I"m overdoing it today, but there"s one more point I want to get to (before I turn my attention to the horror-show that is the budget reconciliation bill):
In Murray Waas"s fascinating, extremely complicated story about the connection between the Plame leak and a Cheney-led smear campaign against White House counterterrorism advisor Fran Townsend, which also used Robert Novak, I found this passage particularly interesting:
Libby, Addington, and others also had concerns that as a Justice Department official, [Townsend] had been too slow in invoking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the mechanism by which the government seeks court approval for wiretaps and other electronic surveillance of potential terrorists and spies. Townsend, who declined several requests to be interviewed for this article, has said that in refusing the FISA requests, she was only following the law; that she did not want to jeopardize potential prosecutions by allowing wiretaps that would later be thrown out in court; and that the rules for such electronic surveillance were much stricter before September 11.
So perhaps it wasn"t the fast-turnaround FISA court that the hawks in the administration were afraid of, but their own executive branch approval process for getting to the court.
Byron York attempts to legitimize this very argument today in National Review: "People familiar with the process say the problem is not so much with the court itself as with the process required to bring a case before the court. "It takes days, sometimes weeks, to get the application for FISA together," says one source. "It"s not so much that the court doesn"t grant them quickly, it"s that it takes a long time to get to the court."..."
The complication, explained in more detail in this profile of Townsend from a year ago mainly has to do with limits on whether intelligence gathered under FISA can be shared with prosecutors, and that some information shared in this way couldn"t be used in court.
But whatever the cause, none of this makes sense. There"s one thing the executive branch certainly has unfettered control over, and that"s their own process for submitting requests. If the president this the process is the bottleneck, streamline it. If the Justice Dept is being too cautious, tell them to take some chances. And if the issue is whether material can be used in court -- we know from the Times that the information obtained through the secret process definitely couldn"t be used in court.
So this suggests the possibility that whoever was making the decisions about the targets of surveillance under this program wanted to keep it secret not only from the FISA court, but perhaps even from people like Townsend, who Novak -- channeling the Cheney office view -- described as an "enemy within."
I"ll let others speculate about why this might be.