEGAL! crowd’s sentiments, I think Shuler’s enforcement-only approach is moderate, and it may open other doors once he gets a big piece of legislation through.

    However, on telecom immunity, Shuler is in the wrong. If he hears from enough of us for long enough, he’ll respond. If our Congressman is actually attempting, as I so idealistically hope in the first paragraph of this comment, to do his constituents’ will, then our participation will influence him. If a lot of people get involved and he doesn’t respond, then other conclusions will need drawing.

    It’s interesting really. Folks are always decrying poll-driven politics, and I think at a national level they’re right to do so. But I think real representative leadership has to be driven largely by public opinion. There’s a leadership aspect as well, but listening and accurately representing the will of your constituents is always at the core of good governance.

  3. Glen Greenwald has been all over this issue. This was in his comments section on the latest post. Maybe Mr. Shuler needs a copy of this letter.

    Silvestre Reyes slaps Bush around some
    Via Atrios:


    Washington, DC – Congressman Silvestre Reyes, D-TX, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, sent the following letter to President George W. Bush today regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The text of the letter is below:

    President George W. Bush

    The White House

    1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

    Washington, DC 20500

    Dear Mr. President:

    The Preamble to our Constitution states that one of our highest duties as public officials is to “provide for the common defence.” As an elected Member of Congress, a senior Member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I work everyday to ensure that our defense and intelligence capabilities remain strong in the face of serious threats to our national security.

    Because I care so deeply about protecting our country, I take strong offense to your suggestion in recent days that the country will be vulnerable to terrorist attack unless Congress immediately enacts legislation giving you broader powers to conduct warrantless surveillance of Americans’ communications and provides legal immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in the Administration’s warrantless surveillance program.

    Today, the National Security Agency (NSA) has authority to conduct surveillance in at least three different ways, all of which provide strong capability to monitor the communications of possible terrorists.

    First, NSA can use its authority under Executive Order 12333 to conduct surveillance abroad of any known or suspected terrorist. There is no requirement for a warrant. There is no requirement for probable cause. Most of NSA’s collection occurs under this authority.

    Second, NSA can use its authority under the Protect America Act, enacted last August, to conduct surveillance here in the U.S of any foreign target. This authority does not “expire” on Saturday, as you have stated. Under the PAA, orders authorizing surveillance may last for one year – until at least August 2008. These orders may cover every terrorist group without limitation. If a new member of the group is identified, or if a new phone number or email address is identified, the NSA may add it to the existing orders, and surveillance can begin immediately. We will not “go dark.”

    Third, in the remote possibility that a new terrorist organization emerges that we have never previously identified, the NSA could use existing authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor those communications. Since its establishment nearly 30 years ago, the FISA Court has approved nearly every application for a warrant from the Department of Justice. In an emergency, NSA or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may begin surveillance immediately, and a FISA Court order does not have to be obtained for three days. The former head of FISA operations for the Department of Justice has testified publicly that emergency authorization may be granted in a matter of minutes.

    As you know, the 1978 FISA law, which has been modernized and updated numerous times since 9/11, was instrumental in disrupting the terrorist plot in Germany last summer. Those who say that FISA is outdated do not understand the strength of this important tool.

    If our nation is left vulnerable in the coming months, it will not be because we don’t have enough domestic spying powers. It will be because your Administration has not done enough to defeat terrorist organizations – including al Qaeda — that have gained strength since 9/11. We do not have nearly enough linguists to translate the reams of information we currently collect. We do not have enough intelligence officers who can penetrate the hardest targets, such as al Qaeda. We have surged so many intelligence resources into Iraq that we have taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result, you have allowed al Qaeda to reconstitute itself on your watch.

    You have also suggested that Congress must grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies. As someone who has been briefed on our most sensitive intelligence programs, I can see no argument why the future security of our country depends on whether past actions of telecommunications companies are immunized.

    The issue of telecom liability should be carefully considered based on a full review of the documents that your Administration withheld from Congress for eight months. However, it is an insult to the intelligence of the American people to say that we will be vulnerable unless we grant immunity for actions that happened years ago.

    Congress has not been sitting on its hands. Last November, the House passed responsible legislation to authorize the NSA to conduct surveillance of foreign terrorists and to provide clarity and legal protection to our private sector partners who assist in that surveillance.

    The proper course is now to conference the House bill with the Senate bill that was passed on Tuesday. There are significant differences between these two bills and a conference, in regular order, is the appropriate mechanism to resolve the differences between these two bills. I urge you, Mr. President, to put partisanship aside and allow Republicans in Congress to arrive at a compromise that will protect America and protect our Constitution.

    I, for one, do not intend to back down – not to the terrorists and not to anyone, including a President, who wants Americans to cower in fear.

    We are a strong nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into suspending the Constitution. If we do that, we might as well call the terrorists and tell them that they have won.


