Monday, December 19, 2005 at 11:13 AM
Political opportunism is de rigeur in Washington. And the more politicians declare that “this is an issue too serious to politicize”, the more that issue becomes politicized. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that debates over the role (and fate) of American soldiers in Iraq or on national security are distinguished more by political gamesmanship than by political principles.
But it seems unconscionable – even in this context – for Democrats to be feigning sanctimonious outrage over revelations that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to begin spying on Americans in the aftermath of 9/11. And, this is especially so because the New York Times did not publish these revelations yesterday pursuant to its hallowed duty to keep the public informed; instead, these revelations (which the editor of the Times has known about for over a year) were timed to help maximize advance sales of the book containing them that was written by one of the paper’s own reporters – James Risen.
Notwithstanding these political and mercurial motives, however, most Americans would probably find this NSA spying initiative itself unconscionable – at least upon first impression. That is why it was to the credit of this swaggering, press-be-damned President that he faced the cameras over the weekend to explain himself. And, here’s what he said:
“The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time….And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.”
Now, apart from the self-evident truth of his statement, you would think that Democrats accusing Bush of high crimes and calling for his impeachment knew nothing about this spying programme. But you’d be wrong!
Because, barely containing his justified outrage, Bush insisted that:
“…congressional leaders had been briefed on the operation more than a dozen times. That included Democrats as well as Republicans in the House and Senate.”
Moreover, after a little reflection, most Americans would probably consider claims by Democrats that they are shocked, shocked to find there’s spying going on in America about as credible as the claims by Republicans that they were similarly shocked to find there was bribery going on in Washington.
But the disingenuousness surrounding this issue is compounded even further by the fact that corporations spy on Americans for purely commercial reasons (and private citizens spy on each other often for prurient reasons) far more than the government does for national security reasons. For example, the book “SPYCHiPS“ details how:
“…big companies like Wal Mart, Proctor& Gamble, Exxon- Mobil, Benneton, Philips, Gillette, Max Factor…to name a few…are already using traceable chips all the better to spy on you.”
And, if you think Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! are any more respectful of the privacy expectations of American citizens, then you probably believe in Tooth Fairies and Santa Claus. But to get some appreciation of the depth and breadth of spying in America, I recommend reading George Orwell’s “1984” before exposing oneself to the harsh realities of SPYCHiPS.
As for Bush the eavesdropper-in-chief, I don’t care if he wants to screen my correspondence to ensure that I’m not conspiring with my friend Mohammed in Pakistan to blow-up the empire state building, any more than I care that Google and Yahoo are monitoring every key stroke on my personal computer to set me up for targeted spam from their corporate advertisers. Indeed, if truth be told, I find it rather comforting to know that the government is spying on Americans for signs of terrorist conspiracies. (Especially since I often wonder how many Timothy McVeighs are still out there in Middle America….)
Because I cannot imagine a more terminally boring job, however, I shall consider it my modest contribution to the fight against terrorism to have NSA eavesdroppers monitor my dirty phone chats and erotic emails just for a little titillation.
Seriously though, here’s the potentially dangerous bottom line on this story:
“As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have….The unauthorized disclosure of this effort [probably by one of the Senators who was briefed about it years ago and is now accusing Bush of high crimes] damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk.”
Admittedly, issues like WMDs and the CIA leak investigation have Bush running a worsening credibility deficit. But on this point, I think he’s absolutely right. Therefore, I admonish pollyannaish Democrats to reconsider their political posturing over this NSA programme. And, I urge Big Brother Republicans to appreciate that Democrats are no more unpatriotic for trying to hold Bush accountable for spying on Americans than (war hero) Republican Sen. John McCain is for holding his feet to the fire for torturing captured terrorists.
Note: For every legal expert who claims that President Bush superseded his Constitutional powers by authorizing domestic eavesdropping, one can find another expert to assert that Bush acted properly. Given the stakes involved, however, there’s no sense in making a federal case over a little harmless snooping.
UPDATE: This 60 Minutes report [unearthed by Matt Drudge] confirms my assertions about the commonplace nature of spying in America. Moreover, it shows that spying on Americans preceded 9/11 and even Bush’s election as president of the United States.