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February 09, 2006

The Bluster Dies Down

The Captain brings the NSA wiretapping program into perspective.

The Democrats, of course, initially wanted to hang Bush from a yardarm over this program, but quickly ran into a problem: the White House had kept key Democratic leaders abreast of the program since its 2001 inception. They then wanted to get the public irate over what they kept calling "domestic spying," but eventually realized that the public thought it reasonable to check on international calls from suspected al-Qaeda terrorists during a war against them. Now they have settled for the most reasonable position yet -- that Congress should have some method of weighing the risk/benefit ratio of warrantless wiretaps, even in a time of war. It may still not meet the terms of the Constitution, but politically it's the most resonant message that Democrats can make.

The White House knows this, which is why they changed their position and decided to fully brief both Intelligence Committees in full, rather than just the leadership as they have done throughout the program. It has already paid dividends, although this hasn't received much attention from the media so far. The AP reported that the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Oversight Committee has publicly stated that the program doesn't represent the Big Brother nightmare that its critics have painted it.

And that has been my big problem with those screaming "Impeachment!" over this; they didn't know what they were talking about. Frankly, none of us did. Only now is it coming out, and, predictably, the rhetoric is cooling down (rabid Bush-haters being the perennial exception).

Al Gore himself, in his speech on the subject, demonstrated this problem.

"We still have much to learn about the NSA's domestic surveillance. What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently," Gore said.

The more we've learned, the less it has troubled even Democrat lawmakers. But Al was a big "Impeachment!" guy, and the Left ate it up.

Some more interesting bits: The original NY Times article noted that purely domestic calls were done under warrant, so the label of "Domestic Spying" lumped in with "warrantless wiretaps" was disingenuous each time they were paired. (Thank you, mainstream media, for propagating that bit of misinformation.) The original article noted that the program was actually suspended twice and further restrictions put into place due to concerns about the legalities, but the Left has ignored this bit of good-faith effort on the part of the Administration.

I am concerned about those on the Right who blindly approve of this. It's not necessarily true that being against the program means you're for the terrorists. I don't really buy the "what do you have to hide?" argument. I just think that much of the noise from the Left about this was knee-jerk, and like Gore's speech, was bluster from ignorance (ignorance, I again note, that we all shared). Some on the Right were, I suspect, willing to accept it just because it was Bush doing it. As I said when this first came out, this is government we're talking about, and unchecked expansion is never a good thing. However, from the get-go this has been checked. It has been modified over legality concerns. And because of this, I'm not as concerned. I'm glad we're having an investigation. Let the chips fall where they may.

Posted by Doug at February 9, 2006 05:05 PM

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As long as you're willing to grant that the Democrats are not representing "the Left" in this matter, then I have no problem with what you have written here.

Somehow, I doubt you are willing to grant that.

You only mention "the Left" three times.

p1. The "left" did cheer Al Gore's speech. No argument there.

p2. The "left" is ignoring what you call the Administration's "good faith effort" because it wasn't made in good faith. Ultimately, it did nothing to address the central concern of the "left" which you have glossed over completely in your ranting about what the Democrats are doing.

p3. Much of the "left" is ignorant of the story. It's like pulling teeth to get them to understand what the President and his supporters are really doing. It's much worse than the "left" is generally willing to admit.

Posted by: s9 at February 9, 2006 10:03 PM

Doug, you know it's not just the left objecting to the legality of this program. Past and present republican senators and representatives Arlen Specter, Lindsey Graham, Bob Barr, Sam Brownback and Heather Wilson have weighed in against this program, as have Op-Eds from the conservative WSJ and Barrons.

Also I don't understand how you can claim that the "label of 'Domestic Spying' lumped in with 'warrantless wiretaps' was disingenuous each time they were paired." Warrantless wiretaps were conducted on Americans within our borders. You dismiss these because they involved conversations with someone overseas. But that doesn't negate the charge that they occurred and that FISA approval was bypassed. 500 times per day, every day since 2001.

