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If al Qaeda phones, tell them we can't take the call

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Liberty Belle

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Can We Talk?
If al Qaeda phones, tell them we can't take the call.

BY DANIEL HENNINGER
Friday, February 10, 2006

Let's start with the one thing we know for sure about the Bush administration's program to listen to al Qaeda's phone calls into and out of the United States: It's dead.

After all the publicity of the past two weeks, does anyone think that the boys working on plans for Boston Harbor, the Golden Gate Bridge or Chicago's Loop are still chatting by phone? If the purpose of the public exposure was to pull the plug on the pre-emptive surveillance program, mission accomplished. Be safe, Times Square.

At the least, al Qaeda's operatives in Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Hamburg and the U.S. will hold off phoning in the next mass-murder plan until the U.S. Senate finishes deliberating Arlen Specter's proposal to legislatively order up an opinion from the judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, est. 1978, as to whether the antiterrorist wiretap program violates the law that created their jobs.

This passage appears on the second page of the 9/11 Commission's 567-page report, On Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States: "We learned that the institutions charged with protecting our borders, civil aviation and national security did not understand how grave this threat could be, and did not adjust their policies, plans and practices to deter or defeat it. . . . We learned of the pervasive problems of managing and sharing information across a large and unwieldy government [my emphasis] that had been built in a different era to confront different dangers."

And those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Having watched one passenger-filled airliner fly into a skyscraper on a peaceful morning in lower Manhattan more than four years ago, I'd just as soon not repeat the experience. If the question on the table is whether it is legal for the executive branch to listen without warrants to phone calls between people who repeatedly chant "Death to America," then I guess I'm for declaring it respectful of our laws and getting on with it.
But insofar as the surveillance program has been rendered moot, let's by all means pull over to the side of the road and have a long national conversation about it. (But don't send your thoughts to Sen. Specter via the Postal Service, as his Web site contains the following Important Notice: "Security restrictions now cause considerable delay in processing postal mail sent to Senate offices.")

The issues at the center of this dispute are in fact intellectually interesting, having to do with separation of powers, legal rules versus legal discretion, and competing interpretations of the Fourth Amendment and Article II of the Constitution.

But let us here consider something that tends to fall outside legal considerations--effective management. On Tuesday, Vice President Cheney said, "You can't take 535 members of Congress and tell them everything and protect the nation's secrets." Mr. Cheney was reflecting the view, which arose at the time of the Founding Fathers, that foreign policy was disorganized under the Articles of Confederation and belonged under a strong executive. A primary reason for calling the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was the mess Congress had made of managing foreign policy.

Then later in the week GOP Rep. Heather Wilson suddenly became famous for presumably dissenting from the White House line and demanding a "complete review" of the surveillance program. Rep. Wilson, who chairs a House intelligence oversight subcommittee, is rightly regarded as one of the House's savvier and more serious members on national security issues. But . . .

Rep. Wilson is in a neck-and-neck re-election fight back in her New Mexico district with state Attorney General Patricia Madrid. Rep. Wilson is under pressure because her district is heavily Democratic; the opposition's primary line of attack has been that Rep. Wilson isn't sufficiently "independent" of the Bush White House. Right after her highly publicized NSA declaration this week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee got out a statement that "Rep. Wilson is now and has always been a rubber stamp for the policies of the Bush-Cheney administration."

What this means is that the local politics of Albuquerque is now setting national security policy. Why them? Why not accord the same overweighted political status to the Third District in North Carolina, which happens to house Camp Lejeune? The primary argument against letting Albuquerque set national security policy through Rep. Wilson's political problems back home is found in that earlier statement from the 9/11 Commission: You simply cannot disperse policy formation in this area across all branches of government in the guise of checks and balances and then expect efficient management in, say, stopping terrorists. Nor can you present the paperwork required to satisfy "probable cause" before a FISA judge prior to every proposed antiterror wiretap and not risk flipping the competition's outcome in favor of the terrorists.

Historically, the proper path for working out these national security disputes hasn't been Sen. Specter's preposterous appeal to let some judge design the nation's antiterror policy but rather through informal political negotiation between the executive branch and Congress. That only works, though, if the presidency has someone who will negotiate in good faith. Who's that? Hillary Clinton, already on the campaign trail in front of the UAW Wednesday, contributed: "You cannot explain to me why we have not captured or killed the tallest man in Afghanistan." Well for starters, he's probably not making phone calls.

At the Judiciary Committee hearings Monday, Sen. Leahy announced: "Mr. Attorney General, in America, our America, nobody is above the law, not even the president of the United States." Got it. But here's the bottom line on the surveillance program. It was going to work, and help lessen the chance of another atrocity in our America, only if it stayed secret. The odds of it staying secret would diminish as its existence spread through the Congress and judicial system. Now it is public, and its utility is about zero. What's left is the legal issue of whether it violated FISA. We can only look forward to the answer.

Mr. Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His column appears Fridays in the Journal and on OpinionJournal.com.
http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/dhenninger/?id=110007944
 
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Anonymous

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Disgusting! All the horsecrap we had to listen to about the alleged 'outing' of Valerie Plame. Now we've got an entire surveillance program 'outed'. Wonder where those same 'patriots' are now? :mad:
 

kolanuraven

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Ok...I gotta question. The NSA or whomever say they only ONLY listen to telephone calls related to terrorists or their related groups...right???

Ok....would they not have to listen to ALL conversations to determine who is " bad" and who isn't? I mean it's not like the " bad guys" use an " orange" phone or only one certain phone exchange???


See my point here....I know it's a needle in a haystack but how do you sort thru it all to find the bad guys? These " bad guys" are smart cookies....smarter than the NSA a lot of the times.
 
