02 March 2008

Smart, Smart, Smart

Kevin Drum has some smart readers. That goes pretty much without saying. But when I read this recent post at Washington Monthly, I really had to step back and think "Smart, smart, smart."

The gist is this: Forget all you've heard about America being vulnerable to acts of terrorism because Congress let the Protect America Act lapse three weeks ago.*

The administration has since said that the sky is falling and terrorists are right now plotting to steal American babies in the night. The telecom companies, however, despite no longer operating under the protection of carte blanche immunity, are still cooperating with FISA as before. So what gives?

According to Kevin Drum's smart reader, "an attorney with considerable experience dealing with wiretapping cases," the telecoms don't need immunity from prosecution because there is no way on earth the companies agreed to do the government's bidding without indemnity agreements. Such agreements would guarantee that if a telecom provider gets sued and is proved liable for damages as a result of work done at the behest of the government, the government would pick up the tab.

So if the telecoms don't need retroactive immunity, who does? For that answer, read Kevin's post, and tell me the whole thing doesn't unravel like a Grisham-esque legal/political potboiler and reach all the way to the top.

*Not incidentally, the Protect America Act, an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, was not held up because of Congress. The House readied a bill for signing and the president said no, because it didn't contain immunity provisions for the telecom industry.