You also attribute the temporary suspension of the program to administration concerns, as if the White House was worried about protecting citizens' rights. But in fact, as numerous articles have pointed out, White House officials Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales were rebuffed by other officials who thought that surveillance efforts were circumventing the law and violating civil liberties, not the other way around.

It is also disturbing that the Justice Department said in 2002 that FISA was working well, while the administration is arguing the opposite today:

I think it is good that both sides are working together to try to bring the program within the confines of congressional law. It bothers me though that Alberto Gonzales, when asked by Senator Sam Brownback if he would be satisfied if the FISA process were extended beyond 72 hours, replied "It's hard to say."

Posted by: dem at February 10, 2006 12:00 AM

The "left" is ignoring what you call the Administration's "good faith effort" because it wasn't made in good faith.

Ah, but you don't KNOW that you only assume it.

Warrantless wiretaps were conducted on Americans within our borders.
Quick! Can you name them?

Under the statute, "American persons" has a particular meaning. It amounts to citizens and those who have perm. resident status here.

Posted by: eLarson at February 10, 2006 04:32 PM

eLarson writes: Ah, but you don't KNOW that you only assume it.

I'm assuming nothing. I'm listening to the legal justifications offered by the Administration in their own words and finding them to be in utterly bad faith. Full stop.

Posted by: s9 at February 10, 2006 06:14 PM

The problem is actually pretty straightforward, in my humble opinion: If there was no wrongdoing, why was FISA approval ignored? Arrogance? Dishonesty? Incompetence? All of the above?

Posted by: Jim at February 12, 2006 09:23 PM

Jim: If there was no wrongdoing, why was FISA approval ignored?

I think they were concerned that the FISA court might tip the terrorists off to the surveillance.

p.s. I wish this was a joke.

Posted by: s9 at February 13, 2006 02:36 AM

What does that mean? They are paranoid and delusional? FISA approval can be retroactive, by the way, so this isn't enough of a reason.

Posted by: Jim at February 13, 2006 09:01 AM

Jim, I've covered this before. FISA changed its tune post-9/11 such that they started declining warrants more often (which to me sounds a bit counter-intuitive after an act like that). Since Bush had the authorization of military force (which some, oddly, believe meant we could kill them but not listen in on them), he believed it gave him this authority, as well as the Constitutional authority in time of war.

I'd hope folks in Los Angeles are sleeping a bit easier.

Posted by: Doug Payton at February 13, 2006 09:45 AM

Your argument has a serious flawed. So your kid goes to a party and stays out past his curfew, then tells you he didn't want to ask permission this time because lately you have said no?

Doug ... Bush is not a king. He is the leader of our constitutionally-implemented government, and is accountable to the system of checks and balances.

Posted by: Jim at February 13, 2006 11:48 AM

Your argument has a serious flaw. So your kid goes to a party and stays out past his curfew, then tells you he didn't want to ask permission this time because lately you have said no?

Doug ... Bush is not a king. He is the leader of our constitutionally-implemented government, and is accountable to the system of checks and balances.

Posted by: Jim at February 13, 2006 11:49 AM

Jim, your analogy has a serious flaw. The case has been made that, during wartime, the President has additional constitutional authority. The underlying situation has changed.

Now, you may want to argue whether the situation has indeed changed, or whether the Constitution + the use of force authorization gives him that authority. That is indeed being argued and folks on both sides are coming down on both sides of the issue. And, as noted in the post, some Democrats are indeed understanding that this was not an un-checked program (members of Congress were briefed) and it wasn't the dragnet that folks have claimed (read Rep. Cramer's quote in the CQ post).

My big issue here are the folks who say they don't know enough about the program, and yet insist that the actions are impeachable. They, as well as Republicans who blindly accept its legality, need to get a good look and respond from a position of knowledge rather than igorance. And it looks like the more Congress (including Democrats) finds out about it, the less they're concerned.

Posted by: Doug Payton at February 13, 2006 12:08 PM


Posted by: Across The Flow at February 13, 2006 01:38 PM

Gesundheit. :)

Posted by: Doug Payton at February 13, 2006 02:03 PM

Doug, (I feel we are on a first name basis as continue our debate, I hope that is OK!)

