The War on Terror has transformed the Department of Justice into an arm of the intelligence community— hijacking an institution charged with upholding the Constitution and the rule of law and using it as legal cover for mass surveillance and torture. No one has detailed that monumental shift in policy like Karen Greenberg, Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham’s School of Law. Greenberg’s Rogue Justice is a deeply-reported expose of the architects of the War on Terror at every level of government. What follows is an exclusive excerpt from the book:
The most unusual thing about the case argued in federal court in Providence, Rhode Island, on June 19, 2008, was not that the court convening it, the FISA Court of Review, had met only once before in its thirty-year history. It wasn’t the way technicians had swept the room for bugs and cut it off from the Internet, turning Courtroom 3 temporarily into a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). It wasn’t the briefcases full of classified information that the three Justice Department lawyers had physically held on to for the hours-long trip from Washington, or even the intrigue surrounding their journey, which had led at least one of them to lie to his wife about his destination that day. And it certainly wasn’t the argument itself, in which a government lawyer once again asserted that the war on terror could not be fought without restricting Fourth Amendment rights, while his opponent countered that to take away civil liberties in the name of national security was to compromise the very principles for which the war on terror was being waged.
No, the strangest thing was that the lawyer worrying over constitutional rights, Marc Zwillinger, was not from the ACLU or the Center for Constitutional Rights; nor was he representing detainees or tortured prisoners. Instead, he represented a large American corporation: the Internet company Yahoo! The issue at hand was a government order forcing Yahoo! to “assist in warrantless surveillance of certain customers” by turning over records of their communications. Yahoo! had so far failed to comply with this order, a defiance that was about to cost the company $250,000 a day in fines. But Zwillinger’s argument in court that day wasn’t about the cost or difficulty of supplying the government information about the private communications that passed through its servers in California. And it was only a little bit about the consequences to its bottom line should its customers discover the breach. Mostly Yahoo!’s objection rose above petty corporate interests and invoked the basic principles of American jurisprudence. The government, Zwillinger told the three-judge panel, was compelling his company “to participate in surveillance that we believe violates the Constitution of the United States.” It was refusing to supply the data on principle. It was evidently one thing for a corporation to amass huge amounts of data on its customers to sell to other corporations—which was, after all, Yahoo!’s business model—and another for that company to be required to provide its information to intelligence agencies. But while the court at least listened to the constitutional argument, it wasn’t buying it. In August, it upheld Walton’s decision. The bar for domestic surveillance might once have been high, but that was before 9/11, the Patriot Act, and the Protect America Act, and, wrote Judge Selya, “that dog will not hunt” any longer. “The interest in national security is of the highest order of magnitude,” he explained. So long as the “purpose involves some legitimate objective beyond ordinary crime control,” he continued, there is a “foreign intelligence exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.” Under this reasoning, the president’s authorization “at least approaches a classic warrant” and thus preserves enough of the intent of the Fourth Amendment to be considered constitutional. It would be another five years before Americans—including, presumably, Judge Selya and Solicitor General Garre—were alerted by Edward Snowden to how misplaced their trust was.
Adapted from ROGUE JUSTICE: THE MAKING OF THE SECURITY STATE Copyright © 2016 by Karen Greenberg. Published by Crown Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.