Monday, February 6, 2006

I’m So Confused…

AMERICAblog points out a basic inconsistency in the Bush administration’s defense of warrantless spying.

Contrary to the speculation reflected in some media reporting, the terrorist surveillance programme is not a dragnet that sucks in all conversation and uses computer searches to pick out calls of interest,” Mr Gonzales will say in response to questions raised by Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee. “No communications are intercepted unless first it is determined that one end of the call is outside of the country, and professional intelligence experts have probable cause [that is, ‘reasonable grounds to believe’] that a part to the communication is a member or agent of al-Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organisation.”

But that appears to conflict with a detailed report in yesterday’s Washington Post, based on anonymous interviews with US intelligence officials. The report said that only some 5,000 Americans had had their conversations recorded or e-mails read since the programme was launched following the September 11 terrorist attacks. However, in order to identify those targets, hundreds of thousands of calls and e-mails are first scanned and subject to computer filtering in order to identify the smaller number deemed suspicious. – Financial Times.

Okay, so even if you accept Mr. Gonzales concept of limited and selected eavesdropping and that the media “misunderstood” the program, why is Vice President Cheney all het up about it?

With Congress preparing to plunge into a hearing focused exclusively on the warrantless wiretapping, Vice President Dick Cheney said exposing the effort has done “enormous damage to our national security.” The New York Times revealed the program’s existence in December.

“It, obviously, reveals techniques and sources and methods that are important to try to protect,” Cheney said. “It gives information to our enemies about how we go about collecting intelligence against them. It also raises questions in the minds of other intelligence services about whether or not they can work with the United States intelligence service, with our CIA, for example, if we can’t keep a secret.” – New York Times.

As John in DC pointed out yesterday… “Huh?”

But, if the NYT got the story wrong, then its reporting revealed nothing at all. And its erroneous reporting most certainly did not cause “enormous damage to our national security.” It can’t, if it’s wrong. And finally, the NYT’s “wrong” stories most certainly did not “give information to our enemies about how we go about collecting intelligence about against them.” If anything, they gave the enemy misinformation, if Gonzales is really going to say this tomorrow. Then what was Cheney smoking last week when he said this?

So, did Cheney lie last week in an effort to slam the NYT, or is Gonzales going to lie tomorrow in an effort to deceive the public about Bush’s domestic spying program?

And they say the Democrats are “disunified.”

I also want to know why, if the disclosure of the program caused such great damage, why was it that President Bush was the one who went on the radio and said, yes, we’re doing it, it’s legal, and we’re not going to stop? All he had to do was keep up the same stonewall he’d put up — “not going to talk about it” — and leave it to the Tin Foil Hat brigade to mumble about it along with Area 51. Mr. Cheney’s complaint about “enormous damage” should be with the president, not the New York Times.

Second, as I and many other people have pointed out, it was the warrantless part of the surveillance that got the attention, not the surveillance itself. Any terrorist knows that his activities would be monitored — they would expect it. So finding out that we were doing it outside the law doesn’t tell anybody anything that they didn’t already know.

Third, if the administration believes that FISA is a burden and that the president has wide latitude in exercising his powers in wartime, what’s to stop him from setting up concentration camps for swarthy dark-skinned unshaved guys with funny accents just to be sure they don’t do something that might seem suspicious and evil-doing? Isn’t this the same “slippery slope” that the righties are always warning us about when it comes to things like gay marriage? So why should we just trust the administration not to go too far in their exercising their presidential powers when allowing queers to get married will lead to man-on-dog?

No one — liberal or conservative — would be against the idea of using every legal means in the battle between those who wish us ill. But the difference between us and them is that we have laws that we’re supposed to be fighting for. Otherwise, we’re just as evil as they are.