Thursday, May 11, 2006

Through the Looking Glass

Oh my. I read today that the Justice Department dropped its investigation into the NSA's domestic surveillance program because a NSA lawyer says that Justice Department lawyers don't have the necessary clearances to do an investigation.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Not so fast. Back up, and re-read that sentence. And then read it, again.

Translation: A secret government agency has told OUR Justice Department that it's not allowed to investigate it.

My bad. I need to stop analyzing utilization charts and start parsing Lewis Carroll so I can relish the irony of all this.

"I know what you're thinking about," said Tweedledum: "But it isn't so, no-how."

"Contrariwise," continued Tweedledum, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."

Lewis Carroll, "Through the Looking Glass"

My advice: "Go ask Alice, I think she'll know...."
Better yet, go ask Qwest.

(Disclaimer: Posted by Portia...sans mushrooms)


spd rdr said...

Ha ha! That's a good one! "You do too need some stinking badges!" Now where are the Dem's going to get their evidence to impeach the President?

portia said...

You gotta love the delicious irony of all of this. NSA gives enough security clearance to Ma Bell to run the surveillance "drift net" but refuses to give security clearance to the folks over at DOJ to investigate the program.

spd rdr said...

I don't know about you, but I think:
1) That national security really shouldn't be made by The New York Times

2) There are things that the public really need not know

3) That this is not about anything other than the mid-term elections, and

4) That this leaking buullshit won't stop until people start going to jail.

I elected my policy makers, and they are accountable to me. Who the *&^% elected Mr. Unnamed Source to determine the policies of this nation? Disgraceful, and very very dangerous to us all.

portia said...

Too much coffee or not enough?

Who the *&^% elected Mr. Unnamed Source to determine the policies of this nation?

I hardly think Mr. Unamed Source is determing the policies of this nation unless he works at the NSA. No, a handful of folks in the WH have the privelege of determining the policies, what's legal, and what's not. I have it on good authority: Mr. Named Source Alberto Gonzales told me so when he testified at the Senate Hearings a couple of months back claiming that the POTUS might have the legal authoirty to order wiretaps without a warrant on domestic calls, "I'm not going to rule it out." But "I'm not comfortable "saying yes or no as to what the Prersident has or has not authorized."

I could give a flying fig whether the government is listening to me having phone sex or knowing that I reguarly call Italy but I sure as hell want to know who gets to do what, when and how. We've lived through Johnson and Nixon, we've read about Hoover, we know what illegal communications can do in the hands of the um…"misguided." Bush, as Commander-in-Chief, may have the most altruistic of purpose but obtaining this information without coloring within the lines, and with fuzzy results at best--is dangerous, and sets a frightening precedent. How comfortable are with the next elected POTUS, very likely a Democrat and one whom you didn't help elect, deciding what is legal or illegal under the guise of Commander-in-Chief?

BTW, don't forget to call your Aunt Edna. Records show you haven't talked to her since the last time you called her, which was right before you called your stockbroker, and after you called the tax attorney you hired to represent you in connection with the IRS audit of your "fishnet" deductions.

camojack said...

Who watches the watchers?!

Cassandra said...

I could give a flying fig whether the government is listening to me having phone sex or knowing that I reguarly call Italy but I sure as hell want to know who gets to do what, when and how.

Imagine that. So, I would imagine, does al Qaeda. And thanks to the NY Times and USA Today, now they know, even down to which provider to use to evade scrutiny.

Translation: I am not really concerned about privacy at all. I just think any Tom, Dick, or Harry with no clearance, no legal authority, and no accountability to the electorate should be allowed to violate the law, bypass the congressional oversight committee, and publish classified information in major newspapers any time he feels like it.

But if the *President*, who was elected and is accountable to the voters, dares to declassify background information on the decision to go to war (much of which was ITPO being released anyway and which my party has been screaming for him to give them access to and which furthermore has no impact whatever on national security) I'll scream bloody murder.

