Bush administration forced to turn over spying docs

Bush administration forced to turn over spying documents by Friday

Declan McCullagh

A federal judge has ordered the Bush administration to divulge documents related to immunizing telecommunications companies from lawsuits, saying they illegally opened their networks to the National Security Agency.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco gave the Office of the Director of National Intelligence until November 30 (Friday) to turn over documents relating to conversations it had with Congress and telecommunications carriers about how to rewrite wiretapping laws.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation had filed this case to seek faster processing of a Freedom of Information Act request it filed, which could help buttress its ongoing lawsuit against AT&T. There are approximately 250 pages of unclassified material and 65 pages of classified material, which would be redacted, that the administration has identified but said could not be turned over until December 31.

Note that Illston’s order doesn’t deal with the NSA’s wiretapping program itself (how it works, what companies are involved, whether there really is a secret room at AT&T’s 611 Folsom Street location). Instead the documents relate only to conversations and communications about retroactive immunity for companies like AT&T that are accused of violating the law.

Note also that if AT&T and other telecommunications companies followed the law, no retroactive immunity is necessary. Because AT&T and the Bush administration are supporting such a legal shield, you can draw your own conclusions about what’s really going on.

The Friday deadline means that the documents will likely be available in time to influence congressional debate over amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Some FISA amendments expire in February 2008, which means that Congress is likely to return to the topic soon.

The House of Representatives rejected retroactive immunity on November 16. The Senate Judiciary Committee seemed to like the idea of immunity, but the debate is expected to resume on the Senate floor next month.