Personally, I am neither pretending to be informed nor suggesting impeachment. However, one must look at the facts: FISA retroactive filings were purposely ignored.

You can dig in and talk about "war powers" all you want. But this is not a one-off situation with this administration. They are consistently pushing the line against civil liberties in the name of national security. Besides, the "use of force authorization" was not, to my humble knowledge, ever packaged as something that would enable spying on U.S. citizens.

Posted by: Jim at February 13, 2006 04:46 PM

Jim (first names are fine with me), if a US citizen is talking to someone, internationally, with an al Qaeda tie-in, they are as much a real potential enemy as the shoe bomber. Again, if we can arrest or use heavier force against them, surely we can listen to them.

Regarding FISA; if Congress passes a law that, during wartime, is unconstitutional, does that law trump the Constitution? I don't see that. Retroactive filings were ignored in part because FISA was getting too paranoid, and in part because, once in a state of war, the President had further powers. The judicial branch has allowed in the past (notably during the Carter administration) that the executive branch had inherent (key word there) authority to do warrantless wiretaps. "Inherent", as in constitutional, regardless of the current situation. As some read it, FISA may have restricted that power, and presidents may have gone with it in the interim. But when we're at war...well, let's just imagine what the hue and cry would have been from Democrats if the Library Towers in LA would have come down with yet another plane in its side. "Why didn't you connect the dots?" they'd ask, as they did after 9/11. Think Democrats would have been cool with the idea that the FISA court kept us from picking up all the dots so we could connect them? I highly doubt it.

Posted by: Doug Payton at February 13, 2006 08:09 PM

TONs of assumptions there, Doug. FISA too paranoid? Says who? Besides, some of us think that an unprovoked attack on Iraq, sans WMDs, sans links to Al Queda, etc., etc., is looking less and less like war and more and more like, well, an awful mistake.

I am not necessarily saying we should bail, BUT: stop using this quagmire as an excuse to erode constitution rights, know what I mean?

In other words, my concern is an unencumbered witch hunt a la Vietnam War days. Here's an example (and watch out for those Quakers!):

Posted by: Jim at February 13, 2006 08:40 PM

Jim is correct. As indicated below, Congress authorized Bush to fight the people who perpetrated or abetted the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. It did not give him the right to conduct a fishing expedition by engaging in unwarranted surveillance of whomsoever he (or the NSA shift operator) felt like spying on:
"That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."

ATF, Echelon is a red herring. It was a data mining program. It looked for keywords in vast amounts of communications. If anything of interest was identified, the Clinton administration then obtained FISA approval if it wanted to target specific conversations for collection in the U.S. It thus differed from Bush's program in that it did not allow unwarranted scrutiny of complete phone conversations and emails of specific Americans.

Doug, three more points. First, a system of checks and balances was avoided, not embraced. A handful of congressmen were provided with incomplete information and legally forbidden to discuss the topic with anyone.

Second, the FISA courts denied applications by the Bush administration only 4 times out of over 5600 filings from 2001-2004. That is not the bureaucratic burden you make it out to be.

Lastly, before the electronic spying scandal broke, Bush repeated the following type of statement on numerous occasions: "A wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."

That is a troubling statement for the left and the right. On the one hand the Bush administration and its defenders claim Congress authorized the President to do whatever he wanted to fight terrorists, a point I objected to already. On the other hand, Bush has said that a wiretap requires a court order. So which is it?

Posted by: dem at February 13, 2006 09:34 PM

Says who? I've covered that previously.

I find it interesting how many folks think that this is the "Global War on al Qaeda Only", and forget that there are actually other groups, and other supporters of those groups (like Hussein in the latter category).

I've said my piece on the WMD thing a couple of times recently, so all I'll reiterate is that if impeachment hearings begin on Bush over this, then they'll have to begin on Schroeder, Blair, Putin and Chirac, not to mention the UN's IAEA, who all thought he had something hidden in that huge country of his. Bad intelligence? Possibly. Sitting on hands, giving him plenty of time to deal with things that the UN knew he had and never accounted for? For Hussein, priceless.

