Thursday, February 09, 2006

Rebanging the Drum of Fear

The current NSA surveillance argument is seeing the Bush administration trying almost anything to rekindle Al Qaeda fears within the American public and public officials. Last night, a sudden "nerve agent scare" in the Senate building saw an evacuation, which later proved to be a "false" alarm. With subsequent tests, the nerve agent had mysteriously disappeared from the scene. This did not, however, stop CNN from blasting coverage of the non-event for hours last night. Lurid descriptions of nerve agent effects glowed brightly from screens. I'm sure Fox hyped up the fright even more.

Today, Bush announced that US allies stopped a shoe-bomber from blowing up the "Liberty Tower" in LA. Though there is no Liberty Tower in LA, it was clarified that Bush meant to say "Library" but that the word liberty popped out, mostly I expect because, while Bush is very used to saying the word 'liberty," he isn't used to saying "library" much at all.

Though the plot had been known for sometime, it is now being re-employed to drum up the fear that Al Qaeda plots are rampant. Though the plot's deraillment had nothing to do with the NSA surveillance program, its reiteration by Bush is designed for one purpose: to justify the NSA program as a necessary part in the larger effort to thwart terrorist attacks.

The larger media and the discussions surrounding the program have amazingly failed to note that the NSA program has produced almost nothing of value itself.
Intelligence officers who eavesdropped on thousands of Americans in overseas calls under authority from President Bush have dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat....

Fewer than 10 U.S. citizens or residents a year, according to an authoritative account, have aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls.

The scale of warrantless surveillance, and the high proportion of bystanders swept in, sheds new light on Bush's circumvention of the courts. National security lawyers, in and out of government, said the washout rate raised fresh doubts about the program's lawfulness under the Fourth Amendment, because a search cannot be judged "reasonable" if it is based on evidence that experience shows to be unreliable.
None of this matters to Bush or Gonzales or anyone else standing by the program. The effort is now clearly underway to raise the fear factor in the public consciousness in order to distract from the inefficacy and illegality of the warrentless surveillance itself.


Blogger Captain American said...

I don't mind warrentless wiretaps if the government holds itself to restricting the usage of the information gained for the pursuit of national security alone.

They tap the lines of a group of people that turn out to simply be drug runners, that information can not be passed to the FBI or even state police to apprehend the drug traffickers.

The information gained through NSA efforts should only be used to protect the nation, not uphold the law. That is what the FBI and state police are for.

I liken this to the seperation of church and state. However, since that seperation rarely works in practice. I don't think the NSA will be able to hold themselves that high standard.

3:27 PM  
Blogger theBhc said...

I expect you are exactly correct in your last statement. This is why such a program worries people. It is what worried those who wrote the Constitution. This is why there are three branches of government, not just one and Bush's position claims to usurp the powers of the other two.

This country's executive branch has employed illegal wiretapping against political opponents before. That is why FISA was passed. Unfortunately, this particular executive has chosen to bypass law and could very well wind up spying on their own versions of MLK.

Let's make one thing clear here, this is not "the government" doing this. This program was signed off by only one branch of it. If normative oversights were in place, of course, this wouldn't be an issue. The question here is why are the other branches of government not involved and is that legal? Claims that this needs be done under a cloak of secrecy rings hollow. The terrorists go to great lengths to avoid detection and they expect to be spied upon. Simply saying that we have a program of surveillance does not suddenly reveal some heretofore unknown program to the terrorists. They already know.

Despite the claims by Bush and Gonzales, there was no Congressional agreement or even very much knowledge about the program. A few were simply told it was happening and that they could not discuss that with anyone. I think Congress should have been more informed but still required to not discuss it or even admit it.

The triumveral nature of the US government structure was explicitly designed to prevent any one branch from acting of its own accord. Challenges to this sharing have been made by most modern executives and it has always led to untoward situations. Holding themselves to a "high standard" is not a marked quality of most executives and I doubt that it ever will be.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Captain American said...

When you say "heretofore unknown program" it reminds me of why conspiracies exist in the first place.

Area 51. Flouride in water supply. Black helicopter surveillance. Okay, fine, WMD's in Iraq.

They provide immense conspiracies to tie up the minds and passions of 80 percent of the people who might actually dig deeper into the real black box conspiracies the government have up their sleeve.

Then the president posts up a few morons who can't do their job. Michael Brown, George Deutsch, and the like to capture the remaining 20 percent.

This leaves the government, one branch of it, or just the President free to pursue the real conspiracies. Which, ironically enough in half of the cases, are the most likely same operation as it's cover conspiracy.

Still, that's just the rhetoric of a person who doesn't like conspiracies anyway.

7:34 PM  

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