The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is meant to allow the government to spy on suspected foreign agents abroad, but it is written in such a manner that it allows the government to snoop on conversations involving American citizens, as long as at least one end of the conversation involves a suspected agent of a foreign group overseas. But very few lawmakers know how the law works, or even have the staff with the necessary expertise or security clearances to figure out how it works. So when respected legislators like Feinstein take to the Senate floor to say that any changes would lead to more flaming buildings and American corpses, senators take it seriously. What this means, however, is that Congress just voted to approve a largely secret law it doesn’t really understand. In the Senate, they actually voted not to know what the law does by rejecting an amendment that would have made the government state how many Americans have been spied on without a warrant.
“Americans have no way of figuring out how their laws are being interpreted,” Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said. “We don’t expect the public to, in effect, just accept secret law.”
I also endorse most of what Greenwald says, although as usual with the quibble that when he says that the bipartisan consensus to give wide warrantless wiretapping discretion to the executive branch is an “Obama legacy,” he’s imagining an effectual civil libertarian opposition in Congress that has never actually existed.