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Our Right To Security
Our Right to Security
Al Qaeda, not the FBI, is the greater threat to America.
BY DEBRA BURLINGAME
Monday, January 30, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
One of the most excruciating images of the September 11 attacks is the sight of a man who was trapped in one of the World Trade Center towers. Stripped of his suit jacket and tie and hanging on to what appears to be his office curtains, he is seen trying to lower himself outside a window to the floor immediately below. Frantically kicking his legs in an effort to find a purchase, he loses his grip, and falls.
That horrific scene and thousands more were the images that awakened a sleeping nation on that long, brutal morning. Instead of overwhelming fear or paralyzing self-doubt, the attacks were met with defiance, unity and a sense of moral purpose. Following the heroic example of ordinary citizens who put their fellow human beings and the public good ahead of themselves, the country's leaders cast aside politics and personal ambition and enacted the USA Patriot Act just 45 days later.
A mere four-and-a-half years after victims were forced to choose between being burned alive and jumping from 90 stories, it is frankly shocking that there is anyone in Washington who would politicize the Patriot Act. It is an insult to those who died to tell the American people that the organization posing the greatest threat to their liberty is not al Qaeda but the FBI. Hearing any member of Congress actually crow about "killing" or "playing chicken" with this critical legislation is as disturbing today as it would have been when Ground Zero was still smoldering. Today we know in far greater detail what not having it cost us.
Critics contend that the Patriot Act was rushed into law in a moment of panic. The truth is, the policies and guidelines it corrected had a long, troubled history and everybody who had to deal with them knew it. The "wall" was a tortuous set of rules promulgated by Justice Department lawyers in 1995 and imagined into law by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Conceived as an added protection for civil liberties provisions already built into the statute, it was the wall and its real-world ramifications that hardened the failure-to-share culture between agencies, allowing early information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi to fall through the cracks. More perversely, even after the significance of these terrorists and their presence in the country was known by the FBI's intelligence division, the wall prevented it from talking to its own criminal division in order to hunt them down.
Furthermore, it was the impenetrable FISA guidelines and fear of provoking the FISA court's wrath if they were transgressed that discouraged risk-averse FBI supervisors from applying for a FISA search warrant in the Zacarias Moussaoui case. The search, finally conducted on the afternoon of 9/11, produced names and phone numbers of people in the thick of the 9/11 plot, so many fertile clues that investigators believe that at least one airplane, if not all four, could have been saved.
In 2002, FISA's appellate level Court of Review examined the entire statutory scheme for issuing warrants in national security investigations and declared the "wall" a nonsensical piece of legal overkill, based neither on express statutory language nor reasonable interpretation of the FISA statute. The lower court's attempt to micromanage the execution of national security warrants was deemed an assertion of authority which neither Congress or the Constitution granted it. In other words, those lawyers and judges who created, implemented and so assiduously enforced the FISA guidelines were wrong and the American people paid dearly for it.
Despite this history, some members of Congress contend that this process-heavy court is agile enough to rule on quickly needed National Security Agency (NSA) electronic surveillance warrants. This is a dubious claim. Getting a FISA warrant requires a multistep review involving several lawyers at different offices within the Department of Justice. It can take days, weeks, even months if there is a legal dispute between the principals. "Emergency" 72-hour intercepts require sign-offs by NSA lawyers and pre-approval by the attorney general before surveillance can be initiated. Clearly, this is not conducive to what Gen. Michael Hayden, principal deputy director of national intelligence, calls "hot pursuit" of al Qaeda conversations.
The Senate will soon convene hearings on renewal of the Patriot Act and the NSA terrorist surveillance program. A minority of senators want to gamble with American lives and "fix" national security laws, which they can't show are broken. They seek to eliminate or weaken anti-terrorism measures which take into account that the Cold War and its slow-moving, analog world of landlines and stationary targets is gone. The threat we face today is a completely new paradigm of global terrorist networks operating in a high-velocity digital age using the Web and fiber-optic technology. After four-and-a-half years without another terrorist attack, these senators think we're safe enough to cave in to the same civil liberties lobby that supported that deadly FISA wall in the first place. What if they, like those lawyers and judges, are simply wrong?
Meanwhile, the media, mouthing phrases like "Article II authority," "separation of powers" and "right to privacy," are presenting the issues as if politics have nothing to do with what is driving the subject matter and its coverage. They want us to forget four years of relentless "connect-the-dots" reporting about the missed chances that "could have prevented 9/11." They have discounted the relevance of references to the two 9/11 hijackers who lived in San Diego. But not too long ago, the media itself reported that phone records revealed that five or six of the hijackers made extensive calls overseas.