Got it.

portia said...

I'm concerned with every Tom, Dick, Harry and George following the law, Cass. But my comment was not about the NSA leaker(s ) who fed details of the program to the press, nor about the messengers who printed the faux "breaking news," it was about the wisdom of the Executive Branch deciding what's legal, and isn't legal, and about "allowing" the Commander In Chief to be the creator, the interpreter and the executor of the law…and yes, as he/she decides.

I posit the same question: Do you want the next POTUS--or the one after her--to have the power to proclaim what is legal, to be able to bypass Congress and the courts to fight the War on Terror, the war that may very well remain unabated for years? Because that's what we're "buying" when we yield to the current Administration's claim that it has the right to violate statues, quash constitutional freedoms, avoid adjudication of its conduct and stifle oversight, all in the name of National Security.

The tragedy of our day is the climate of fear in which we live, and fear breeds repression. Too often, sinister threats to the Bill of Rights, to freedom of the mind are concealed under the patriotic cloak of [the War on Terror]."

Adlai Stevenson, 1952

Anonymous said...

.... claim that it has the right to violate statues, quash constitutional freedoms, avoid adjudication of its conduct and stifle oversight, all in the name of National Security.--Portia

That is total bullshit. What statute has been violated? What constitutional freedom has been lost? Congress has had oversight and they don't seem to mind until it hits the press then they can make political hay by rushing to get in front of a camera and object.

Is there anything the administration can do to protect us without laying all their cards on the table for the whole world and Al Qaida to see?

Should we amend the constitution to give Al Qaida a special Bill of Rights?

This is the most non intrusive survielence you can imagine and still intelligent people are sucked into the anit-Bush vortex.


portia said...

Actually, Pile, folks who swim daily in legal waters will tell you there are several, FISA for one. I'm not a lawyer so I'll leave it to them to brief ad nauseum, as many have.

But all the fascinating legal interpretations and scholarly debate don't really matter much if you hold to the theory--as the current administration does--that under Article II of the Constitution, the President is free to act without interference from Congress or courts when it comes to making broad decisions relating to national security.

Under that overarching premise, it matters not whether we are debating phone calls, pen registers or due process because all of it is trumped by Article II. So this is not about giving Al Qaeda a bill of rights, or being stuck in an anti-Bush vortex, it's about determining to what extent "a" President can act without limit from the courts or Congress.

And that debate, my friend, will be bouncing around the courts long after Pres. Bush is out of office, and the Onlette registers for Con Law I:)

Pile On® said...

My apologies for the tone of the previous comment. If Bush declassifies info so people understand why we are going to war it is called a leak and he takes a beating for it.

If he tries to keep a secret what they are doing to protect us it is leaked and he takes a beating for being above the law.

As far as FISA, I am not buying it. Even the Carter administration did not interpret it as broadly as people want to now that Bush is president. And a statute does not trump the constitutional authority of the President.

Do you really want the defense of our country run by a committee of 535?

I know that people often think the times they live in are the worst ever, but I would submit to you that current administrations are the most transparent in the history of our country.

Congress has grown stronger in a number of ways, taking power away from the executive since Watergate. We now live in an age of constant investigations, hearings and special councils. Not to mention the 24 hour news cycle.

No, the Bush administration being too secretive, or above the law will not be the downfall of the Republic. But if they are forced to tell the whole world what we are doing to defend ourselves to prevent the hyperventilation of editorial boards in an election year then it is likely that it will get some of us killed.

portia said...

I don't know Pile, investigations, hearings and special councils have been going on for as long as there have been...well, as long as there have been scandals. Only difference is nowadays we get to hear about 24/7. And administrations have been trying to avoid or control the information from the press and the public just as long. Think about what it would be like if CNN was around during the Pearl Harbor investigations. From the clearly partisan hand- picked Roberts Commission that FDR quickly assembled to quell public outcry to the court-martials and on through the two-year Congressional hearing 4 years later. Brutal.