    Silvestre Reyes

    Member of Congress

    Chairman, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

  4. Drama Queen says:

    So, if you are one of the already “active people” in the district, what you have to say has no meaning?

    What’s the point of a law if you give retroactive immunity? And why do corporations always need so much help (and money) from Congress? Remember all those old movies about computers or globs taking over the world? Well, the super computer glob is here and it takes the form multinational corporation. And our Congress is globbing around in bed with them as if they have no constituents or Constitutional responsibilities.

    When are Democrats going to figure out that they are caving to people who are no less than traitors to the Constitution? When are they going to stop thinking of standing on principle as

    kicking the can down the road to disagree again.

    Today Republicans interrupted the Lantos memorial with procedural crap because they didn’t like the concept citations. Is that disrespectful enough to give the Democrats some idea of the kind of people with whom they keep compromising? I doubt it. And I don’t mean to single out Heath here. Anyone who gave telecoms immunity sucks and the leaders suck more than any of them.

  5. Sean says:

    I was one of the people that called yesterday.
    I forget the name of the lady with whom I spoke, but I made it clear my position, (that immunity must be left to the judicial branch to grant or not…otherwise they have no leverage against the telecoms, limiting their chances of “going up the food chain”). She took my name, city, and my opinion.

    It was just a short few years ago that this same bunch of Republicans were howling about the judges overstepping their bounds into the legislative branch?
    This looks a LOT like legislators overstepping their bounds into the judicial branch.

  6. bobaloo says:

    So, in all reality, what is the point in not granting immunity to the telecoms? Is it simply to have some sort of civil punishment via the courts? Or is it really to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
    (Genuinely asking for a point of view, I’m not attempting to be snarky.)

  7. Law says:

    Ex Post Facto Anyone???

    “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.”

  8. It is to ensure that the government needs a warrant to spy on American citizens.

  9. David Roat says:


    Thank you for clarifying your question.

    I honestly have not heard anybody who is against the immunity say that they think that they will benefit from civil cases. As much as an activist that I am, I would be completely pretty surprised to find out that my phone was tapped.

    The ramifications for this precedent are enormous and terrible. The White House would have a legal and public argument to continue wiretapping without oversight.

    Also, I think that it is a woefully bad idea for a legislative body to blindly deny the courts their duty of oversight in a blanket fashion. Its one thing if they want to go by a case-by-case basis, hear the facts and then make some retroactive legislation. But it is completely different to hand out buckets of get-out-jail-free-cards based on political pressure.

    Honestly asking here: what have you learned that gives you suspicion that this is merely a civil suit strategy?

  10. 1. It’s unfair to punish companies for responding to a request from the White House and Justice Department. They were asking for companies to help fight terrorism, so why subject them to lawsuits for being patriotic?

    Who said anything about punishing them? I thought this was about not granting them immunity? As Sean said, “immunity must be left to the judicial branch,” as well as – in true conservative fashion – punishing perps for breaking the law, as an example to other would-be lawbreakers. As in, immunity is usually granted only after small fries cooperate in prosecuting co-conspirators and the bigger fish…

    O-h-h-h, now I get why the administration wants them granted immunity first.

    Guys, sometimes I’m just so slow.

  11. Exactly so.
    The rule of law, the Constitution, equal protection … that’s why this is so urgent.

    Fun story: When I learned of the wiretaps a couple of years back, I cancelled my account with Verizon. I explained in my letter that they had violated our private contract when they allowed the government to tap my cell calls without a warrant. (I got an account with Credo/Working Assets, which refused to participate in the illegal scheme and had filed an amicus brief with the ACLU case against the government.)

    Verizon, naturally, demanded $150 for early cancellation. I wrote them back and said that if they would provide me with all of the information they had delivered to the federal government, I would be able to determine whether they had violated our contract. If they hadn’t turned over my records to the White House, I would happily pay the fee.

    Still no records. Wonder what’s holding them up?

  12. Doug Gibson says:

    Bobaloo (and Law):

    The point is that the request to allow the wiretaps was illegal, and the telecoms should have known this. If they feel they acted in good faith, then they can make that case in court – and it probably won’t cost them nearly as much as they donate to the GOP in a non-election year.

    So it isn’t an ex post facto law to not give them immunity. Quite the opposite: the wiretaps were against the law, and most Democrats feel that it’s a bad idea to immunize companies against knowingly complying with an illegal request from the government.

    In other words, granting immunity will establish that “if the President says it’s legal, then it’s legal.” That seems like a bad idea to me. I could be wrong.

  13. Drama Queen says:

    Wow, Cecil, that’s cool. We do need to stop doing business with any company whose legality or even morals we do not support. Americans seem to have so much trouble with this concept. We just want the cheapest thing, the easiest way.

