What Do You Want Bush to Say on NSA?

Unlike many of his fiercest critics, I don't blame President Bush for his vague remarks Thursday about the latest kerfluffle in the saga of the National Security Agency's efforts to monitor the activities of both friend and foe. I watched the President's speech live, and I read the transcript later, and it dawns on me that he said precisely all there is to reasonably say about a program that by its nature precludes a great deal of public debate. This is spying we are talking about, after all. So what else but nothing could the President truly say in candor that wouldn't destroy his Administration's policy choices when it comes to domestic surveillance?

By this I don't mean to suggest that I believe the program has enough legislative or judicial oversight -- how can anyone really tell? -- and I certainly don't mean to imply that even with the proper oversight the program makes sense. These are the same people, remember, who couldn't find known al-Qaeda operatives within the U.S. before 9/11 and wouldn't listen to the FBI agent who thought Zacarias Moussaoui was a terrorist a month before the attacks. It's just that no one should expect the President to sound like anyone but a lawyer as he offers a legal defense of an activity that has its fair share of skeptics, both in and out of the legal community.

The Administration, in other words, is making the only arguments it can make -- that the program in its many forms is both legal and necessary. Making a judgment about the "necessary" part is beyond the scope of our reach because neither you nor I have access to the information that would permit an educated evaluation of what the program is, what it is intended to do and how likely it is that it will accomplish its goal. Congress can take a whack at whether the program truly is necessary, and maybe some leaders already have. But if they have, they sure weren't running in front of any cameras on Thursday.

That leaves only the "legal" argument -- the one the President made in so many ambiguous words before live television cameras. It is the same argument the White House has made before to Congress when the spy program first was outed last fall. It is the same argument the administration has used and will continue to use in court. It is the same argument the White House will make until this President leaves office or until the other two branches decide that it is a lousy argument without enough Constitutional foundation to allow it to continue to stand.

My point is that it is now incumbent upon those other two branches to react -- more quickly than they have so far, if you ask me -- to the grandiose and disturbing claim the administration has staked out on this issue. The law is not nearly as clear as the Administration would have you believe. It is not nearly as settled. In fact, if it is settled at all, it is settled against the Administration's position. It's not the empty words from the President that concern me. It's the policy chioces that have made those words so necessary so often lately.

By  |  May 12, 2006; 7:00 AM ET
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Though there is enough to say about the illigality of now two domestic spying programs, but what I do not hear much about is HOW these programs affect our freedoms. 9/11 spooked a lot of people and people I used to think loved America and the Constitution were ready to give it all up to be "safe". This is how freedoms are lost and once lost difficult to get back. "Live Free or Die" is the motto of those who value freedom over safety and that is the real debate. Do we want to be a very free society or a very safe society. There is little room for both.

So, what are are the consequences of this domestic spying. How will the loss of your 4th ammendment freedoms affect you? Most people probably think little, but one only has to begin imagining what would happen if your neighbor had the ability to review your phone records and eavesdrop on your calls and things change. They do not want their neighbor, friends or co-workers to know who they called or what was said. When they are reminded that those sitting at the NSA are not robots but real people, it begins to sink in. Remind them again that those people can be ordered by higher ups to do anything with that data and it sinks in a little more. Imagine Karl Rove wanted to know who Sen. Kerry's press secretary had been talking to. Could he get those records? What would stop him? Imaging he could have the NSA eavesdrop on his calls. Because there is no oversight, all of this is possible. Imagine an investigative reporter reports on a republican representative who is taking bribes and the source is a congressional aide. Guess who could determine the identity of that aide though phone records without a warrant. Imagine an ex-ambassador who reports Niger is not selling uranium to Iraq and the administration wants to retaliate. With the power they have at the NSA they can do a lot, not only to the ambassador but to those he is talking to.

Spying is a necessity in a hostile world and this has been recognized for ages. What is new and very dangerous is that this is now happening in America without oversight. Congressional laws to protect oversight have been ignored by this administration. How can an administration so willing to break the law ask anyone to trust it. Trust is not built into the American republic. Checks and balances are. This administration does not want to live by those checks and balances and thus not under the constitution. Its been said many times that power corrupts. Having the phone records of Americans and the ability review them and eavesdrop on them at will is a lot of power. It WILL corrupt. My guess is it already has, likely during the last election cycle. The temptation to use those records can easily be understood. Without oversight, Americans have no protections from our government. Congress should be ashamed.

Posted by: Sully | May 12, 2006 10:30 AM

What do I want him to say on the NSA?

