On politicizing the Patriot Act and the NSA ‘scandal’
Debra Burlingame, sister of Charles F. “Chic” Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon on 9-11, writes a must-read opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal on the politicization by the usual suspects of both the Patriot Act and the NSA ‘scandal’. She writes:
Critics contend that the Patriot Act was rushed into law in a moment of panic. The truth is, the policies and guidelines it corrected had a long, troubled history and everybody who had to deal with them knew it. The “wall” was a tortuous set of rules promulgated by Justice Department lawyers in 1995 and imagined into law by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Conceived as an added protection for civil liberties provisions already built into the statute, it was the wall and its real-world ramifications that hardened the failure-to-share culture between agencies, allowing early information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi to fall through the cracks. More perversely, even after the significance of these terrorists and their presence in the country was known by the FBI’s intelligence division, the wall prevented it from talking to its own criminal division in order to hunt them down.
Furthermore, it was the impenetrable FISA guidelines and fear of provoking the FISA court’s wrath if they were transgressed that discouraged risk-averse FBI supervisors from applying for a FISA search warrant in the Zacarias Moussaoui case. The search, finally conducted on the afternoon of 9/11, produced names and phone numbers of people in the thick of the 9/11 plot, so many fertile clues that investigators believe that at least one airplane, if not all four, could have been saved.
In 2002, FISA’s appellate level Court of Review examined the entire statutory scheme for issuing warrants in national security investigations and declared the “wall” a nonsensical piece of legal overkill, based neither on express statutory language nor reasonable interpretation of the FISA statute. The lower court’s attempt to micromanage the execution of national security warrants was deemed an assertion of authority which neither Congress or the Constitution granted it. In other words, those lawyers and judges who created, implemented and so assiduously enforced the FISA guidelines were wrong and the American people paid dearly for it.
Despite this history, some members of Congress contend that this process-heavy court is agile enough to rule on quickly needed National Security Agency (NSA) electronic surveillance warrants. This is a dubious claim. Getting a FISA warrant requires a multistep review involving several lawyers at different offices within the Department of Justice. It can take days, weeks, even months if there is a legal dispute between the principals. “Emergency” 72-hour intercepts require sign-offs by NSA lawyers and pre-approval by the attorney general before surveillance can be initiated. Clearly, this is not conducive to what Gen. Michael Hayden, principal deputy director of national intelligence, calls “hot pursuit” of al Qaeda conversations.
The Senate will soon convene hearings on renewal of the Patriot Act and the NSA terrorist surveillance program. A minority of senators want to gamble with American lives and “fix” national security laws, which they can’t show are broken. They seek to eliminate or weaken anti-terrorism measures which take into account that the Cold War and its slow-moving, analog world of landlines and stationary targets is gone. The threat we face today is a completely new paradigm of global terrorist networks operating in a high-velocity digital age using the Web and fiber-optic technology. After four-and-a-half years without another terrorist attack, these senators think we’re safe enough to cave in to the same civil liberties lobby that supported that deadly FISA wall in the first place. What if they, like those lawyers and judges, are simply wrong?
Meanwhile, the media, mouthing phrases like “Article II authority,” “separation of powers” and “right to privacy,” are presenting the issues as if politics have nothing to do with what is driving the subject matter and its coverage. They want us to forget four years of relentless “connect-the-dots” reporting about the missed chances that “could have prevented 9/11.” They have discounted the relevance of references to the two 9/11 hijackers who lived in San Diego. But not too long ago, the media itself reported that phone records revealed that five or six of the hijackers made extensive calls overseas.
NBC News aired an “exclusive” story in 2004 that dramatically recounted how al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, the San Diego terrorists who would later hijack American Airlines flight 77 and fly it into the Pentagon, received more than a dozen calls from an al Qaeda “switchboard” inside Yemen where al-Mihdhar’s brother-in-law lived. The house received calls from Osama Bin Laden and relayed them to operatives around the world. Senior correspondent Lisa Myers told the shocking story of how, “The NSA had the actual phone number in the United States that the switchboard was calling, but didn’t deploy that equipment, fearing it would be accused of domestic spying.” Back then, the NBC script didn’t describe it as “spying on Americans.” Instead, it was called one of the “missed opportunities that could have saved 3,000 lives.”
Read the whole thing, and you’ll notice what separates her from “The Jersey Girls”: an ability to see beyond the pain of losing her brother on 9-11 in order to focus on the long-term picture – which is understanding the things our government needs to do in order to try and prevent another 9-11. She gets it. It’s too bad that so many who are willing to politicize the so-called ‘scandals’ in the war on terror do not.
Others blogging about this: Captain Ed, In The Bullpen, Junkyard Blog, Stop The ACLU
PM Update: An ad with Ms. Burlingame showing support for renewal of the Patriot Act will soon be airing on the Fox Network’s show, “24” – click here to watch it.