Kevin notices something quite important about General Hayden's Q and A yesterday; He said the illegal wiretapping this was not some sort of vague, impersonal data mining:
Hayden stressed that the program "is not a drift net over Dearborn or Lackawanna or Freemont, grabbing conversations that we then sort out by these alleged keyword searches or data-mining tools or other devices that so-called experts keep talking about. This is targeted and focused."
Ok. Good to know. Kevin says:
This was just ordinary call monitoring, according to General Hayden, and the only problem was that both FISA and the attorney general required a standard of evidence they couldn't meet before issuing a warrant. In other words, the only change necessary to make this program legal was an amendment to FISA modifying the circumstances necessary to issue certain kinds of warrants. This would have tipped off terrorists to nothing.
So why didn't they ask Congress for that change? It certainly would have passed easily.
Matt Yglesias surmises that their "reasonable" (as opposed to probable) standard is probably quite elastic. They might just think it's reasonable to monitor any call made overseas by an American of Arab descent. They could, after all, know someone who knows someone who knows Kevin Bacon. In any case, their reason for not working to change the law or finding ways to do this legally is clearly because they knew very well that reasonable people can disagree quite disagreeably about what is reasonable.
For instance, in this week's Newsweek, we learn more about another program the government is using to protect us from terrorists:
The demonstration seemed harmless enough. Late on a June afternoon in 2004, a motley group of about 10 peace activists showed up outside the Houston headquarters of Halliburton, the giant military contractor once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. They were there to protest the corporation's supposed "war profiteering." The demonstrators wore papier-mache masks and handed out free peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to Halliburton employees as they left work. The idea, according to organizer Scott Parkin, was to call attention to allegations that the company was overcharging on a food contract for troops in Iraq. "It was tongue-in-street political theater," Parkin says.
But that's not how the Pentagon saw it. To U.S. Army analysts at the top-secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), the peanut-butter protest was regarded as a potential threat to national security. Created three years ago by the Defense Department, CIFA's role is "force protection"—tracking threats and terrorist plots against military installations and personnel inside the United States. In May 2003, Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy Defense secretary, authorized a fact-gathering operation code-named TALON—short for Threat and Local Observation Notice—that would collect "raw information" about "suspicious incidents." The data would be fed to CIFA to help the Pentagon's "terrorism threat warning process," according to an internal Pentagon memo.
Just because one secret government spying program thinks that handing out peanut butter sandwiches outside Halliburton is a threat to national security perhaps we shouldn't jump to any conclusions about this secret NSA program either. But let's just say it makes it "reasonable" for us to have some suspicions. Critics of the president have been told often enough that we are giving aid and comfort to the enemy, which is the explicit constitutional definition of treason.
"The American people know the difference between responsible and irresponsible debate when they see it…. And they know the difference between a loyal opposition that points out what is wrong, and defeatists who refuse to see that anything is right," Bush said.
"I ask all Americans to hold their elected leaders to account and demand a debate that brings credit to our democracy — not comfort to our adversaries," Bush said.
When the president says things like this, how unreasonable is it to demand that somebody oversee his secret program?
I know one person who should be very worried about this now that the NSA has revealed that this is not a random program: Grover Norquist. Needless to day, his "leave us alone" coalition should be supportive of a check on executive power and against warrantless wiretaps on principle alone. But Norquist also happens to be married to a Muslim, had contacts with the Taliban going way back and spent considerable time cultivating the Muslim community in the US as a Republican voting block. He is the prime example of an American who the government could find it "reasonable" to monitor without a warrant.
Perhaps Norquist would like to testify before the senate judiciary committee in the illegal wiretap hearings next month. Aside from proving that he isn't all talk and no action when it comes to privacy and liberty, this could be a very personal issue for him.