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The NSA Program in Context


Imagine for a moment that the United States had experienced a calamitous terrorist attack near the end of 2005, resulting in thousands of casualties. In the ensuing investigation, it was revealed that the perpetrators of the attack had been in contact numerous times with al-Qaeda contacts; that the perpetrators’ cell phone numbers had been linked to captured al-Qaeda cell phones; but that the U.S. intelligence community never put the pieces of this puzzle together because President Bush had failed to authorize the NSA to monitor the activity of domestic phone numbers with known ties to al-Qaeda, despite his promise to the nation on Sept. 20, 2001 to use “every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war.”

The first into the fray would be the left-wing blogs and the New York Times, demanding Bush’s resignation for failing to prevent the attack. It doesn’t matter that prevention would have involved the same domestic surveillance techniques that those groups are currently denouncing. Principles aren’t important in their opposition to the Bush administration. Only tactics matter.

Most conservatives would join them in criticizing the administration for this fatal error, although a few bloggers would probably note that if the NY Times or the Daily Kos had gotten wind of a domestic surveillance program, they would have instantly used the civil-liberties angle to attack Bush. But even these conservatives would have to admit Bush screwed up bad, and should probably resign for failing to protect America.

Compared to that alternate reality, the beating the administration is taking over this NSA-spying flap is nothing. Just the latest in a long line of media-manufactured controversies, it will be forgotten in a few weeks when A) a blizzard strikes the Northeast, which global warming experts will attribute to Bush’s environmental policies, B) Cindy Sheehan handcuffs herself to Donald Rumsfeld’s garage door, or C) some disgruntled bureaucrat anonymously leaks the details of our horrifying plan to monitor radiation levels at Muslim sites without first obtaining search warrants!*

* That actually happened.


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