Sorry about the Quakers. I'm glad we're all completely convinced that no one ever poses as someone or something they're not.

Posted by: Doug Payton at February 13, 2006 09:41 PM

Dem, the program was not spying on whoever they felt like. Going back to the original article, the source was lists of phone numbers retrieved from siezed computers, cell phones and personal phone directories of al Qaeda terrorists. This was not a dragnet. Yes, they went through some levels of indirection because often terrorists don't direct dial and work through intermediaries. And, according to the ariticle, wholly domestic calls did get warrants.

Echelon is no red herring, and in fact could be considered more the fishing expedition. Bush's program was targeted at those with at least a possible link to an foreign terrorist. Echelon was a dragnet. As reported by the AP in the original post, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Oversight Committee says Bush's program isn't nearly as evil as critics have painted it. The article about briefings you linked to is essentially answered by that comment.

By only noting rejected warrants, you're ignoring what I've previously linked to (same link above in my response to Jim). The FISA court made "substantive modifications" to the wiretaps more since 2001 than all for previouse administrations combined. And your own stats page shows that those 4 rejected ones in 2003 were the only ones they ever rejected. Speculate as you will on the reasons, but don't deny that things were changing.

Lastly, Bush was talking about domestic wiretaps in the speech you link to; roving wiretaps used for gangs and drug lords now used for terrorists. And again, wholly domestic phone calls did have warrants. Unless you really expect Presidents to fully divulge all secret intellegence-gathering programs, I don't see an issue here.

Posted by: Doug Payton at February 14, 2006 09:18 AM

Congratulations, Doug. Your last comments have taken what appeared to be a rational debate into boilerplate repug rhetoric. No problem, it's your blog.

A few more quick hits:

- Last time I checked, "Schroeder, Blair, Putin and Chirac, not to mention the UN's IAEA" are not under constitutional oath to protect my rights and my country

- The potential for "other groups" to threaten me does not give me cause to give up my privacy to the Bush administration, and as "Dem" pointed out (thank you!), is not within the scope of the congressional authorizations

- Sorry about the Quakers? Who's next, Doug? Me? You? Who'll be sorry then? And what about all the money that is wasted in the process? WWJD with that money? Spy on the Quakers or feed his sheep?

IMHO, as Christians, we need to be vigilantly aware of being sucked into the political process as sounding boards of one side or another. Our concerns are heavenly, not earthly. ("Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.") That's always a tough responsibility to keep, and personally, I struggle with it daily.

I also believe just as strongly that, if we decide to plant our feet firmly in one camp or the other, we need to be careful to not appear as if we are sanctioning it because of our beliefs, know what I mean?

Posted by: Jim at February 14, 2006 09:26 AM

C'mon, Jim. Talk about rhetoric.

Last time I checked, "Schroeder, Blair, Putin and Chirac, not to mention the UN's IAEA" are not under constitutional oath to protect my rights and my country

Pardon me for using a little literary license about impeachment, but you either know exactly what I meant and don't want to deal with it, or I'll have to spell it out as simply as I possibly can. Either way, one more time. All those governments and institutions said the same thing about Hussein's WMDs, yet the Left uniquely blames Bush for what was not found. And you still ignore that the UN physically documented stuff that was never accounted for. Instead you feign ignorance of my point and play this silly "constitutional oath" card. Do you look down your nose like this in all your discussions?

...repug rhetoric.

That one phrase may allude to the answer the question.

I heartily agree that Christians need to be independently-minded as possible, and not blindly following one political party or another, but that's just as true for anyone. I'm glad to hear you're all for reducing the waste in government, and indeed excessive spending. Can I put you down as "Conservative"?

Posted by: Doug Payton at February 14, 2006 10:04 AM

Again, history did not begin November, 2000. Calling attention to history, particularly recent history that is so closely identified as this is, is only a red herring if one wants to ignore it.

Echelon, at Clinton's orders, listens to millions for "data collection" and gets warrants, after listening, in peacetime. And this is good.

