Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Jonathan Alter wrote in Newsweek Finally we have a Washington scandal that goes beyond sex, corruption and political intrigue to big issues like security versus liberty and the reasonable bounds of presidential power.

Or at least Newsweak would have you think so. Newsweak is the magazine that ran the cover story on Bush in the Bubble, when the truth is shown by this
President Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate—he made it seem as if those who didn’t agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda
Which is true.
—but it will not work. We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
Who is one of the two most honored Presidents.
No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
They did not use FISA, but FISA clearly states that it is not the only way by which international calls may be monitered. It is simply one way that can be used.
I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president’s desperation.
If your imagination was true, wouldn't you think the NYT would have mentioned it when they ran their story?
The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. His comparison to the damaging pre-9/11 revelation of Osama bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone, which caused bin Laden to change tactics, is fallacious; any Americans with ties to Muslim extremists—in fact, all American Muslims, period—have long since suspected that the U.S. government might be listening in to their conversations.
But they did not know he was. Osama probably knew they might be listening in to satellite phones, but he did not discontinue using it until WaPo exposed it in 1998.
Bush claimed that “the fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy.” But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so.
At least nothing that would persade a publication that has done as much, if not more, to hurt the President than the New York Times has (and that is really saying something).
And rather than the leaking being a “shameful act,” it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab.
Persidential Power Grabs occur when the president seeks power to help himself; in this situation he was using the power to do his job, i.e. protect the country from IslamoTerrorists seeking to communicate with their cells in the USA.
No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing “all necessary force” in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention.
So is Newsweak suggesting the NSA nees to be a part of the Department of Defense.
It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.


Lou Pickney said...

I find your comments interesting, but I strongly dissent. President Bush's expansion of the federal government, in particular with his arguably illegal wiretaps, make him look nothing like Republicans of the Reagan era. The argument about national security I believe is hollow, and merely an attempt to push a "government knows best" mindset that seems more out of the first term of the Clinton presidency.

Don Singleton said...

In my opinion the national security argument is vital. I would not support what he did on a "government knows best" argument.

If he was doing it to advance some domestic policy I would not support it at all, but the Islamoterrorists have cells right here in this country (remember most of the 9/11 people had been here for at least a few weeks, if not months), and I have no problem with tracking calls from known Islamoterrorists to cells here in the USA.

Barry Dauphin said...

"But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so."

What kind of evidence is Alter looking for that itself won't help the enemy? Does he want the identities of al Qaeda operatives, so he can go interview them and determine for himself if they are al Qaeda operatives? And what's the baloney about no reasonable presumption? What does Alter presume they are listeing to conversations for? Surely he has some presumptions since he can't presume it is for national security interests.

Alter apparently is clueless to the notion that acting on infomration quickly has any security merit, but he'd be the first to point a finger should anything happen here that with 20/20 hindsight he will conclude should have been prevented. I think it is reasonable to worry that such activities could be abused. I see nothing wrong with raising the question and continuing to harbor doubts. But the idea that one can assume with omniscient journalistic certainty that this is not helpful in capturing, stopping or killing al Qaeda operatives is goofy. Alter does not provide us any evidence that he has done any homework in this area besides having been on the receiving end of dubious "tips". Until he becomes a better journalist, we can presume that he is histrionic and hoping to sell copies of a fairly moribund publication by means of fear mongering.