The Right Coast

December 16, 2005
Thank you, New York Times
By Tom Smith

I'm just passing that along from the sleeper cell here in San Diego. (Three of the 9/11 hijackers stayed here in America's finest city for a while before their last plane ride. I drive by one of the gas stations where one of them worked (I think) twice a day, when I come into work.) The thanks is for the Times letting them know that they should really change cell phones with every international call. So, thanks Times! I feel safer already.

For what it's worth, here's my guess of what's going on. NSA gets the email and phone lists from some big Al Qaeda guy, who had to be water-boarded to hand them over, but that's another story, and they want to monitor traffic to and from those addresses. Sounds sensible if you want to, say, prevent the release of weaponized death virus 2000 in the land of the free. But wait. Why not just get a warrant? I suspect the reason might be that there are many phone and email addresses you want to monitor. In fact, so many you cannot really even use humans to listen to them. You use classified technology to sift through the volumes of chatter and listen for suspicious patterns, sort of like Gmail searches your emails to see if you are going to Bermuda or interested in refinancing your boat. But it is not really practical to get the Foreign Intelligence court to issue warrants for all those targets. So it is done under a Presidential order instead.

There is probably more involved, but for my money, I am glad the NSA is doing this. I think it is shocking that NSA officials leaked the program to the Times. There really should be an investigation and maybe even a special prosecutor. I mean, really! This is highly sensitive stuff, as sensitive as it gets. Nor is there any particular reason to think any of what NSA did was illegal. We are not talking rouge agents here, but a Presidential finding that sounds like it was thoroughly lawyered up. And noticed to appropriate people in Congress, who knew enough, even in their ethically retarded state, to keep it secret. But no, that's not enough for the Times. Do they think it's illegal? How would they know? They just know they don't like it, so they are going to blow the whole operation sky high. You can bet that all across America, Europe and the Middle East, Al Qaeda is reworking its communications protocols, opting for higher levels of encryption, moving potentially compromised agents around, replacing cell phone chips, moving physical addresses . . . But it's OK, because the Times has weighed the issue and decided the harm to our national security is outweighed by the extra protection we get for our civil liberties, and they are the experts at making this kind of decision. That is why we elected them, or why they elected themselves.

And of course, the Times publishes the story even though federal officials tell them it will harm national security, and they also time it to have maxium impact on the PATRIOT act debate in the Senate. Is the Times accountable to anybody? Does anybody get to ask them about the ethics of timing publication so as to impact political decisions in Washington? I realize it happens all the time, but jeez, this is an extreme example of it. There really should be an investigation this time. The anti-Bush press and the enemies of the President in the intelligence community need to know they can't just jeopardize national security by divulging highly sensitive and classified information, just because they sanctify themselves with what they see as high political motives. My bet is that the heros at the Times, if they realized they were not immune from the consequences of breaking the law, assuming, as seems likely, that laws were broken in divulging this stuff, would suddenly become much more circumspect. For really, does anyone really think that if the actions of the Times make it much harder to find out what the cell is doing in San Diego, Chicago or Atlanta, and as a result people die, that the New York Times gives a shit? Even if it happened to other New Yorkers, they would not give a shit, though the names and faces would make nice fodder for a feature of "The Costs of the War on Terror." I don't think any given reporter would care if another given reporter ended up being the one who had to jump burning from the building. A lot of people need some serious sorting out on this one.

This is good, with some legal background, from Mark Levin at the Corner. I agree with him completely. I think conservative bloggers can do a service here by calling for investigations and prosecutions.