Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The NSA, FISA and the 9/11 Commission Report

The next time you read the painfully pathetic Bob Herbert or the sour spinster Maureen Dowd, odds are they'll be carping about the NSA's "domestic" wiretaps and perceived violations of privacy on the part of the Chimpy McBushitler (or whatever they call W these days) administration.

Let's ignore the fact that the wiretaps are international and that we subject ourselves to warrantless search and seizure whenever we board a plane. And let's also ignore the fact that bi-partisan members of Congress had been briefed on the program for years -- with no complaint -- and that the NSA and the Attorney General's office stand behind it.

Instead, let's just rewind to the 9/11 Commission's Report for a moment... on the topic of the FISA court:

The FISA application process continues to be long and slow. Requests for approvals are overwhelming the ability of the system to process them and to conduct a surveillance...

..the FISA approval process involved multiple levels of review, which also discouraged agents from using such surveillance. Many agents also told us that the process for getting FISA packages approved at FBI Headquarters and the Department of Justice was incredibly lengthy and inefficient...

The New York Post's Debra Burlingame directly relates the wiretaps to 9/11:

A 2004 NBC report graphically illustrated what not having this program cost us 4 1/2 years ago. In 1999, the NSA began monitoring a known al Qaeda "switchboard" in Yemen that relayed calls from Osama bin Laden to operatives all over world. The surveillance picked up the phone number of a "Khalid" in the United States--but the NSA didn't intercept those calls, fearing it would be accused of "domestic spying."

After 9/11, investigators learned that "Khalid" was Khalid al-Mihdhar, then living in San Diego under his own name--one of the hijackers who flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. He made more than a dozen calls to the Yemen house, where his brother-in-law lived.

NBC news called this "one of the missed clues that could have saved 3,000 lives."

When archaeologists pick over the remains of our civilization, hopefully they'll be able to deduce that backbiting citizens who "meant well" had helped bring about the end of a country they'd hoped to protect.

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