NBC News aired an "exclusive" story in 2004 that dramatically recounted how al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, the San Diego terrorists who would later hijack American Airlines flight 77 and fly it into the Pentagon, received more than a dozen calls from an al Qaeda "switchboard" inside Yemen where al-Mihdhar's brother-in-law lived. The house received calls from Osama Bin Laden and relayed them to operatives around the world. Senior correspondent Lisa Myers told the shocking story of how, "The NSA had the actual phone number in the United States that the switchboard was calling, but didn't deploy that equipment, fearing it would be accused of domestic spying." Back then, the NBC script didn't describe it as "spying on Americans." Instead, it was called one of the "missed opportunities that could have saved 3,000 lives."
Another example of opportunistic coverage concerns the Patriot Act's "library provision." News reports have given plenty of ink and airtime to the ACLU's unsupported claims that the government has abused this important records provision. But how many Americans know that several of the hijackers repeatedly accessed computers at public libraries in New Jersey and Florida, using personal Internet accounts to carry out the conspiracy? Al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi logged on four times at a college library in New Jersey where they purchased airline tickets for AA 77 and later confirmed their reservations on Aug. 30. In light of this, it is ridiculous to suggest that the Justice Department has the time, resources or interest in "investigating the reading habits of law abiding citizens."
We now have the ability to put remote control cameras on the surface of Mars. Why should we allow enemies to annihilate us simply because we lack the clarity or resolve to strike a reasonable balance between a healthy skepticism of government power and the need to take proactive measures to protect ourselves from such threats? The mantra of civil-liberties hard-liners is to "question authority"--even when it is coming to our rescue--then blame that same authority when, hamstrung by civil liberties laws, it fails to save us. The old laws that would prevent FBI agents from stopping the next al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi were built on the bedrock of a 35-year history of dark, defeating mistrust. More Americans should not die because the peace-at-any-cost fringe and antigovernment paranoids still fighting the ghost of Nixon hate George Bush more than they fear al Qaeda. Ask the American people what they want. They will say that they want the commander in chief to use all reasonable means to catch the people who are trying to rain terror on our cities. Those who cite the soaring principle of individual liberty do not appear to appreciate that our enemies are not seeking to destroy individuals, but whole populations.
Three weeks before 9/11, an FBI agent with the bin Laden case squad in New York learned that al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi were in this country. He pleaded with the national security gatekeepers in Washington to launch a nationwide manhunt and was summarily told to stand down. When the FISA Court of Review tore down the wall in 2002, it included in its ruling the agent's Aug. 29, 2001, email to FBI headquarters: "Whatever has happened to this--someday someone will die--and wall or not--the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain problems. Let's hope the National Security Law Unit will stand behind their decisions then, especially since the biggest threat to us now, is getting the most 'protection.'"
The public has listened to years of stinging revelations detailing how the government tied its own hands in stopping the devastating attacks of September 11. It is an irresponsible violation of the public trust for members of Congress to weaken the Patriot Act or jeopardize the NSA terrorist surveillance program because of the same illusory theories that cost us so dearly before, or worse, for rank partisan advantage. If they do, and our country sustains yet another catastrophic attack that these antiterrorism tools could have prevented, the phrase "connect the dots" will resonate again--but this time it will refer to the trail of innocent American blood which leads directly to the Senate floor.
Ms. Burlingame, a former attorney, is the sister of Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
Re: Our Right To Security
Hey Nyer, how is the day treating you? Love the discussion.
Spies, Lies and Wiretaps
Published: January 29, 2006
A bit over a week ago, President Bush and his men promised to provide the legal, constitutional and moral justifications for the sort of warrantless spying on Americans that has been illegal for nearly 30 years. Instead, we got the familiar mix of political spin, clumsy historical misinformation, contemptuous dismissals of civil liberties concerns, cynical attempts to paint dissents as anti-American and pro-terrorist, and a couple of big, dangerous lies.
The first was that the domestic spying program is carefully aimed only at people who are actively working with Al Qaeda, when actually it has violated the rights of countless innocent Americans. And the second was that the Bush team could have prevented the 9/11 attacks if only they had thought of eavesdropping without a warrant.
Sept. 11 could have been prevented. This is breathtakingly cynical. The nation's guardians did not miss the 9/11 plot because it takes a few hours to get a warrant to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mail messages. They missed the plot because they were not looking. The same officials who now say 9/11 could have been prevented said at the time that no one could possibly have foreseen the attacks. We keep hoping that Mr. Bush will finally lay down the bloody banner of 9/11, but Karl Rove, who emerged from hiding recently to talk about domestic spying, made it clear that will not happen — because the White House thinks it can make Democrats look as though they do not want to defend America. "President Bush believes if Al Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why," he told Republican officials. "Some important Democrats clearly disagree."
Mr. Rove knows perfectly well that no Democrat has ever said any such thing — and that nothing prevented American intelligence from listening to a call from Al Qaeda to the United States, or a call from the United States to Al Qaeda, before Sept. 11, 2001, or since. The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act simply required the government to obey the Constitution in doing so. And FISA was amended after 9/11 to make the job much easier.
