May 11, 2006

Tap-dancing galore as Dubya tries to squelch the latest NSA revelations.

Any time Dubya makes on of his rare appearances before the press, you know that his administration is in big political trouble. And the quicker one of his press statement happens after bad news emerges, the bigger the trouble is. With those rules in mind, you can be certain that USA Today's story about the true extent of the NSA's phone surveillance program is a gigantic political problem, since Dubya was hustled in front of the press only a few hours after the story hit the internet.

In his statement, Dubya nowhere denied the accuracy of the USA Today story. I defy you to find any comment as to whether the nations's three largest phone companies really are giving the NSA records of billions of phone calls, or whether those records can be used to identify the people who made or received any particular phone call. Instead, Dubya tried to give the appearance of refuting the latest charges against the NSA, but failed to say anything that had a direct connection to the question of whether those charges are accurate.

To prove this, I could just point to how Dubya scurried away from the presidential podium before reporters began questioning him about his statement. That, however, would be a cheap shot. And since we all know that cheap shots are never allowed at Magpie (cough, cough), let's deconstruct Dubya's statement and see whether it refutes the latest accusations regarding the NSA.

After September the 11th, I vowed to the American people that our government would do everything within the law to protect them against another terrorist attack. As part of this effort, I authorized the National Security Agency to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. In other words, if al Qaeda or their associates are making calls into the United States or out of the United States, we want to know what they're saying.

The existing FISA statute already gave the government the tools it needed to intercept phone calls related to terrorism. Under that law, calls can be intercepted first, and a warrant obtained later. The prez's authorization of the NSA's wiretapping program was not only illegal, but nnecessary.

Today there are new claims about other ways we are tracking down al Qaeda to prevent attacks on America. I want to make some important points about what the government is doing and what the government is not doing.

First, our international activities strictly target al Qaeda and their known affiliates. Al Qaeda is our enemy, and we want to know their plans.

This is irrelevant. The USA Today story is talking about NSA activities within the US — not what it's doing internationally.

Second, the government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval.

The USA Today story didn't say that the feds are listening to phone calls — just that the NSA has been obtaining the records of who placed and received phone calls. Dubya is trying to protect himself by responding to a charge that (at least in this case) hasn't been made.

Third, the intelligence activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat.

Dubya is repeating his 'it's legal because the president did it' defense. The legality of both his authorization and the NSA's activities are a matter of hot contention.

Fourth, the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities.

This statement would carry more weight if Dubya addressed the question of whether the NSA really is getting its hands on billions of phone records. Since his press statement evades this question, how can anyone trust his assertion that the 'privacy of ordinary Americans' is being protected?

We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates. So far we've been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil.

Since Dubya doesn't define what he means by 'mining' or 'trolling,' there's no way to know whether he's lying or telling the truth. A reasonable person could conclude that the prez is playing semantic games about the meaning of 'trolling' and 'mining' so that he can make his denial with a straight face.

Dubya's reference to the lack of terrorist attacks on the US since 9/11 is another attempt to change the subject. The lack of attacks has nothing to do with whether the NSA is compiling a database of phone records or whether such action is legal. In addition, there could be any number of reasons why there haven't been any attacks, many of them having nothing to do actions taken by the Dubya or his administration.

As a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy. Our most important job is to protect the American people from another attack, and we will do so within the laws of our country.

The first sentence is the most important part of Dubya's statement and, in my opinion, the real reason why he went in front of the press today. Not only does the prez continue to evade the question of whether USA Today told the truth about what the NSA is doing, but he attempts to change the subject by accusing the press and leakers of being in league with terrorists. This accusation works on two levels:

  • First, it's an attempt to prevent future leaks by intimidating the leakers, the reporters to whom information is leaked, and the media that print or broadcast that information — none of whom want to face a federal prosecution.
  • Second, Dubya's reference to how leaks of 'sensitive intelligence' affect his administration's ability to protect the country is a direct appeal to his hard-core supporters and, very likely, a talking point that's going to appear with a vengeance in the right-wing echo chamber. The prez is facing huge political problems right now, even without the latest revelations about the NSA's illegal domestic surveillance. Whipping up the base against the traitors in the press is a desperate move to recoup at least some of Dubya's flagging political support.

After Dubya's press statement today, we know absolutely nothing new about the NSA's domestic wiretapping and surveillance. What we got instead of facts were lies, evasions, and more lies. He and his handlers are gambling that the public will be satisfied with these lies, just as they were with similar lies the administration tells about Iraq, the economy, and pretty much anything else it touches. But maybe Dubya's plummeting poll numbers means that the game can't be played as usual, and that the administration's calculations are wrong this time.

Posted by Magpie at May 11, 2006 12:45 PM | War on Terrorism | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |

First, it's an attempt to prevent future leaks by intimidating the leakers, the reporters to whom information is leaked, and the media that print or broadcast that information none of whom want to face a federal prosecution.

Yes, and since all of this data is being put into a massive database, what happens when the government looks to see who Seymour Hersh talked to? The "call records" or if this dKos story is right the audio of the call are being fed through the huge switches and tagged and stored away for further examination of what was actually said. Mr. Joe Public, your phone call is being screened for "questionable" material and perhaps being stored away by the world's biggest google machine. What's to prevent them from coming to take someone away 5 years after the conversation when they decide that what was said was bad? This is exactly what Orwell talked about.

Posted by: Mary at May 11, 2006 10:00 PM