Will it go round in circles?

Alberto Gonzales, overseer.

Published August 7, 2007 1:41PM (EDT)

As Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post today, "senior government officials" say Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell will design the procedures for using the new surveillance powers Congress has approved and determine whether the administration is complying with them.

We'd call this "checks and balances, the White House way," only it's the system that Congress approved when Congress approved the new surveillance powers over the weekend: Gonzales and McConnell draw up the procedures, the FISA court gets to say if they're OK, then Gonzales and McConnell decide whether Bush administration officials are using the procedures in the way that Gonzales and McConnell directed. As Pincus notes, Gonzales and McConnell will be required to "certify" that the surveillance being done is being done pursuant to the new law, "but the certification will be placed under seal 'unless the certification is necessary to determine the legality of the acquisition.'"

If your head is spinning from the circularity of it all, maybe this will give you some comfort: The authority granted by the surveillance legislation expires after six months, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that she wants to see it rewritten even before then. But here's a question: If Democrats in the House and the Senate found it impossible to resist giving the Bush administration surveillance powers it didn't already have, are they really going to be comfortable taking those powers away once Gonzales and McConnell can start claiming -- while keeping the details under seal, of course -- that the new powers are already working to stop terrorist attacks?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Espionage Nancy Pelosi D-calif.