Why Should Dems Give In over Domestic Surveillance?
by Jonathan Singer, Mon Oct 08, 2007 at 10:34:14 PM EDT
I haven't been following the debate over extension of the domestic surveillance bill as closely as others, like those at Open Left or FDL to take two examples, but I'm having quite a bit of difficulty wrapping my head around the rationale here. From The New York Times' Eric Lichtblau and Carl Hulse:
Two months after insisting that they would roll back broad eavesdropping powers won by the Bush administration, Democrats in Congress appear ready to make concessions that could extend some crucial powers given to the National Security Agency.
Administration officials say they are confident they will win approval of the broadened authority that they secured temporarily in August as Congress rushed toward recess. Some Democratic officials concede that they may not come up with enough votes to stop approval.
As the debate over the eavesdropping powers of the National Security Agency begins anew this week, the emerging measures reflect the reality confronting the Democrats.
Although willing to oppose the White House on the Iraq war, they remain nervous that they will be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence. [emphasis added]
Of course the public still trusts the Democrats more than the Republicans on the issue of terrorism even though Republicans and the conservative media with which they are allied still consistently question the "strength" and "patriotism" of the Democrats (one need look no further than the flap over Barack Obama's decision not to wear an American flag pin for a clear illustration of this continuing effort). What's more, other polling indicates that the American public sides squarely with progressives on the slightly different though related issue of Habeas Corpus.
But for as much as these numbers matter, perhaps more important is the fact that the Bush administration is clearly remiss in defending America against the threat of terrorism. The article on the front page of Tuesday's Washington Post by Jody Warrick, for instance, provides a great (however depressing) retort to suggestions that it is the Democrats, not President Bush and the Republicans, who are weak on national defense.
A small private intelligence company that monitors Islamic terrorist groups obtained a new Osama bin Laden video ahead of its official release last month, and around 10 a.m. on Sept. 7, it notified the Bush administration of its secret acquisition. It gave two senior officials access on the condition that the officials not reveal they had it until the al-Qaeda release.
Within 20 minutes, a range of intelligence agencies had begun downloading it from the company's Web site. By midafternoon that day, the video and a transcript of its audio track had been leaked from within the Bush administration to cable television news and broadcast worldwide.
The founder of the company, the SITE Intelligence Group, says this premature disclosure tipped al-Qaeda to a security breach and destroyed a years-long surveillance operation that the company has used to intercept and pass along secret messages, videos and advance warnings of suicide bombings from the terrorist group's communications network.
"Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless," said Rita Katz, the firm's 44-year-old founder, who has garnered wide attention by publicizing statements and videos from extremist chat rooms and Web sites, while attracting controversy over the secrecy of SITE's methodology. Her firm provides intelligence about terrorist groups to a wide range of paying clients, including private firms and military and intelligence agencies from the United States and several other countries.
Here we have a clear example of the Bush administration's lack of regard for the sensitivity of the material that they had on hand (and perhaps their determination to leak such material for political use) leading to a decrease in our ability to monitor and respond to the potential threat posed by Al Qaeda. When the right comes after the Democrats for being weak -- as they will, by the way, whether or not the Congress enacts into law additional domestic surveillance powers -- wouldn't this, or other similar examples, be more effective to point to than a bill passed by Democrats that could potentially shield telecom corporations from liability for allowing the government to eavesdrop on their customers in the past without warrant? I certainly think so. So why, then, pass this legislation out of fear that Democrats would "be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence"?