I want him to says that in order to carry out this senseless program, he persuaded three of America's largest communications companies to prostitute themselves, violating their customers' privacy and risking their own futures.

I want him to say that there's a reason that he isn't allowed to sneak around behind the back of Congress, the courts, and the American people to spy on them.

I want him to say he's sorry for corrupting the mission of one of our leading defense agencies.

I want him to say that this program and the others like it have done far more harm to this country than any benefit we could possibly derive from it.

I want him to say he'll stop doing this sort of thing and he'll never do it again.

Now, if you'd asked "What would you EXPECT him to say about the NSA?", I'd have said "pretty much what I heard him say".

I'm way past being "realistic" on this issue, to use one of the words most often used by the cynical people who seem to abound in the lands around Washington, DC. To me, it's not realistic to allow someone to break the law and flout the separation of powers because he can't help himself. If he can't follow the Constitution, which is the thing that he swore to do, then he needs to leave office.

If you expect us to be satisfied with what we expect this guy to say, then you need to adjust your expectations.

Posted by: Cuj359 | May 12, 2006 12:31 PM

What do I want bush to say? The TRUTH:

1) Yes, we decided to invade Iraq on our theory that once a democracy is established in a muslim country in the mideast freedom will have a domino effect, and the voiceless and downtrodden will turn to voting instead of suicide bombing, will get wealthy and stop paying attention to the mullahs, etc.

2) Yes, we're spying in all sorts of ways on you because we feel there are sleeper cells in america and we want to get them, and this is easier than securing every cargo container or the US/Mexico border. Plus we're sure the arab communit6ies must have someone connected to osama bin laden

3)Yes, I told Karl and Libby to smear Wilson by outing Valerie Plame

4) Yes, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are running a secret army within the armed forces - the one on charge of abu garabe, as a matter of fact.

5) Yes, Brent Wilkes was running hookers and poker parties at the Watergate Hotel and Goss and Foggo were stupid enough to attend, so we fired them.

6) Yes, we do think that evangelical christians should be able to evangelize in the armed services, why not?

7)Yes, I plan on invading Iran because they are a dictatorship of islamofacists and they will never tell the truth so we might as well liberate them and remove one leg of the axis of evil

8) Yes, as President in time of war I am above some laws and above any oversight from congress

Posted by: Long Beach CA | May 12, 2006 04:53 PM

If anybody thinks investigative reporting consists only of asking someone in the middle of a controversy if he did anything wrong, then they need to go back to journalism school.

How about a little legal analysis about dragnet searches in general that invade privacy (the 4th amendment) and the telecommunications act specifically? There must be some established precedent about what the government can and can't do in the context of existing judicial interpretation. Sure, we don't know how far this stuff goes, (that's the problem with the Star Chamber), but we can speculate. If what USA Today says is true, . . . If the government is merely doing x, then y. But if it is doing z . . .

Posted by: Sara B. | May 13, 2006 01:16 PM

What, if any, are the ramifications of the Administration's directions to NSA and the phone companies as to the "right to privacy" recognized in Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut? That is, would the NSA intrusions and the Bush Administration's support of them constitute any sort of legal basis for further erosion of the Right to privacy?

Posted by: bierbelly | May 15, 2006 12:51 PM

I hear the Administration and its apologists saying we need to give up some of our constitutional rights to save us from terrorism. But they are so selective on this. After 9/11, then-AG Ashcroft required detroying gun purchase records within 24 hours to preserve imaginary 2s amendment rights to possess firearms. (Sorry, gun nuts, but if you still think there is such a right, you need to join Rush in rehab.) This after we found al Qaeda training manuals teaching terrorists about US gun loopholes, and after the FBI caught terrorists using the gun show loophole to purchase weaponry.

Yet they now ask us to give up real constitutional rights for a program of dubious use. And I'm supposed to go along while gun dealers sell 50-caliber rifles with impunity to terrorists so they can shoot down a couple of 747s? Is W nuts? Or is he willing to risk another 9/11 just to satisfy the gun nuts? Not me.

I want to hear W say he's keeping gun records forever, that he's closing the gun show loophole, that he's hunting down anyone suspected of selling guns to terrorists, and that he's asking the gun nuts to yield as much on their imaginary gun rights as he is asking America to yield on our real constitional rights. Anything else is moral hypocracy and a mortal threat to our Republic.

When they destroy gun records, the terrorists win. Al Qaeda and bin Laden said so themselves.

Posted by: George | May 15, 2006 04:34 PM

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