Administrations may be forced to be more transparent because of news cycles and technology advances and we can disagree as to the efficacy of that but transparent is not a word that come to mind when I think of the Bush Administration. People complain that the media won't give Bush a break. To that I say "bullshit." The Bush administration has done little to engage the media to affect the narrative, be it the Iraq war, Katrina, rendition, Social Security, the NSA scandal, or the current standoff with Iran that is brewing.

I try my best when visiting HH to keep my dislike of Bush in check but I find the current administration's fundamental misjudgments and lack of post-mortem so overwhelming and troubling that it's near impossible at times. Any attempt to shine a dubious light on Bush's actions or policies labels one unpatriotic or putting National Security at risk. Even more perplexing is the way that conservatives have embraced his vision of big government and its expanded powers, which until recently was antithetical to the hallmarks of conservatism.

I take little solace (well, alright maybe more than a little...:)) in yesterday's poll, which shows that a majority of Americans hold Clinton in higher regard than Bush on most issues, including on the issue of dividing the country (Bush 59% to Clinton's 27%) Mostly because Clinton is not in office, and Bush is. But it does help me recognize that perhaps I am less out of step than some would have me believe:)

Federico said...


Very nice picture....

Pile On® said...

Let's not be overly dramatic. I doubt anyone there in your chosen burg has accused you of being unpatriotic because you are not on board with the Bush administration. At the same time let's also be honest. If somewhere, terrorists who are plotting an attack against the US adjust there tactics because they now know that a super-computer might be tracking their calls, then National Security has been damaged. Not by you Portia, so don't take it personal, but it has been damaged.

I am sure there are a good number of people out there who might prefer Clinton to Bush that take solace in polls. I don't count myself among them.

portia said...

Let's not be overly dramatic.

Oh, but it's so much more fun that way:)

Actually, the NRO, WSJ, et seq. a few dozen politicians, TV pundits, and blogs I don't read question my patriotism and sanity all the time, Pile. But I don't take it personally. I make like a "duck" and let it roll off my back.

Throughout his reelection campaign, and his push to have the Patriot Act made permanent, Bush repeatedly talked about our surveillance methods and how we monitor the bad guys' phone calls, and e-mails.

Bush, April 2004. The Patriot Act authorizes what are called delayed notification search warrants. I'm not a lawyer, either. (Laughter.) These allow law enforcement personnel, with court approval, to carry out a lawful search without tipping off suspects and giving them a chance to flee or destroy evidence. It is an important part of conducting operations against organized groups.

Bush, June 2005: One tool that has been especially important to law enforcement is called a roving wiretap. Roving wiretaps allow investigators to follow suspects who frequently change their means of communications. These wiretaps must be approved by a judge, and they have been used for years to catch drug dealers and other criminals. Yet, before the Patriot Act, agents investigating terrorists had to get a separate authorization for each phone they wanted to tap. That means terrorists could elude law enforcement by simply purchasing a new cell phone. The Patriot Act fixed the problem by allowing terrorism investigators to use the same wiretaps that were already being using against drug kingpins and mob bosses.

The only thing we learned with the NY Times story in December was that our surveillance was being conducted outside of FISA rules. My guess is that the terrorists learning Americans were concerned that Bush was eavesdropping without a court order was more a source of humor than a news flash.

Data mining too, has been the subject of non-leaked Pentagon stories newspapers stories for years. John Poindexter's "Total Information Awareness" program for one comes to mind. The reason that the USA Today story hit like a "bombshell" is because the American people learned--despite Bush's promises to the contrary--that the NSA wasn't just tracking the bad guys who want to blow us up but the "bad guy" down the street calling his mistress.

Pile On® said...

I have seen several MSM stories that tried to equate wiretapping with the data mining program in question here.

It is no less misleading when you try and link the two.

portia said...

