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February 10, 2006

The Real Wiretapping Scandal

The WSJ's Daniel Henninger highlights a point that has been all but ignored in the would-be scandal about warrantless federal monitoring of international phone calls: disclosing the existence of this program has hurt US national security and made us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Let's start with the one thing we know for sure about the Bush administration's program to listen to al Qaeda's phone calls into and out of the United States: It's dead.

After all the publicity of the past two weeks, does anyone think that the boys working on plans for Boston Harbor, the Golden Gate Bridge or Chicago's Loop are still chatting by phone? If the purpose of the public exposure was to pull the plug on the pre-emptive surveillance program, mission accomplished. Be safe, Times Square.

What I think is the real scandal about all this is who leaked the information about this program to the NYT? Why aren't we seeing a full-blown, Libby-style investigation of that disclosure of classified information to the press?

Even more confounding is this revelation from yesterday's WaPo, that judges on the FISA court (which reviews secret warrants for national security related surveillance) evidently believe that information obtained from warrantless wiretaps (like the NSA program or, say, capture of Al Queda laptops in Pakistan) cannot be then used to obtain a warrant for surveillance here in the US:

Twice in the past four years, a top Justice Department lawyer warned the presiding judge of a secret surveillance court that information overheard in President Bush's eavesdropping program may have been improperly used to obtain wiretap warrants in the court, according to two sources with knowledge of those events.

The revelations infuriated U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly -- who, like her predecessor, Royce C. Lamberth, had expressed serious doubts about whether the warrantless monitoring of phone calls and e-mails ordered by Bush was legal. Both judges had insisted that no information obtained this way be used to gain warrants from their court, according to government sources, and both had been assured by administration officials it would never happen.

As AJStrata observes, we may be close to re-establishing the notorious Gorelick "wall" between domestic and foreign intelligence gathering that may well have made possible the 9/11 attacks in the first place! As the Brits would say, I am simply gobsmacked.

Maybe we deserve more terrorist attacks here in the US just for being such idiots.

February 10, 2006 at 06:53 AM | Permalink


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What grounds are there to believe that the mere disclosure of this wiretapping/data-mining program has killed it? The administration can still poke its nose into any and all supposedly private interactions of US citizens with no congressional or judicial oversight. It is an all-purpose political tool for intimidation and blackmail, and they won't give that up until they are forced too.

The real scandal isn't hunting down and prosecuting the whistleblowers. It is the fact that the question of whether or not the President must obey the law is even being asked. Of course everyone wants to aggressively pursue potential terrorist threats. But this president insists on throwing out the constitutional baby with the tactical bathwater, and thankfully alot of genuine conservatives just aren't buying it.

Why should you be surprised that the FISA judges aren't rolling over on this issue? Is it reasonable to believe that they would set aside long careers of respecting basic fourth amendment rights just because Chimpy McFlightsuit comes along and says it's OK?

One more thing: regardless of how ignorent or politically incongruent the people of this or any other country may be, let's be clear that no one - no one deserves more terrorist attacks.

Posted by: Lance deBoyle | Feb 12, 2006 1:18:16 PM

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