The administration should not have agreed to allow judges to oversee the NSA’s surveillance of terrorists.
After 9/11, the NSA began to monitor calls (and other communications) between individuals in the US and known or suspected terrorists residing outside the US. In 2005, the NYT published this program’s existence using information provided to it by lawbreaking insiders.
The administration argued the program was legally authorized by the president, but has now caved, to the delight of the felons at the NYT (my ellipsis):
The Bush administration, in a surprise reversal, said on Wednesday that it had agreed to give a secret court jurisdiction over the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program and would end its practice of eavesdropping without warrants on Americans suspected of ties to terrorists.
The Justice Department said it had worked out an “innovative” arrangement with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that provided the “necessary speed and agility” to provide court approval to monitor international communications of people inside the United States without jeopardizing national security.
Since the surveillance program was publicly disclosed in December 2005 by The New York Times, the White House has maintained, in scores of court filings, policy papers and press statements, that the president has the inherent power to conduct wiretaps without a court warrant even though a 1978 law put intelligence surveillance under judicial review.
This has consequences.
1. Allied intelligence agencies will reduce even further the information they share with the US. With the CIA fatally compromised, the NSA has been the only reliable US touch point. Now US allies know their information will be provided to judges, who will be just as politicized as their foreign counterparts. So the faucet will be turned off.
2. The NYT will be let off the hook, so will continue to betray US secrets. Prosecutions of the people who leaked the NSA program to the NYT will now be impossible – they’ll just claim they were trying to force the administration to obey the law it has now accepted.
3. Terrorist surveillance by the US will be curtailed. That’s because judges hate to be rubber stamps, so the FISC will prevent or delay some wiretaps. Plus the NSA managers won’t propose wiretaps they fear FISC might reject since rejection would hurt their resumes. The net is less terrorists will be tracked.
4. By caving on this national security issue, the administration is feeding the defeatist Congress. That’ll encourage it to demand more appeasement.
Let’s hope the administration is husbanding its strength to focus on taking out the Mullahs.