  14. Gordon Smith says:

    “The issue is not “intelligence gaps.” Rather, as McConnell candidly admits, the “real issue” is “liability protection for the private sector.” To take them at their word, George Bush and Mike McConnell are putting the nation at risk in order to ensure that AT&T and Verizon do not have to be held accountable in a court of law for having broken the law. Think about how twisted and corrupt that calculus is.” – link

  15. bobaloo says:

    Law: Looks like someone watched Olbermann last night. I hadn’t heard of that till his “Speshul Komment” (note: he doesn’t help).

    David: No, I don’t have any “inside info” or anything, but, in our litigious society I wouldn’t be surprised at all if someone didn’t try to make some bank over this. Besides, what else would this come to? The end result would seem to be punishment for the telecoms, not to mention putting some fat cat execs on the stand.

    Doug: I don’t know about non-election years, but Clinton and Obama have taken their fare share of cash from them too, so that dog don’t hunt.

    Don’t get me wrong. I agree that it’s a terribly dangerous precedent that has some far reaching consequences and it shouldn’t happen again.
    That said, I don’t agree with Olbermann, sir, that there were nefarious fascistic motives driving the government to do this. I think they were trying to root out terrorists. Of course, it doesn’t make the method right.
    IMO, and I reserve the right to be naive here, I think the telecoms were doing what they thought was right to do. Of course, it doesn’t excuse their actions either.

    Bleh, sorry for rambling. Am I just making this too damned complicated?
    So, here’s the root of my question: Assuming there is no immunity, what would you want to have done to the telecoms? Fines? Jailtime?

  16. Doug Gibson says:


    Okay, less than the amount the telecoms give to both parties in a non-election year. After all, we wouldn’t be in this mess if the telecoms hadn’t given to Democrats as well. My point is that these mega-corporations can take the hit. Especially if the suits are so groundless that they’re likely to be thrown out of court.

    And it doesn’t matter what I want done to the telecoms. It doesn’t matter what any individual wants done. What matters is that justice is served. And justice can’t be served if we establish a precedent that undermines the rule of law.

    Even if nobody decides it’s worth it to sue the telecom companies for what they’ve done, I simply think it’s bad precedent for us to say, “well what you did was illegal, and you knew it was illegal, but the President told you to do it, so that’s okay.”

    It looks like you agree with me on that point. You say “it shouldn’t happen again.” But I’m wondering how we make sure it doesn’t happen again when the government can say “oh, you know, these companies got off last time, and I’m sure we can get you off too if there are any problems.” How do we make sure it never happens again when companies or individuals can go to court and say, “AT&T got off because the President said it was legal. Why shouldn’t we?” How do we make sure it never happens again when companies or individuals can get off by saying they thought breaking the law was “right to do”? After all, G. Gordon Liddy thought he was right, under similar circumstances.

    So, yes, I think you are making this too complicated.

  17. Gordon Smith says:


    At the root of this is a simple fact: The Bush administration chose not to use the FISA court despite the fact that can get a warrant retroactively. There is no problem with getting a warrant. The Bush administration simply chose not to, and telecom companies just went along. Both are in the wrong.

    Qwest Communications noticed that this was all against the law and decided not to comply with Bush’s lawbreaking.

    Unless you want companies to feel they can break the law just because the Preznit says it’s o.k., then you have to do away with immunity. If the judicial branch finds that the companies acted in good faith, then I’ll accept that. But having lawmakers, many of whom are beholden to Big Telecom, forgive this lawbreaking and stymie any efforts to discover exactly what was done, is a dangerous precedent and a coverup for the crimes committed by this administration.

  18. I’m still focused on how it’s somehow “punishing” the telecoms to *not* grant them immunity for crimes not yet ejudicated.

    As I read it, Scalia just suggested that the constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment refers to “punishment for crime” (at the end of the judicial process), thus may not prohibit waterboarding because interrogation isn’t a judicial process. By that same twisted logic, then there’s no punishment involved in not granting telecom immunity, since it prevents the judicial process from even taking place. No judicial process, no punishment. Cruel or otherwise.

    And isn’t this the same Bush driving this who – during the Libby trial – said, “Let the legal process work itself out”? Now that it’s his own tail at risk if the discovery process goes forward, he hopes to abort the legal process before it begins.

    Just who are our representatives looking to for leadership here? Or are they all outside looking to see which way the wind’s blowing?

  19. Law says:

    Actually I did not see Olberman regarding Ex Post Facto. It’s just a core principle in the U.S. Constitution. I believe changing the law to give immunity could be Ex Post Facto and beyond the authority of the Congress. I agree with Doug that this would be a matter for the Courts.

    It’s as if Bush and a majority of the members of Congress have not actually read the Constitution. Likewise I believe the Congressional Resolution to authorize the Iraq War was a violation of the Constitution. There are obvious issues with Bush’s adherence to the law, but I see a troubling trend in the Congress where they think they can just pass laws that trump the Constitution. They don’t have that power, they are simply temporary holders of their seats and only an amendement involving a majority of the states and the Congress and the President can do that. It’s a very depressing state of affairs. The contempt charges this week are a small glimmer of hope and maybe the beginning of bringing things back into balance.