Friday, December 16, 2005

The NSA kerfuffle

I'm a bit taken aback by the extent of liberal crowing over today's claim by the NY Times that Bush authorized secret surveillance of international communications originating from within the US after 9/11.

The NSA has monitored electronic message traffic for years, both foreign and domestic (the latter when the message had a foreign origin). The only real change here is that of surveillance of international messages originating in the US.

Additionally, the persons so monitored were those who appeared in the phone lists and email address books of terrorists captured or otherwise compromised overseas - in other words, some obviously very bad people. The program has thwarted attacks on the Brooklyn Bridge as well as British pubs and rail assets, saving possibly thousands of lives.

And yet, despite the fact that it seems impossible, the Angry Left is an order of magnitude angrier with Bush today than they were yesterday - and not only Bush, but anyone who dares contradict the notion that he be impeached, hanged from a lamppost, or worse - I've been called a pig f-cker and a piece of sh-t within the last hour.

Sure, I wish there could be some sort of middle-between-two-ends solution here - perhaps requiring that the FBI obtain a warrant and take over such surveillance after the initial involvement of the NSA, and of course the NSA itself should have to justify such acts after-the-fact. But in case nobody's noticed, there is a war on, and sometimes there just isn't time for peacetime niceties. But the Angry Left will have none of this; better that 1000 Brits should burn in their pubs than one person of indeterminate citizenship standing on US soil should have his conversation listened in upon by someone working in an alphabet agency.

I just don't get it. It's an interesting time to be alive, but I just don't get this.


Steve said...

Here's a great exerpt(sp?) from 'Powerline' on the subject. I honestly believe that this is much more about -We hate Bush- than about
civil liberties. Clinton is the one that initiated the idea of 'rendition' and we heard not a peep. Now the anti-war activists are calling it 'kidnapping'.


First, those who leap to the conclusion that the intercepts must be unconstitutional seem to assume that all searches require a warrant. That is not correct. The Fourth Amendment prohibits "unreasonable" searches and seizures. Warrantless searches are legal, and appropriately so, in a number of circumstances.

Second, the issue of speed is critical. When we capture a cell phone or laptop being used by a terrorist, it is usually because we captured or killed the terrorist. The amount of time we have to exploit the capture is very short. The terrorists will soon figure out that their confederate is out of business, and stop using his cell phone numbers and email addresses. So if we are to benefit from the capture, we must begin obtaining information right now. A delay of even a few days may render the information useless, as the terrorists will have realized that their colleague has been neutralized. And it is likely that the first hours or even minutes after we obtain a cell phone number or email address are most apt to yield helpful new information. So it is easy to see why going through the process needed to obtain a warrant from the FISA court would undermine the effectiveness of our anti-terror operations.

This is entirely different from the situation we are all familiar with, where wiretaps are authorized against organized crime figures. Such wiretaps are not executed in connection with an arrest. They often continue for months or even years. There is ordinarily nothing about the context to suggest that the utility of the wiretap will expire in a matter of days, if not hours. Hence the delay required to obtain a warrant is usually immaterial.

Under the circumstances we face in dealing with the terrorist threat, is it unreasonable--the Constitutional standard--to begin immediately intercepting calls being made to a captured terrorist cell phone, whether those calls originate in the U.S. or another country? Of course not.

I'm just guessing here, but I suspect that we have technology in place that allows us to begin intercepting phone calls within a matter of minutes after we learn of a phone number being used by an al Qaeda operative overseas. My guess is that there is a system into which our military can plug a new phone number, and begin receiving intercepts almost immediately. I hope so, anyway; and I'm guessing that the disclosure of this system to al Qaeda is one of the reasons why President Bush is so unhappy with the New York Times. If we do have such a technology, it certainly would help to explain the remarkable fact that the terrorists haven't executed a successful attack on our soil since September 2001. And the disclosure of such a system, by leaking Democrats in the federal bureaucracy and the New York Times, makes it more likely, by an unknowable percentage, that al Qaeda and other terrrorist organizations will launch successful attacks in the future.


Anonymous said...

Good observations from Opinion Journal:

On Sunday Mr. Graham opined that "I don't know of any legal basis to go around" FISA--which suggests that next time he should do his homework before he implies on national TV that a President is acting like a dictator. (Mr. Graham made his admission of ignorance on CBS's "Face the Nation," where he was representing the Republican point of view. Democrat Joe Biden was certain that laws had been broken, while the two journalists asking questions clearly had no idea what they were talking about. So much for enlightening television.)