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Anonymous

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Good morning, kola. Nice work supporting our troops, btw. :D

Supposedly, computers do all of that. Searching for key words, phrases, etc. You know that we can't trust an intelligence agent to do that live. Might result in something unseemly like profiling radical young muslim males.
 

kolanuraven

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Are you working thru the AnySoldier web site "x"? If so, good for you also. Everyone here knows that I don't support Bush nor the actions....but the kids are a different matter. They had no choices...they had to go....so I think we should make life as good for them as it can be till they get home.

Anyway...back on topic. It seems an oxymoron to be to use the word goverment and intelligence in the same sentence/context....but it all seems a wee bit suspicious to me.
 

theHiredMansWife

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To me, the bigger question is the warrants.

Why didn't they just get warrants?
The secret court that is set up specifically for this purpose rarely denies warrants and will even grant one *after* the surveillance has begun...

So the legal route shouldn't have slowed anything down. Why didn't they go that way?
 

Hanta Yo

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theHiredMansWife said:
To me, the bigger question is the warrants.

Why didn't they just get warrants?
The secret court that is set up specifically for this purpose rarely denies warrants and will even grant one *after* the surveillance has begun...

So the legal route shouldn't have slowed anything down. Why didn't they go that way?

Even if they did, something else wrong would be found...
 

kolanuraven

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It shouldn't be too hard to play by the rules....that's why we've got rules and reg's. Follow the rules correctly.
 

Faster horses

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Did you hear President Bush talk yesterday about thwarting plans Al Quaida had to fly planes into the Library Building on the west coast in 2002?

I don't know how they found that out, but if they had to listen in on some phone conversations to do it, it is fine by me.

And if they listen to me (which is NOT what this is about) I haven't got anything to hide.

I just don't think liberals, progressives, (or whatever they wish to call themselves), understand the seriousness of this situation. Otherwise, why on earth are they making so much noise? No solutions, only NOISE.

BTW, I think it is lawful to intercept calls made during wartime.
 

theHiredMansWife

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Okay...
Then riddle me this: They didn't get warrants for some, which is why the big broohaha, but they have applied for, and gotten, thousands of warrants in the past couple of years. Including during the time when the warrantless ones were going on. Why did they bother getting warrants for some but not others?

Besides, where the warrant can apply retroactively, ie after the surveillance has occurred, it shouldn't affect speed in the slightest...
 

theHiredMansWife

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No solutions, only NOISE.

On the contrary, Congress has (and had) offered to change the existing laws... The administration isn't interested. Why not??

Republicans Specter, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mike DeWine of Ohio, and Sam Brownback of Kansas all questioned why Gonzales was unwilling to ask Congress to change the 1978 law to explicitly allow the spying program, thereby erasing any doubts about its legality.
http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2006/02/07/gop_senators_add_heat_on_spying/


President Bush on Thursday passionately rejected any notion that he is "circumventing" a federal law that requires a court order for monitoring private communication, and suggested he will resist attempts to change that law.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0601270176jan27,1,4477090.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed

He also showed little interest in calls by some in Congress to rewrite existing surveillance laws to include the program. "If the attempt to write law ... is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it," Bush said. "And I think the American people understand that."
http://www.newsday.com/news/local/longisland/politics/ny-usbush274602856jan27,0,4113989.story?coll=ny-lipolitics-print

The "nature of the program" is already well known. We don't have the details of how it works, but it's a safe bet we won't have the details of how it works if they rewrite. :roll:

I'm willing to be there are hundreds of perfectly legal things our gov't is allowed to do in the name of security that none of us has a clue about. Nor will we ever...
 
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Anonymous

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theHiredMansWife said:
The "nature of the program" is already well known. We don't have the details of how it works, but it's a safe bet we won't have the details of how it works if they rewrite. :roll:
A 'safe bet'? Give me a break! You really think we would be able to trust Barney Frank's 'intern' with the information he might have access to? Congressional staffers leak like cheap Chinese ob sleeves. Not worth the risk.
 

Steve

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Why didn't they just get warrants?

On August 16, 2001, Moussaoui was arrested by the FBI in Minnesota and charged with an immigration violation. Some agents worried that his flight training had violent intentions, so the Minnesota bureau tried to get permission to search his laptop computer, but they were turned down. Other materials he had when he was arrested included two knives, 747 flight manuals, a flight simulator computer program, fighting gloves and shin guards, and a computer disk with information about crop dusting.

Leading in that research was agent Coleen Rowley who made an explicit request for permission to search the personal rooms of Moussaoui. This request was first cut down by her boss Deputy General Counsel Marion "Spike" Bowman and later on rejected based upon FISA regulations Several further attempts failed the very same way. As a result the chance of finding early evidence passed unused.
 

Cal

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Steve said:
Why didn't they just get warrants?

On August 16, 2001, Moussaoui was arrested by the FBI in Minnesota and charged with an immigration violation. Some agents worried that his flight training had violent intentions, so the Minnesota bureau tried to get permission to search his laptop computer, but they were turned down. Other materials he had when he was arrested included two knives, 747 flight manuals, a flight simulator computer program, fighting gloves and shin guards, and a computer disk with information about crop dusting.

Leading in that research was agent Coleen Rowley who made an explicit request for permission to search the personal rooms of Moussaoui. This request was first cut down by her boss Deputy General Counsel Marion "Spike" Bowman and later on rejected based upon FISA regulations Several further attempts failed the very same way. As a result the chance of finding early evidence passed unused.

Doesn't that just piss you off!!! :mad:
 

theHiredMansWife

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Actually I was going to say the same thing. It's hard to keep a secret in Washington and really hard in the Congress. They are well known for disclosing things that they should not. Including classified information.

Very true. But you're suspiciously close to making the argument for a secretive executive branch of the gov't, which I would find very disconcerting... :(
 

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