September 18, 2007 | By Kurt Opsahl

Tap Dancing Around Wiretaps

During yesterday's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, the Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell tap danced around a critical question about tapping communications. When asked how many Americans were tapped he responded only by saying "there is confusion of what the word tap means," and then downshifted his discussion to "targets." Unfortunately, Chairman Conyers' followup question asked changed the term again, asking who was "overheard."

If you listen closely, you'll hear a lot of semantic parsing in the Administration's testimony, careful word choices that obscure the truth. McConnell denies "spying on Americans," using an undefined term, but - when pressed - keeps his denial to warrantless surveillance "targeted" on Americans, and only after February of this year. "Overheard," "listening in," "spying," these are all words that missing the critical question - whether or not the feds have been collecting the communications of millions of ordinary Americans without a warrant as part of a massive domestic dragnet.

If Congress wants to get to the bottom of the untargeted warrantless surveillance, it has to ask the right questions, using the terms of art - "how many ordinary American's communications were acquired by the NSA, regardless of whether an agent listened in?" Under FISA, electronic surveillance includes acquisition by a device, such as the fiber optic splitter in AT&T's Folsom Street facility that is at the heart of our lawsuit against AT&T.

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