Chasing The Boogeyman

by digby

In case anyone was wondering what kind of fearsome consequences NSA head Michael McConnell might have been whispering in congress's ears if they failed to pass the FISA abortion, he gives a little hint in this interview:

Q: Even if it's perception, how do you deal with that? You have to do public relations, I assume.

A: Well, one of the things you do is you talk to reporters. And you give them the facts the best you can. Now part of this is a classified world. The fact we're doing it this way means that some Americans are going to die, because we do this mission unknown to the bad guys because they're using a process that we can exploit and the more we talk about it, the more they will go with an alternative means and when they go to an alternative means, remember what I said, a significant portion of what we do, this is not just threats against the United States, this is war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Q. So you're saying that the reporting and the debate in Congress means that some Americans are going to die?

A. That's what I mean. Because we have made it so public. We used to do these things very differently, but for whatever reason, you know, it's a democratic process and sunshine's a good thing. We need to have the debate. The reason that the FISA law was passed in 1978 was an arrangement was worked out between the Congress and the administration, we did not want to allow this community to conduct surveillance, electronic surveillance, of Americans for foreign intelligence unless you had a warrant, so that was required. So there was no warrant required for a foreign target in a foreign land. And so we are trying to get back to what was the intention of '78. Now because of the claim, counterclaim, mistrust, suspicion, the only way you could make any progress was to have this debate in an open way.

Why do I suspect that he was pretty convincing that the Americans who were going to die were members of the US Congress?

Spencer Ackerman adds:

The likelihood of [the terrorists] actually knowing [what procedures they can undertake to avoid detection from the NSA] ... from either the debate or the incredibly complex Protect America Act it produced, is incredibly low -- not least of which because not a single NSA surveillance method was disclosed by either. In fact, in his interview with the paper, McConnell gave more details -- the effort isn't "massive data-mining," or that it takes 200 man-hours to prepare a FISA-warrant request, for instance -- about the program's operation than did the entire Congressional debate.

Is Congress going to be satisfied with being told that its attempt to debate a landmark piece of legislation represents a threat to national security?

Yes they are. They are happy to let Uncle Mikey take all the responsibility to "keep them safe."

I urge you to read the whole thing. Ackerman's observation is right on. Michael "loose lips" McConnell says more in that interview about how the terrorists are comin' to git ya than every press report and hearing combined.

For instance, did you know that the Iraqis are infiltrating our southwest border? McConnell says they are. Which makes sense when you think about it. They know how to stay alive in the desert heat. (But they stand out in those long white dresses, unfortunately for them, so the superspies were able to catch them.)

Frankly, McConnell sounds a little bit nutty in this interview. His boogeyman rap is just a bit over-the top and lurid. (And his explanation for the "misunderstanding" with congress about what was agreed upon may be true, but it certainly does make you wonder why we should trust anyone who makes national security law like he's throwing together a bake sale.)

He's very frustrated that he has to go through all this and says that Americans are going to die as a result. Not once does he acknowledge that perhaps the administration might just be a little bit responsible for the fact that he had to go through (some tiny little)hoops before he got everything he wanted --- seeing as we know the whole damned Justice Department was going to resign just two years ago over what these freaks were doing. And then, you know, there's the torture and Gitmo and the renditions and the secret prisons and the whole habeas thing. It's not like this FISA issue is happening in a vacuum. And it's not like the administration hasn't already spied on Americans for no good reason:

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.

And then there are the "special interest terrorists" and the aborted Total Information Awareness program and the massive abuse of the National Security letters just to name a few.

And even if they hadn't done all of that, there would still be the fairly recent past in which the FBI and the entire national security apparatus of the country was used by a criminal president to spy on dissidents, members of the press and political opponents. It's not as if we don't have reason to be suspicious. I'm sorry if it's inconvenient for the superspies to have to deal with our silly little concerns about the constitution, but I'm afraid that's just the way it has to be.

McConnell complains that it takes too many man hours to put together a warrant after the fact. That simply cannot be an excuse. We are spending billions and billions of dollars on defense. use some of it to hire more people. Nobody will object. But those of us who aren't so convinced that crazy Uncle Mike and mean Daddy Dick could "protect" their way out of a paper bag, even with dictatorial powers and x-ray vision, will have to be forgiven if we still think it's a good idea to have somebody double checking them.

This guy creeps me out. I know the congresspeople all think he's really something, but that interview is not the kind of talk I expect to hear from a man running a super powerful spy agency.