At the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson gets to the heart of the matter:
At least now we know that the Bush administration’s name for spying on Americans without first seeking court approval — the “terrorist surveillance program” — isn’t an exercise in Orwellian doublespeak after all. It’s just a bald-faced lie.
Clarity. It’s a beautiful thing.
No names are attached to the numbers. But a snoopy civilian with Internet access can match a name with a phone number, so imagine what the government can do.
What kills me are the people who say it’s just numbers; what’s the big deal? How many tmes do people have to get lied to before they notice a pattern?
You’ll recall that when it was revealed last year that the NSA was eavesdropping on phone calls and reading e-mails without first going to court for a warrant, the president said his “terrorist surveillance program” targeted international communications in which at least one party was overseas, and then only when at least one party was suspected of some terrorist involvement. Thus no one but terrorists had anything to worry about.
Not remotely true, it turns out, unless tens of millions of Americans are members of al-Qaeda sleeper cells — evildoers who cleverly disguise their relentless plotting as sales calls, gossip sessions and votes for Elliott on “American Idol.” (One implication, by the way, is that the NSA is able to know who got voted off “Idol” before Ryan Seacrest does.)
Some intelligence experts are saying this sounds like a dumb program. “If you’re looking for a needle, making the haystack bigger is counterintuitive,” says one.
Real terrorists have ways of not being caught in the net. Brian Bergstein of the Associated Press writes,
Social-network analysis would appear to be powerless against criminals and terrorists who rely on a multitude of cellphones, pay phones, calling cards and Internet cafes.
And then there are more creative ways of getting off the grid. In the Madrid train-bombings case, the plotters communicated by sharing one e-mail account and saving messages to each other as drafts that didn’t traverse the Internet like regular mail messages would.
As an exasperated Jack Cafferty asked on CNN yesterday, “Why don’t you go find Osama bin Laden and seal the country’s borders and start inspecting the containers that come into our ports?”
My answer is that the Bush Administration is all about grand gestures and magic bullets, not about doing the practical, basic, unglamorous, hard-slogging things that actually need doing. I wrote last October:
George W. Bush appears to be a “magic bullet” kind of guy. I have read that his oil businesses failed because he was determined to make a big strike rather than slowly and patiently build a business. “To George W. Bush, a Texan who revels in the myth of the wildcatter, running risks in pursuit of the big gusher is a quintessential part of the American character,” says this May 16, 2005 Business Week article. “But as the scion of an aristocratic Eastern dynasty, the budding young tycoon always had a network of family friends and relations to call on. Those golden connections bailed George W. out of his early forays into the oil business.”
As president, Bush struck a political bonanza in September 11. But his biggest gamble was the war in Iraq. See how he threw the dice–he (and his advisers) bet there would be WMDs in spite of flimsy evidence. He and his crew assumed no post-invasion planning would be required, since the happy Iraqis quickly would establish a democracy as soon as they were finished tossing flowers. And he and his crew seemed to believe that the mere removal of Saddam Hussein would be the magic bullet that would bring peace to the Middle East. Why bother with boring ol’ nation building when you’ve got a magic bullet?
Once he realized he’d taken a political hit from his inept response to Katrina, Bush worked hard–to find another “bullhorn moment.” One event after another was staged to show Bush in action. Yet FEMA and the rest the Department of Homeland Security still seem to be drifting. Bush has a rare gift for getting his picture taken with firemen, but whipping a drifting department of his administration into shape is beyond his skill.
An editorial in today’s Baltimore Sun gives us a clue who pushed Dubya into the spy business:
After World War II, the NSA’s predecessor, the Army Signal Security Agency, sent representatives to the major telegraph companies and asked for cooperation in getting access to all telegraph traffic entering or leaving the United States. The companies complied, over the objections of their lawyers. When these practices came to light as part of a 1976 investigation into intelligence abuses, President Gerald R. Ford extended executive privilege, which shielded those involved from testifying publicly, to the telecommunications companies on the recommendation of then chief-of-staff Dick Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to the Project on Government Oversight.
No more pardons, no more forgiveness, no more sweeping dirt under rugs. No more. From now on we must thoroughly investigate, expose, and prosecute administration officials — of any administration — who abuse power and breaks the law. If any Democrats start making noises about not investigating — because investigations are so unpleasant and upsetting and partisan — smack them fast and smack them hard.
Update: What Glenn says.