If you’ve watched the news in the past several days, you’ve heard Washington politicians make some powerful statements. Al Gore claimed George W. Bush broke the law by spying. Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, a Republican, even went so far as to suggest that President Bush could be impeached. So what’s going on, exactly?
The National Security Agency (NSA) traditionally listens to and analyzes foreign communications. It performs extensive counterespionage against foreign organizations that attempt to listen to the American government’s communications. NSA was founded to monitor the communications of enemy nations.
Here’s the problem. For the past several years, with the express authorization of the president, NSA has listened to the communications of American citizens without warrants. Normally NSA requires a warrant to wiretap American citizens, but since 2001 Bush personally gave NSA authorization to wiretap American citizens without one.
The Bush administration claims that it was necessary to give NSA the power to listen to Americans to prevent terrorist attacks, but this is absurd.
In the event that NSA needs to immediately wiretap a conversation and doesn’t have time to get a warrant, it is legally allowed to obtain a warrant to eavesdrop on a conversation up to 72 hours after it has occurred.
Furthermore, the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, which grants warrants to NSA for wiretapping, denied only six out of the 5,645 requests by NSA. In other words, over 99.9 percent of requests for warrants were approved, but because six were not, it was necessary to launch a secret program to monitor American communications.
Allow me to repeat: This is absurd. Clearly the courts have bent over backwards to support NSA and have approved almost all of NSA’s requests. So is it really worth ignoring constitutional rights to listen to an additional six conversations?
Evidently, the Bush administration thinks so. But it is not as if NSA requested warrants to wiretap the perpetrators of 9/11 and was turned down. So why should we assume that we’ll be any safer if the government has the ability to listen to any conversation it pleases?
In fact, the flood of information from NSA caused hundreds of FBI agents to check out the information they received, almost all of which led to innocent Americans. Numerous officials said they could have been used for more productive counterterrorism work, and that they found few, if any, new leads. Not only was allowing NSA to monitor the conversations of Americans unconstitutional, it was a waste of time.
Less than two years ago, the president said, “Anytime you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires – a wiretap requires a court order.” Yet today, we find the president not only justifying wiretaps without court orders, but also criticizing The New York Times for telling the American people that this is happening.
There has to be a balance between security and civil liberties, but there can be no compromise when it comes to honesty, trustworthiness and acting in good faith. Trust is vital for any authority figure, and the president has routinely shown that he is not worthy of our trust.
If the president wanted to extend executive power, perhaps he should have done so in the open, rather than unilaterally disregarding the basic ideals of freedom and fairness on which this country was founded. Perhaps we should be monitoring his activities more closely. At least he is a proven liar, not just a suspected one.
Information from – today.reuters.com, whitehouse.gov/news, cnn.com/2005/POLITICS, upi.com/NewsTrack, nytimes.com and washingtonpost.com