Only bad guys are spied on. Bush officials have said the surveillance is tightly focused only on contacts between people in this country and Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Vice President Dick Cheney claimed it saved thousands of lives by preventing attacks. But reporting in this paper has shown that the National Security Agency swept up vast quantities of e-mail messages and telephone calls and used computer searches to generate thousands of leads. F.B.I. officials said virtually all of these led to dead ends or to innocent Americans. The biggest fish the administration has claimed so far has been a crackpot who wanted to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch — a case that F.B.I. officials said was not connected to the spying operation anyway.
The spying is legal. The secret program violates the law as currently written. It's that simple. In fact, FISA was enacted in 1978 to avoid just this sort of abuse. It said that the government could not spy on Americans by reading their mail (or now their e-mail) or listening to their telephone conversations without obtaining a warrant from a special court created for this purpose. The court has approved tens of thousands of warrants over the years and rejected a handful.
As amended after 9/11, the law says the government needs probable cause, the constitutional gold standard, to believe the subject of the surveillance works for a foreign power or a terrorist group, or is a lone-wolf terrorist. The attorney general can authorize electronic snooping on his own for 72 hours and seek a warrant later. But that was not good enough for Mr. Bush, who lowered the standard for spying on Americans from "probable cause" to "reasonable belief" and then cast aside the bedrock democratic principle of judicial review.
Just trust us. Mr. Bush made himself the judge of the proper balance between national security and Americans' rights, between the law and presidential power. He wants Americans to accept, on faith, that he is doing it right. But even if the United States had a government based on the good character of elected officials rather than law, Mr. Bush would not have earned that kind of trust. The domestic spying program is part of a well-established pattern: when Mr. Bush doesn't like the rules, he just changes them, as he has done for the detention and treatment of prisoners and has threatened to do in other areas, like the confirmation of his judicial nominees. He has consistently shown a lack of regard for privacy, civil liberties and judicial due process in claiming his sweeping powers. The founders of our country created the system of checks and balances to avert just this sort of imperial arrogance.
The rules needed to be changed. In 2002, a Republican senator — Mike DeWine of Ohio — introduced a bill that would have done just that, by lowering the standard for issuing a warrant from probable cause to "reasonable suspicion" for a "non-United States person." But the Justice Department opposed it, saying the change raised "both significant legal and practical issues" and may have been unconstitutional. Now, the president and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales are telling Americans that reasonable suspicion is a perfectly fine standard for spying on Americans as well as non-Americans — and they are the sole judges of what is reasonable.
So why oppose the DeWine bill? Perhaps because Mr. Bush had already secretly lowered the standard of proof — and dispensed with judges and warrants — for Americans and non-Americans alike, and did not want anyone to know.
War changes everything. Mr. Bush says Congress gave him the authority to do anything he wanted when it authorized the invasion of Afghanistan. There is simply nothing in the record to support this ridiculous argument.
The administration also says that the vote was the start of a war against terrorism and that the spying operation is what Mr. Cheney calls a "wartime measure." That just doesn't hold up. The Constitution does suggest expanded presidential powers in a time of war. But the men who wrote it had in mind wars with a beginning and an end. The war Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney keep trying to sell to Americans goes on forever and excuses everything.
Other presidents did it. Mr. Gonzales, who had the incredible bad taste to begin his defense of the spying operation by talking of those who plunged to their deaths from the flaming twin towers, claimed historic precedent for a president to authorize warrantless surveillance. He mentioned George Washington, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. These precedents have no bearing on the current situation, and Mr. Gonzales's timeline conveniently ended with F.D.R., rather than including Richard Nixon, whose surveillance of antiwar groups and other political opponents inspired FISA in the first place. Like Mr. Nixon, Mr. Bush is waging an unpopular war, and his administration has abused its powers against antiwar groups and even those that are just anti-Republican.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is about to start hearings on the domestic spying. Congress has failed, tragically, on several occasions in the last five years to rein in Mr. Bush and restore the checks and balances that are the genius of American constitutional democracy. It is critical that it not betray the public once again on this score.
And as Abraham Lincoln said, give the people the facts, and republican governance, perhaps, will be saved
They should pay me to post here
Re: Our Right To Security
"The Senate Judiciary Committee is about to start hearings on the domestic spying. "
I'd rather they opened hearings on Able Danger. Also, it's Not Domestic Spying as you well know. Your quote from Lincoln is ironic since Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. You pooh pooh the Washington Times as a Moonie paper. Apparently others are similarly enamored of the NY Times.
A picture tells a thousand words.
Last edited by NYer; 01-31-2006 at 03:23 PM.
They should pay me to post here
Re: Our Right To Security
PS Today I am swamped here but doing well. Hope those that have the inclination and the ability move ahead on snagging your pal Mugniyah, whose been reported in Syria.
Frank Gafney calls for Bush to Reaffirm the Patriot Act.
Last edited by NYer; 01-31-2006 at 03:53 PM.