In his “hearings preview” oped in the WSJ this morning – “America Expects Surveillance” – Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asks us to consider the facts [of the NSA controversy] “from both a legal and a commonsense perspective.” I have no expertise in the former and barely any in the latter (according to people who know me), but I will venture forth to say this is one of the great “duhs” of our time.
If we’re going to use common sense, let’s imagine this. Someone is talking on a disposable cellphone for five minutes from, say, Yemen to, say, Boulder Dam. The phone is thrown away in Sanaa. Do we instantly tap the one in the USA or do we duly mosey over to the courthouse to get an order first?
Well, I leave that to you. But when I first read the James Risen reports in the NYT that the White House was ordering such taps, my initial reaction was: this is news? The NSA has a budget the size of South America. What are they supposed to be doing? Indeed what were they doing during the entire Echolon program under other administrations? (Same thing, essentially.)
I waited for the other shoe to drop – to wit, innocent citizens whose privacy was invaded would be coming forward. Never happened. Where are these people? [Burning the Danish Embassy?-ed. Coud be.] So until I understand this better, I am putting this controvery down to three principle causes: 1. Politics. 2. Internal dissension in intelligence ranks. 3. Lower newspaper circulation numbers.
Oh, yes, I guess it would be nice to have more specific laws on this type of activity. But would that stop “controversies” like this from occurring? Not bloody likely.