Sunday, December 18, 2005
On surveillance: Yesterday, in his weekly radio address, President Bush defended his authorization of a once-secret program to monitor the phone calls of suspected terrorists.
In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist networks.
This is a highly classified program that is crucial to our national security. Its purpose is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the United States, our friends and allies. Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country.
One thing that no one in the media appears to be focusing on, because it doesn't fit the template of Bush=Hitler, is the fact that the program President Bush describes is perfectly legal.
A couple of things to note: First, this leak really shows how meaningless the Plame leak was and the bias of the press in demanding that the leaker be discovered. There isn't a call from anyone in the press -- including the New York Times -- on who leaked the existence of this program which is far more damaging to our national security than anything having to do with the disgraced Joseph Wilson. A couple of Times reporters -- and executive editor Bill Keller for good measure -- should be forced to name their sources or be tossed in the slammer. I include Keller in that formulation because I am reminded of my high school civics course. One day in class we were discussing labor strikes and sick-outs and the teacher, an old liberal feminist made a point of the fact that if teachers in the district started an illegal work strike, they wouldn't toss all the teachers in jail -- there wouldn't be enough space. Who would they toss in jail? The correct answer was my father, who happened to be president of the teachers' union at the time. Likewise, Keller might be a little bit more concerned with national security if he was spending his days hanging out with Duke Cunningham instead of in the Times building.
Second, the American perception of privacy, as we have been conditioned to it ever since Roe is seriously out of whack. If you're walking down the street, did you know that just anyone can take your picture? If you're speaking in a public park, just anyone can record what you say.
I can remember early on in my reporting career I went out to a home in Lompoc after there was a report of a pipe bomb. Some idiot teenager had found the explosive device on a playground, brought it home and started taking it apart. It exploded and blew his hand off. As I was standing on the sidewalk outside the home waiting to talk to the police and firefighters, a relative of the teen (in his early 20s' at most) came and informed me that I couldn't write anything about this unless I got permission from the boy's mother. I simply told him that that wasn't true and some of his friends pulled him away from me.
But that is the perception too many people have. They hear about this right to privacy and for the most part it doesn't really exist.Yes, there's the Fourth Amendment prohibition against illegal search and seizure, but does that really apply to foreign nationals (or even citizens) on American soil using cell phones to talk overseas with terrorists?
It may be distasteful to civil libertarians, but I've yet to see any evidence that this program was illegal or so overbroad that it was used for more than national security purposes like against the president's political enemies. (An aside: Publish the Barrett Report NOW!) In fact, I wouldn't hesitate to guess that each and every person who starts beating their chest about this was never under surveillance by the government.
Professor Bainbridge disagrees -- but be sure to read the comments, they are very informative.
Protein Wisdom has some wisdom.