The Corner

The Danger of Self-Induced National-Security Crises Intensifies

President Joe Biden meets with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli war cabinet in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 18, 2023. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

How could we even consider blinding ourselves in a time of profound national-security peril?

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Open war between Israel and Iran — as distinguished from the always thrumming war Tehran has waged through its jihadist proxies for decades — is a higher likelihood in this moment than it has ever been. Despite President Biden’s reckless distancing of the United States government from Israel — while it is at war with Hamas and Hezbollah, and while Hamas is still holding American hostages — the high alert that the Israeli armed forces are on in anticipation of an Iranian onslaught, which Western intelligence services believe could be imminent (as in: as early as today), means an increased likelihood of Iranian-backed attacks on the United States — not just in the Middle East but in our own territory.

I say “Despite” advisedly. Keeping alive his streak of being wrong on every consequential foreign-policy matter in his half-century career — with the wages of his inanities now higher than ever — President Biden has bashed our Israeli ally to appease Iran (and woo the “Death to America” precincts of Dearborn, Mich.). As ever, the result will not find Iran overlooking American support for Israel (support which is still very strong in the public and much of Congress); the result will be — it already is — to embolden Iran to attack in the conceit that the Biden administration may not be fully committed to Israel’s defense. Biden’s ongoing display of weakness can only further embolden Iran to step up attacks against us.

On that score, I observed back in January that Biden’s self-created border crisis has been overlapping with the crisis caused by his mishandling of Iran policy:

For many years, Iran has had an operational alliance with the Marxist totalitarian regime in Venezuela. This gives Iran a toehold in the West and a well-trod route to infiltrate operatives across the southern border. Biden has appeared blithely indifferent to this — which is no surprise when we remember the debacle last fall: Biden agreed to a “prisoner exchange” in connection with the $6 billion ransom that he paid Iran for the release of American hostages. Then it turned out that most of the Iranian prisoners, who had been or were being prosecuted by the Justice Department for clandestine activities on behalf of Tehran, were “U.S. persons” who got to stay in the United States rather than being returned to Iran.

Biden is facilitating illegal immigration from Venezuela (among other South and Central American countries) through a lawless visa scheme. In a post earlier today, I drew on a report by Andrew Arthur (of the Center for Immigration Studies) about the staggering number of illegal immigrants (371,000) who entered the country last month. Arthur relates that, despite the fact that Biden reserves for Venezuela a healthy share of the annual (illegal) parole grants from his CHNV program (Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela), tens of thousands of additional aliens from those countries are showing up illegally every month. Last month, of 61,500 such illegal aliens, 47,000 were from Venezuela. That’s bad . . . but not as bad as the 51,833 from Venezuela in September.

The mind reels. Does any rational person think Iran is not capitalizing on this scheme?

It was a rhetorical question, of course. As FBI director Chris Wray had warned in then-recent testimony:

As the world’s largest state-sponsor of terrorism, the Iranians, for instance, have directly, or by hiring criminals, mounted assassination attempts against dissidents and high-ranking current and former U.S. government officials, including right here on American soil. And, along those lines, Hizballah, Iran’s primary strategic partner, has a history of seeding operatives and infrastructure, obtaining money and weapons, and spying in this country going back years.

Given that disturbing history, we’re keeping a close eye on what impact recent events may have on those groups’ intentions here in the United States and how those intentions might evolve. For example, the cyber targeting of American interests and critical infrastructure that we already see—conducted by Iran and non-state actors alike—will likely get worse if the conflict expands, as will the threat of kinetic attacks. [Emphasis added.]

Among the many reasons these matters are worth considering today is the one addressed on our editorial, regarding the lunatic push in Congress to shut down the government’s statutory authority to conduct surveillance targeting non-Americans outside the United States who threaten our nation and our interests.

I am not going to rehash our editors’ arguments. And having extensively covered the FBI’s abuses of some of its national-security authorities, having written a book in which the Russiagate abuses were central, and having proposed that the government’s foreign counterintelligence mission against threats to our homeland be transferred from the FBI to a dedicated intelligence service shorn of police powers, I don’t think I can be fairly maligned as a blind apologist for the bureau. But I will say this as someone who started working against the anti-American jihad over 30 years ago: The threat against us in this moment is profound. We cannot afford to blind ourselves to the clear and present peril.

We don’t endow the U.S. armed forces with an arsenal of unprecedented power because we trust that they will never make mistakes (and worse). We do it because it is essential to our national defense and the liberty that we cherish. And we don’t disarm the military when, inevitably, it engages in misfeasance or even malfeasance. Instead, we seek discipline and, where appropriate, significant punishment for wrongdoers. We don’t suicidally strip ourselves of the means to defend ourselves.

The government’s capacity to monitor non-Americans (who don’t have Constitutional rights) outside the United States (where American law does not apply) must not be gutted, especially in a time of high threat, for no better reason than that Americans may be incidentally monitored. To the contrary, it is in these circumstances that our intelligence services have a chance to identify two key categories of Americans: those who are being targeted by anti-American regimes and foreign terrorist organizations, and those who are collaborating with anti-American regimes and foreign terrorist organizations.

Under the current FISA Section 702 proposal, rogue agents who abuse their authorities will now face stiff criminal penalties. And it remains the case that in the only situation in which a warrant should be required to query the foreign intelligence database — namely, when the FBI wants to seek evidence that an American has committed a crime, unrelated to foreign intelligence — Section 702 mandates that the bureau get court permission based on probable cause.

Given these measures, there would be no sensible reason to decline to reauthorize Section 702 even if our threat environment seemed less perilous. When the peril is staring us right in the face, the failure to reauthorize would be inexcusable.

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