Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns are satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which. Also, FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, may be unfamiliar to some readers. It was constituted under 1978 legislation to limit government abuse of domestic wiretaps by providing review of national-security warrants. In 1995, it was granted authority to OK clandestine searches in national-security matters. In the summer of 2001, its authority was further expanded when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Review Court overturned a FISA ruling limiting Justice Department surveillance activities. The three-judge review panel held that the department need show only that warrants were sought for a “significant” rather than “primary” national security purpose.
Deep in Justice Department headquarters, John Ashcroft strode down a brightly illuminated corridor toward a set of stout double doors.
Two paces behind him a pair of aides walked just as purposefully. Around the right wrist of each aide was a shiny, chrome handcuff from which a chain led to its counterpart, which was clamped around the handle of a triple-locked and obviously heavy, aluminum-clad case.
On either side of the double doors stood men in standard Washington, D.C., dress – dark blue suits, white shirts, regimental striped neckties – but nothing about them appeared paunchy or political. They were unnaturally alert and unnaturally fit.
The guards nodded respectfully as the attorney general keyed a few numbers into the pad next to the doors, which clicked and parted slightly. The AG and his aides stepped into a small vestibule backed by yet another set of double doors, with its own keypad.
“I’ll take it from here, boys,” said Ashcroft.
He extracted a small key from his vest pocket, turned and unlocked the cuff securing each aluminum case. The aides set them on the floor, backed up three paces, closed the outer doors and left him alone in the vestibule.
The AG waited to hear the locks click into place, then approached the keypad and punched in the appropriate code. The inner doors swung open, and he dragged the heavy cases into the chambers of the government’s secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court.
Within were a pair of round tables, topped with green baize. At one of these, five justices sat, playing poker. Four other judges sat at the other, chatting in the comfort of their leather upholstered armchairs. On this table was a poker chip caddie and a fresh deck of cards.
The subdued light in the room came from a set of floor lamps, with electrical fixtures protruding from the heads of gilt statues of the Lady Justice.
At a sideboard against one wall, two other justices were laying out a buffet of cold cuts, pickles and hard boiled eggs.
“Hey,” said Ashcroft, loosening his necktie. “Give me a hand, will you. These things are heavy.”
One of the justices left the second table and helped him lug the cases to the end of the sideboard, where there was a tub of ice.
Again the AG extracted his key ring, selected the right implement and opened the locks.
“I got Grolsch, Becks and Diet Coke,” he said, as he and the justice began extracting cans and bottles from the cases and planting them in the ice. “Man, this is a swell setup you’ve got here.”
“Well, why not?” asked one of the justices. “Who’s going to know?”
Ashcroft sat down in a chair at table number two and gave a contented sigh.
“A great little retreat,” he said, prying off his wingtips without bothering to untie them.
“You really think we can take off our shoes?” asked a justice.
“Sure,” said another. “Who’s going to know?”
And so the poker game commenced in earnest.
After a few hands, the AG asked, “You guys going to come across with the OK for that last covert search I asked for?”
“Two cards,” said a justice. “John, I know the Patriot Act said all you had to show was ‘significant’ national security purpose for such authorization, and we’re not sure your argument is convincing that we should let the FBI break into Martin Sheen’s house.”
“Yeah,” said a second poker player. “Just because the guy shows up at every anti-war function doesn’t give us license to toss his domicile. Raise you 20.”
“That’s not it,” said Ashcroft. “He may be planning another feature film. Can the nation’s image afford the worldwide distribution of another movie by this ham?
“And speaking of ham, Mr. Justice, while you’re making yourself a sandwich, could you whip one up for me?”
The justice at the sideboard nodded.
“Call,” said the third jurist at the AG’s table. “That’s pretty thin. On the other hand, who’s going to know?”
“Right,” said Ashcroft, raking in the pot. “Who’s going to know?
“And weren’t you guys going to put some drapes on these lamps? Those topless statues could be bad for my image.”
And the justices as one replied, “Who’s going to know?”