An untrustworthy executive...

One of the problems I've had with the warrantless surveillance scandal is that the public is being asked to render some sort of judgement on the program based upon too little information.  The ACLU has filed suit using people who may, or may not, have been evesdropped upon under the program; the Bush administration has maintained that the warrantless evesdropping has never applied to Americans directly, except in that Americans who have (international) conversations with Al Qaeda members under surveillance would also be surveilled -- but not targetted further.  At least, the Bush administration has maintained that if you don't read their statements closely. 

If you do read closely, it becomes clear that the spies are following the usual counterintelligence tactics: identify one agent through his or her contact to a known foreign agent, then identify the other domestic agents that have contact with the first, and so on.  There's no way to ensure that this ever-expanding network includes only members of Al Qaeda or even to ensure that it never contains an American.  And the net gets very broad, very fast -- if you've ever tried to figure out how many "degrees" (or levels of personal contact) you are from a major public figure, you can understand how almost anyone could be within just one or two levels of a terrorist or terrorist supporter. 

The Washington Times magazine, Insight, has an article out contradicting the administration's claim that only foreign conversations have been surveilled:

The sources provided guidelines to how the administration has employed the surveillance program. They said the National Security Agency in cooperation with the FBI was allowed to monitor the telephone calls and e-mails of any American believed to be in contact with a person abroad suspected of being linked to al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

At that point, the sources said, all of the communications of that American would be monitored, including calls made to others in the United States. The regulations under the administration's surveillance program do not require any court order.

So, as you can see, they are sweeping up contacts even within the United States, even involving Americans.   Tha's what they have to do in order to roll up the networks that Al Qaeda allegedly has within the US.  (And to be fair, I have no doubt that Al Qaeda is trying hard to establish or maintain such networks).  Yet, the law sets forth specific requirements for surveillance of American citizens in matters involving national security and foreign intelligence.  Those requirements specify that a warrant must be obtained and allow for extremely relaxed rules on doing so.  If those rules are too restrictive, the President needs to make his case to Congress and the American people for relaxing them.  He is not above the law.

That we are "at war" with Al Qaeda, inasmuch as a nation can be said to be at war with a loosely-affiliated organization of individual actors who hold no territory of their own, does not mitigate this requirement.  Were this a traditional war, with a traditional opponent, I would be more sympathetic to this argument.  Yet, the odds are that the war against terror will continue for years, even decades.  That means that whatever policies we set now are likely to become the normal state of affairs for following generations.  In fact, this has already begun:
But despite the huge amount of raw material gathered under the legislation, the FBI has not captured one major al Qaeda operative in the United States. Instead, federal authorities have been allowed to use non-terrorist material obtained through the surveillance program for investigation and prosecution.

In more than one case, the sources said, a surveillance target was prosecuted on non-terrorist charges from information obtained through wiretaps conducted without a court order. They said the FBI supported this policy in an attempt to pressure surveillance targets to cooperate.

We should not leave our children a legacy of lost liberty.

This entry was published Sun Feb 12 19:57:51 CST 2006 by TriggerFinger and last updated 2006-02-12 19:57:51.0. [Tweet]

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