MANHATTAN (CN) – Walter Mondale and another former senator who crafted the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act marked the anniversary of NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s first disclosures by asking a New York appeals court to rein in U.S. spying powers.
One year ago Thursday, the Guardian newspaper published the first of Snowden’s leaks in a story disclosing a top-secret order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forcing Verizon to turn over its customers’ telephone metadata.
Ironically, Mondale and 10 other former senators had designed the FISC as a check on government spying power, amid revelations that the Nixon administration abused its power by using the U.S. intelligence apparatus to discredit its critics.
Through their work on the Church Committee, named after its chairman, Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, the senators published more than a dozen reports documenting the FBI’s plan to goad Martin Luther King to commit suicide, the CIA’s attempted assassination of foreign leaders and the NSA’s monitoring of U.S. anti-war activists.
Two former senators on that committee, Mondale, D-Minn., and Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., long ago joined a lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union filed in New York to overturn the mass surveillance program revealed in the FISC’s order.
Mondale later served as vice president under Jimmy Carter.
Their backing failed to move U.S. District Judge William Pauley, who dismissed the ACLU’s complaint and called telephone metadata collection a necessary tool to combat terrorism.
“The September 11th terrorist attacks revealed, in the starkest terms, just how dangerous and interconnected the world is,” Pauley wrote. “While Americans depended on technology for the conveniences of modernity, al-Qaeda plotted in a seventh-century milieu to use that technology against us. It was a bold jujitsu. And it succeeded because conventional intelligence gathering could not detect diffuse filaments connecting al-Qaeda.”
Pauley said in his ruling that metadata collection would have detected 9/11 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar.
Though a popular defense of the NSA’s bulk data sweeps, ProPublica and other media outlets have noted that the NSA, FBI and CIA all had their sights on al-Mihdhar well before the terrorist attacks. The agencies’ failure to share information with each other ultimately allowed al-Mihdhar to slip past their radar, the 9/11 Commission Report found.
With Pauley’s decision under appeal, Mondale, Hart and 26 law professors filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the 2nd Circuit to overturn the ruling.
“The government argues that all telephone calls in the United States, including those of a wholly local nature, are ‘relevant’ to foreign intelligence investigations,” the brief states. “This claim contradicts the purpose of the statute, which is to limit the conditions under which U.S. persons’ information can be collected, analyzed, and distributed.”
The document filed to the 2nd Circuit spans 37 pages and uses similar arguments and language.
Mondale, who now works for the Minneapolis-based law firm Dorsey & Whitney, did not immediately return a request for comment.
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