So we now know that congressional leaders and the intelligence committees were, in fact, informed of the NSA’s activities. However, Nancy Pelosi says she was reluctant about it, just as Rockefeller reportedly claims to have been, according to the New York Times’s original story. Harry Reid on FOX said he was briefed, but now demands an investigation. I assume there will soon be calls for a special prosecutor–not to investigate serial and damaging national-security leaks to the Times and Washington Post, but the president.
What is the point of briefing congressional leaders and relevant committees about executive-branch operations if they refuse any responsibility for the information they receive, and if they believe the information discloses constitutional, legal, and civil-liberties violations on which they refuse to act? As I watched Meet the Press this morning, I was appalled at the lack of seriousness of the coverage. Within five minutes of the program’s start, Tim Russert invoked Richard Nixon. Sen. Carl Levin was asked if the president might have broken the law. He answered that if he didn’t follow FISA he did. Levin earlier complained that he didn’t know what laws the president may be using to justify the NSA program. Keep in mind; at this point we don’t know what violations are even being asserted in any of this discussion. (This is the same Levin who has led efforts to conceal the Barrett Report, which allegedly includes stunning findings about the misuse of the IRS by the Clinton administration. I noticed Russert didn’t bring this up.)
Russert continually referred to domestic spying on U.S. citizens. Neither he nor we know what’s involved here. Some of those monitored may be citizens, they may not be. Some may also be receiving communications from al Qaeda operatives abroad, in which case warrants aren’t required and their citizenship is irrelevant. Some may be covered by the warrant requirements of FISA, some of the operations may not be. My guess, and that’s all it is, is that the NSA ran into difficulties tracking individuals who were able to elude surveillance (and the FISA warrant requirement, if applicable) by moving from place to place and switching between and among various communication technologies. The secret FISA court, and many of its procedures, isn’t exactly secret to anyone, including the enemy. If so, or if I’m close, the claims that the president authorized domestic eavesdropping on U.S. citizens is the most hysterical and, frankly, reckless face to put on this. Moreover, the likelihood that top lawyers at the Justice Department (including career attorneys) and other agencies would have conspired to break the law, and kept it secret for years, for the purpose of intercepting communications among law-abiding U.S. citizens is truly far-fetched.
I said yesterday that it would probably serve the president’s political interests if he could release his executive order; however, doing so might endanger certain national-security operations. Russert and Levin demanded repeatedly that Condi Rice spell out the legal basis for the president’s authority. I expect, sadly, that national security will give way, once again, to public disclosure, as the only way to get past this latest attempt at scandal.
(Booking suggestion to Meet the Press: If you want to ask for administration officials familiar with FISA, book Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is apparently thoroughly competent to discuss it; if you want to ask senators about the NSA program, book senators who were actually briefed and are aware of the program, not the likes of Levin, who is as clueless as Arlen Specter, for neither sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee).
Finally, with allegations of lying about pre-war intelligence, exposing prison “rendition” in Europe, demanding withdrawal from Iraq, undermining aggressive interrogation of al-Qaeda terrorists, killing key aspects of the Patriot Act, and now eavesdropping, is it just me, or is there an unrelenting attack on core aspects of our post-9/11 homeland security efforts? I have no doubt we will win the war on terrorism overseas, as long as we succeed in overcoming the same domestic elements–among them, media, academia, anti-war left–which brought defeat in Vietnam. After all, 9/11 was no distant act of war, the polls indicate the American people see much of this as partisan politics by the Democrats, and it reinforces the view that Democrats are weak on national security.
Perhaps it’s time to more aggressively scrutinize the motives and tactics of the war’s opponents–rather than mostly react to their allegations. So far, the opponents have largely received a pass. It is often assumed that they mean well, that they want us to win the war, that they would never put politics before country, and so forth. Yet, many on the Left–including Democrat leaders in Congress–feel no similar obligation when they accuse the president of lying, authorizing torture, and violating the Constitution. Besides, they are undermining our war effort.