Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.
Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.
It's started a bit of a tempest in teacup as Senators are 'shocked, shocked' that this is happening. The problem with this is that the National Security Agency is supposed to only eavesdrop outside of the United States with the FBI responsible for domestic security. This was done with the knowledge and consent of the Foreign Intelligence Surveilliance Court, a secret federal court that has jurisdiction in these matters.
The august Senator Arlen Specter (Jack*ss, PA) fulminated that "...there is no doubt that this is inappropriate" and promised hearings early next year.
The article [actually reasonably balanced as far as the NYTimes goes] does state that Congress was notified of these operations.
After the special program started, Congressional leaders from both political parties were brought to Vice President Dick Cheney's office in the White House. The leaders, who included the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House intelligence committees, learned of the N.S.A. operation from Mr. Cheney, Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden of the Air Force, who was then the agency's director and is now a full general and the principal deputy director of national intelligence, and George J. Tenet, then the director of the C.I.A., officials said.
It is not clear how much the members of Congress were told about the presidential order and the eavesdropping program. Some of them declined to comment about the matter, while others did not return phone calls.
Later briefings were held for members of Congress as they assumed leadership roles on the intelligence committees, officials familiar with the program said.
I. DO. NOT. UNDERSTAND. WHY. THIS. PROGRAM. IS. A. PROBLEM.
If there is one useful thing that the 9/11 Commission highlighted it was the fact that our intelligence agencies did not cooperate and as a direct result scuttled our chances of stopping the attacks. It was precisely the risk-averse self-handicapping encouraged by the Clinton administration (see Jamie Rosen) that the terrorists were able to exploit. It seems that Snarlin' Arlen's memory of U.S. citizens jumping to their deaths from 100 stories has been seriously dulled.
The Times even notes that the program resulted in the apprehension and conviction of one Iyman Faris who had planned to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge. Let me note for the non-New Yorkers here that New York City subway trains go over two of the three East River Bridges. [The Brooklyn Bridge happens to be one where there is no subway track.] The destruction of a bridge during rush hour when one or two trains are crossing could create over a thousand fatalities on the trains alone not to mention the vehicular traffic.
The terrorists will use any weapon available to create mass slaughter while we debate amongst ourselves whether we really ought to after them with all the tools at our disposal -- i.e., the McCain-al Qaeda Treaty, filibuster of the extension of parts of the Patriot Act and this idiocy.
Will it take another successful large-scale attack to jar these buffoons back to reality?
Other interesting points:
- The NYT congratulated itself thus:
The Bush administration views the operation as necessary so that the agency can move quickly to monitor communications that may disclose threats to the United States, the officials said. Defenders of the program say it has been a critical tool in helping disrupt terrorist plots and prevent attacks inside the United States.
The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.
According to Drudge, the NYT failed to note that the principal reporter of the story is about to have a book published covering this specific item in the coming weeks. Nice free publicity eh?
- Powerline argues we should have a special prosecutor on this case:
The Times believes that it should be the arbiter of what will and will not help the terrorists and thus impair our national security. I don't agree. Under the Plame precedent, this case is a no-brainer. The intelligence officials who leaked to the Times should be identified, criminally prosecuted, and sent to prison. Under the Pentagon Papers case, the reporters and editors at the Times who published the leaked story can't be criminally prosecuted. Perhaps the Supreme Court should revisit that precedent when the opportunity arises.
- Some on the Left are hacked off that the NYT held off publication for a year arguing that this revelation could have won Kerry the election!?! Talk about Bush Derangement Syndrome.