Pile, help me out here. Doesn't the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping efforts, and its data collection program share a simliar goal of identyfying the next Mohammed Atta?

What am I missng here?

Pile On® said...

Yes of course they do share a similar goal. And who among us does not share that goal?

Let me clarify what I mean. The wire-tapping is very invasive. No one wants anyone listening to their conversation. This is America damn it and I have my rights. We want a government that respects our rights. When people learn that the program is targeted at phone calls coming from abroad, from phone numbers that we have intell on as belonging to terrorists, then people are supportive for the most part. People want someone to be on top of those calls to prevent an attack.

Now comes the data mining story. The lead is always, tens of millions of what effects tens of millions of Americans.....the government is collecting phone records of tens of millions of Americans. If I heard it once I heard it tens of millions of times.

Then comes the link back to the wire-tapping program, in a subtle but not so subtle attempt to link what people percieve as invasive to a program that does nothing more than have a supercomputer look for calling patterns from phones that are believed to be, or have terrorists links. BUT THE COMPUTER HAS THE DATA FROM PHONE RECORDS OF TENS OF MILLIONS OF AMERICANS!! If you haven't had a conversation with a terrorist, then it is just data in a mountain of data in some computer somewhere that no one is ever going to look at or care about.

But, the story is more sensational if it is linked to something that would piss poeple off were it happenning to them. But there is no liberal bias in the media, so maybe I am just overly sensitive.

spd rdr said...

Good conversation you've got going here, peoples. Don't mind me if I just drink it in and blow up later...somewhere else, of course.

portia said...

But there is no liberal bias in the media, so maybe I am just overly sensitive

Tonight's manna...right up there with pudding:)

Domani, Pile.

Cassandra said...

The reason that the USA Today story hit like a "bombshell" is because the American people learned--despite Bush's promises to the contrary--that the NSA wasn't just tracking the bad guys who want to blow us up but the "bad guy" down the street calling his mistress.

Did the American people, in fact, learn this?

Or did USA Today imply that this is what the NSA is doing and rely (as they did in their profoundly dishonest follow-up poll) on sloppy reading skills and paranoia to do the rest?

Two very different things. Just like the allegations that the Patriot Act library provisions *could* be misused and the very real fact that after FIVE YEARS Dianne Feinstein couldn't find a single valid complaint of misuse regarding that provision are two very different things.

There is more legal data mining that goes on when you swipe your grocery club card down at Whole Paycheck or join Amazon Rewards, but of course you don't mind that, do you? It's only when it might save lives that we have issues - otherwise corporations can sell detailed data about us to each other and we evince nary a shrug.

Sheesh. And you guys accuse us of fear mongering.

As you were :)

portia said...

Fair enough, Cass. What people know vs. what they think they know is a problem, in and out of the media, and particularly for people who may have thought data "mining" was something you did on the side of a mountain:)

I've always assumed my phone records, etc. were being used by some "commercial" entity. Heck, if Google is checking out my web pages to target which ads to send me, it ain't a big leap to think AT&T is doing the same. My real concern is that we just don't know where, in the bigger database in the sky, all these dots will get connected and by whom. Maybe it doesn't matter. i just don't know. There's a very good article in today's NYT re: these dots and six degrees of separation theory.

I think Bush could have avoided a lot of this drama if, when he was setting these wheels in motion after 9/11, and when his approval rating was skyrocketing, he had laid out these plans and other measures he deeemed vital (and yes, he could have done so without divulging some great national security secret). He might have garnered a lot more public support for the trade off between security and privacy.

Regrettably, having this dragged out 5 years later, and when his poll numbers are closer to my hip size (don't I wish:)), you end up paying a price politically.

Cassandra said...

FWIW, I would love to have an offline discussion with you about this sometime, Portia. There is so much I can't say online due to some things that I know but can't really talk about. Our positions really probably aren't all that far apart.

