The Right Coast

December 19, 2005
Oh that law
By Tom Smith

Unless I misunderstood what he was saying, Bush said in his press conference this morning that DOJ was investigating the leaks of NSA communications intelligence reported by the NYT. That's good. I don't expect to see any headlines, though, even though it sure sounds like news to me. How about "New York Times informants sought in investigation of leaks of highly classified signals intel." But no, we'll just keep quiet and hope nobody notices.

The laws broken by the leaks is pretty clear. Moreover, on NPR this morning, a former NSA chief said that prior to the FISA, NSA and other agencies had engaged in the sort of montoring the NSA has been doing against Al Qaeda for 30 years, using what Presidents regarded as their constitutional powers. FISA would have to have some pretty sweeping effect to make all that past practice count for nothing respecting the President's power. And even if you think precedent counts for nothing, it would be a narrow sort of war power that did not allow you to monitor communications you suspected were between foreign powers and their domestic agents. Can it really be that after FISA, if we are at war with country X, and there are suspicious phone calls between US citizens and country X, intelligence officials have to get a warrant to listen in? If so, FISA is an extraordinarily stupid law, which is, of course, likely on general principle, since it emerged from a time of many stupid laws.

I could be wrong, but I really think this issue will hurt the Democrats, especially since Bush seems able and willing to explain it to the American people.