Bush, in a time of war authorized by congress, many of the yes votes coming from the same dems out to impeach Bush, and with constitutional authority, listens to thousands, not millions, of known enemy suspects, on international communications, keeps a committee of trusted legislators fully informed during the process (guilt by association?), is authorized by the Patriot Act which many of the same on the left side of the aisle who voted for war voted for this, and this is bad.

The following information is quoted from a World Net Daily article quoting the New York Times, apparently a "flexible and living" daily document:

"Few dispute the necessity of a system like Echelon to apprehend foreign spies, drug traffickers and terrorists" ---New York Times, 1999. The same Times newspaper has, since the current leak of highly classified security information, mentioned Echelon once.

Times man Scott Shane says the paper dismissed reports on an agency program called Echelon (asserting) that the agency and its counterparts in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia somehow intercepted all world communications, calling such claims exaggerated.

End of reference.

The paper also called Echelon, "a blanket invasion of privacy, a necessity," but that was during Clinton's term. Now it's different.

Same methods, more of them then (millions compared to thousands) but now it's different.

HOW Clinton did the same thing, looking at emails and listening to phone conversations, etc. ("targeting specific conversations for collection" is different?) is apparently not as much of an issue as WHO is doing it.

Posted by: Across The Flow at February 14, 2006 10:26 AM

In a word, no.

Seriously. I didn't blame Bush for not finding WMDs. I merely stated a fact. None found.

But nice try at a diversion.

In the meantime, we have 2,200+ dead soldiers, and by some accounts, 100,000 dead Iraqis. Do you not think we are accountable for this? Trust me, I am not looking down my nose at this. I am flat out ashamed.

And now that the gloves are off, Doug, I must ask ... how blindingly obvious must the corruption and incompetence of this administration become before you stop defending it? Or is it all OK because he says he is a Christian?

Posted by: Jim at February 14, 2006 10:34 AM

I know a certain mayor of an Iraqi town that was thrilled to have us come by. See my latest post "A Letter from Nineva".

And while I hate the idea that innocents have to die in a war, I hate even more the idea that innocents were dying continuously under Hussein while the international community instituted the Oil-for-Palaces program and felt good they were (allegedly) doing something. No one from the Left was willing to actually do anything to keep Saddam from killing, raping and toturing innocents. Are we accountable for not stopping that?

And please, (speaking of boiler plate rhetoric) 100,000 deaths? Anti-war sites like to point to this site as a definitive count, and their max value is around 32,000. Still a tragedy, make no mistake, but sitting on our collective hands and supposedly "doing something" only propped up a murderous dictator. Those deaths are more of a thing to be accountable for.

I've discussed this multiple times on this blog. As you seem to be a newcomer, I'd just ask that you look at other comment threads.

As for things being blindingly obvious, and returning to the original topic of the post, again I note that Democrats seem to be coming around to the Bush position that this was not the Big Brother operation critics charged it was.

Posted by: Doug Payton at February 14, 2006 12:18 PM

Doug states:
"I hate even more the idea that innocents were dying continuously under Hussein..."

And so, will the war be a just one as long as fewer die as a result of our actions as opposed to Saddam's? As soon as we step over that amount of innocents killed, will the war cease to be just?

Also, you stated:
"No one from the Left was willing to actually do anything to keep Saddam from killing..."

This is certifiably untrue. We are willing - have been willing - to arrange better answers to oppressive regimes for a long time. Your military answer is no great answer at all, as you may be able to (eventually and after many innocent deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars) stop one madman in Iraq (a bankrupt nation with no military to speak of).

But that is only one oppressive regime. There are many others. What is your answer to them? And if your answer only leads to greater distrust and anger at the West and an increase in terrorism as a response, what kind of answer is that?

The Peacemaking Left, on the other hand, which is not in power anywhere (moderate Lefts are, but not the more progressive Left), is advocating changes that have more comprehensive answers. The ICC, International treaties, international cooperation.

Would my answer be perfect? No. But neither is yours. I think mine would have more likelihood of working and do so in a more just manner.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at February 16, 2006 04:25 AM