Fulcrum Ruminations

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Self-Inflicted Wounds

Well, President Bush has finally done it. After five years in office and near-constant attempts by the Left to find some horrible thing to shoot him with, he went and supplied the fatal round himself.

Illegal surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Agency. In contravention of standing executive orders from previous administrations, legislation passed by Congress, and the splendid example of Richard Nixon’s downfall.

I’m sure by now that you, gentle reader, have been exposed to plenty of huffing and puffing from the Left. A quick spin thru the blogs linked on the right side of my page here will show you the almost gleeful reaction of the Left to this bonanza of “gotcha!”-ism with which they’ve now been supplied. CNN is already asking about possible impeachment, and you can almost see Wolf Blitzer salivating at the prospect. The New York Times, with precision so incredible that it borders on supernatural, waited until Bush’s poll numbers were on an upswing and another successful election in Iraq had been achieved to release this story, which they had been sitting upon for at least a full year.

And of course the spinning of the story to make Bush look as bad as possible is well under way.

The facts as currently known: shortly after 9/11, Bush began to authorize the NSA to conduct electronic surveillance of outgoing international communications from known or suspected terrorist-related individuals, some of whom were US persons. This apparently in reaction to capturing the cell phones of known terrorists during operations in Afghanistan and a few other places, and thus gaining access to the call lists of those terrorists.

That’s a bit different from the “spying on Americans!!” headlines blazing at us from the mainstream press, of course . . . it doesn’t sound nearly as sinister when put that way . . . but it’s bad enough.

You see, the US intelligence community has very strict guidelines against collecting against US persons. Strict in the sense of go to jail and pay massive fines if you get caught doing it. Naturally, some information about US persons is bound to be swept up in the course of the various agencies routine activities, but such information is to be deleted as soon as it’s identified. This is the requirement of both the law and several Executive Orders.

Bush, being the Chief Executive, has it within his authority to overturn existing executive orders. Unfortunately, there’s still the law to contend with.

Even there, however, there’s a loophole. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides a special federal court at which the President (or other duly authorized agency) can obtain a warrant for such surveillance against US persons as is deemed necessary and for which at least a pretense of probable cause can be provided. The FISA court has a track record of refusing almost none of the requests for warrants sent to it.

Bush didn’t use it. He decided, on dubious pretexts, that the Constitutional powers already granted him in conjunction with the authorization Congress passed in the wake of 9/11 for taking action against the perpetrators of that horror gave him all the authority he needed to tell the NSA to go forth and collect.

And then, worst of all, last April while defending the Patriot Act he told the American people on national television that “nothing had changed” and that surveillance against US persons still required a court order and that his administration was in compliance with that requirement. While he was authorizing the NSA to conduct surveillance without warrants. He did what Clinton did: he lied to our faces.

I don’t know that this rises to the level of impeachable conduct. I do know that Bush has well and truly screwed the pooch. Despite what’s going on in those right-wing blogs I have linked over there on the side of the page, there isn’t much of a defense to be mustered here. Bush broke the law (or at least severely bent it) and lied to us about his activities.

Democrats and some Republicans are already howling for blood. And Bush has given them a damn good reason for doing so.

The next few months will be a dark time. The frenzy around this will damage the war effort in Iraq and harm our anti-terrorism efforts.

Because Bush pulled the mother of all dumb-ass moves.

I miss Ronald Reagan.


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