Monday, August 06, 2007

Today's Good News?

"Bush Signs Law to Widen Legal Reach for Wiretapping"

According to one analyst, "This more or less legalizes the NSA program," which (of course) was first exposed by The New York Times almost two years ago. While the bill signed by the President provides a legal framework for the surveillance program, there is one slight problem. Thanks to the Times, terrorists are acutely aware of our efforts to monitor their communications, and they've improved their own security practices.

We can only wonder how much more effective the surveillance effort might have been had the Times not published their little "exclusive" back in December 2005. Yesterday's bill-signing represents a milestone event in the effort to monitor terrorist communications, but so was the Times article. Even with expanded surveillance powers, we can only wonder how much we're missing, thanks to our friends at the NYT.


J.R. said...

The President has sworn an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States (not the people). Anything he does to protect the people must be done within a legal framework, or else he's destroying the village to save it. One of the ways we prevent this is the inclusion of checks and balances like a free press.

The free press has an obligation to report on the administration breaking the law. I am absolutely in favor of permitting wiretapping of US-to-overseas calls, as long as those calls are being monitored within a legal framework. For any power the President wants to have in order to protect me, I have to insist that he get permission from my Senators and Representatives.

Once he has that permission I'm happy to see him go to town on Osama and the gang. The NYT were right to expose the administration, because the administration were not playing by the rules. That's how you can tell we're the Good Guys; if we give that principle up in order to pursue some righteous cause, we may as well be the Taliban.

Spook86 said...

J.R.--Your post has a number of half-truths and myths regarding the surveillance program, lines that are often repeated in opposition to the effort.

You begin by saying that "anything he does must be within a legal framework." The NSA surveillance program has always been within a legal framework. Warrantless wiretaps are not an invention of the Bush #41 administration. In fact, the present program existed (in its previous form) for almost 30 years, dating back to the Carter years. Every president since the late 1970s has used warrantless wiretaps to search for bad guys and protect national security. And, the key court decisions on this matter have consistently upheld the president's right to use warrantless surveillance.

After 9-11, Bush #41 expanded the program, for obvious reasons. The process was thoroughly vetted through NSA's general counsel office, the Justice Department, etc. And, more importantly, expansion of the program was briefed to key members of Congress on the Intelligence Committee and in senior leadership positions. Those members of Congress signed off on the program, so Bush "secured" the legislative permission that you require. In fact, after the NYT article appeared, the WH provided a list of members of Congress who received regular briefings on the program. Congressional criticism largely disappeared at that point, because it was clear that the "right" people on the Hill--Republicans and Democrats--were in the loop.

You'll also note that the ruling of that federal judge in Detroit (who initially overturned the NSA program) was promptly--and correctly--reversed by an apellate court. That panel recognized that the law--and legal precedent--in this matter were stunningly clear, and that the Bush Administration had not violated the law.

The bill passed over the weekend simply tied up a few loose ends in the existing system, and essentially gave the President what he wanted. As for the NYT, they believe that anything they can gather is fair game for the front page, with little concern for the long-term impact on national security. I'm a big believer in the First Amendment, but I also understand that democracies must have secrets that don't wind up on page A1 of the Times. The NSA surveillance program falls into that category, IMO. The next time there's a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil, I wonder if the NYT will revisit their exclusive, and determine if information gleaned by the terrorists allowed them to protect their comms more effectively, denying us the information we needed to prevent the attack.

Thanks for your thoughtful post.

Spook86 said...
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