My sister in law hates (and I mean HATES) Bush. We haven't been able to have a rational discussion on the subject for years, though we like each other enormously otherwise. We had our first on Sunday due to something that happened to her. She still doesn't agree with me, but she finally saw my point. I've always seen where she was coming from, but couldn't even get her to admit I might have a rational basis for my point of view.

I think Presidents get backed into corners and overcome by events. FWIW, I never thought Clinton should have been impeached. Neither did my husband. But being a process person, once someone is accused of something like that, the rule of law must be followed or people suspect the law is being flouted and properly so. That's why Presidents have always had a certain degree of immunity: so they wouldn't be vulnerable to political pressure. It was dumb, dumb, dumb. Just like (IMO) the Scooter Libby thing is dumb, dumb, dumb but once he was accused we had to play it out to show the American people there was no coverup. But how dumb is it that after two years there are no charges on the "crime" under investigation? And how dumb is it that Fitzgerald never showed Plame was covert? (one of the elements of the "crime"?) It's pretty bad when Marty Peretz is going around saying all of Georgetown knew she was a CIA agent before the trial even started and the ex-CIA agents (like Ray McGovern *cough*) who are militating are known agitators in various far-left anti-war groups who were rabidly anti-Bush long before this all happened.

IMO (though I'm sure not yours) elements in the CIA intentionally tried to bring a sitting President down. And the real "coverup" is that this will not come out in a court of law, though by rights it should have if this "crime" had been properly investigated. Two reporters obstructed justice every bit as much as Libby, yet they are not under indictment. Why is that? How can anyone claim this investigation was impartial?

I don't think they can, to tell the truth. This is what infuriates conservatives, just as much as liberals are furious over what happened to Clinton. Truth to tell, I was sickened over it as well. But the truth of that matter was, the man *did* sexually harrass women, he did commit perjury, he did obstruct justice, and he was convicted in a court afterwards even if Congress wisely did not vote to impeach him. And all those things are wrong, especially so in the man we elected to enforce the laws of the United States.

So that rather places a different construction on things.

portia said...

FWIW, I would love to have an offline discussion with you about this sometime, Portia

"Offline?" You mean go back to the good ol' days when you moved the flower pot, and I met you in the parking garage at 2 AM ?? *Sigh.*

I'm afraid I'm too old for that "cold war spy" stuff--and word has it that as of today you are too--besides didn't you get the Felt memo warning us that you need a card key now to get into the garage, and its scanner database feeds right into Hayden's desktop?

Better we meet at Starbucks on 14th & K at 6:30 AM. The place is packed with spooks and leakers at that hour, and with all the roving wiretap devices bouncing off each other, we can talk "offline" as long as we nibble loudly into our scones.

Order a small decaf, frappo, capo, mocha, choco latte served in a grande cup, and wait for me between the half & half dispenser, and the plastics stirrers. Whatever you do DON'T call me on your cell phone, send me a text message, or accept any breakfast invitations at the Ritz Carlton from "former Hill staffers."
Just keep squirting the creme into your cup, and I'll find you by the time it's full, or until you vacation "out west when the espresso beans will already be turning."

Come back to work--and Starbucks. *wink* *wink*.

Until then, and with admiration,

Cassandra said...

Very funny. I don't know anything even remotely classified. No one I am related to, or friends with, would tell me and if they did, I would walk away before they had a chance to get it out of their mouths because it is none of my business. Even my husband doesn't tell me anything work related (and I don't tell him anything from my job) by mutual agreement. What you don't know, you can't inadvertently blab out during an incautious moment. It just makes life so much easier. The only work-related things we ever discuss are things that happen in rooms full of people that lots of people would know and aren't sensitive.

There are lots of reasons for not wanting to say certain things in the comments section, one of them being the permanence of your remarks, another being that they can be cross-referenced with other things you've said and people can draw the wrong conclusion.

But nevermind.

portia said...


In that case, you can skip the decaf frappo capo, and order whatever you want:)