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Hyperbole? You Decide

Friday, March 03, 2006

The following is an exchange between my local newspaper and one of it's readers. The paper released an editorial that was critical of the National Security Agency and the Bush administration over it's eavesdropping on American citizens without warrants. This editorial is reprinted first (War is not a blank check).
The reader, Mr. Richard Chandler, apparently didn't appreciate the paper taking sides with the American people and decided to take the paper to task for being "long on hyperbole". After reading his letter (Far left moonbats have warrantless spying case backwards) I felt that I, too, must submit my comments to the paper. I took the opposite side of the argument, standing in defense of the paper's position.
At the time of this posting, I cannot be certain that my local paper will print my letter. In any event, I'm posting it here for you to read and judge for yourself. What I do know is that the paper asked me to do a rewrite to compress my letter bacause it was too long. I complied with their request, but I think it may still be too long. I'm reprinting the letter here in it's original form because it correctly expresses my true thoughts on this subject.
Huge corporate databases track our spending, satellites follow our cars and photograph our back yards, our cell phone records are available for sale and the government knows what we’ve been searching for on the Web.
So the Bush administration’s program of warrantless eavesdropping on the phone calls of American citizens isn’t all that startling. In fact many people believe the eavesdropping may be justified in the name of the war on terror.
It’s the lack of adequate congressional or judicial oversight on the domestic spying program that’s causing a ruckus. The issue, critics say, is nothing less than a constitutional crisis. Allowing President Bush, or any president, to exert unchecked power threatens the system of checks and balances that protect our civil rights.
In an effort to make the National Security Agency action more palatable it’s been dubbed the Terrorism Surveillance Program. The original moniker was more accurate: eavesdropping on private telephone conversations without a warrant.
When the government feels it is necessary to override a U.S. citizen’s Constitutional civil liberties, it is required to justify that action. It’s one of those pesky little checks and balances intended to keep any president from becoming King.
A 1970’s law made an exception for matters of national security, by allowing the government to listen in first and get a warrant from a secret court later.
We’re in a different world now, says President Bush, asserting that in authorizing the war on terrorism Congress gave him implicit authorization to do whatever it takes to protect the country. But as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once wrote, “A state of war is not a blank check.”
Critics say the president has broken the law by authorizing the eavesdropping without a judge’s approval. In an AP poll, 56 percent of Americans believe the Bush administration ought to get a warrant before listening in on phone calls between U.S. citizens and suspected terrorists.
Asked in a press conference Thursday whether he would resist Congress writing new laws to give the president greater eavesdropping latitude, President Bush said he would oppose any effort that exposed the nature of the program.
President Bush is saying, in effect, “trust me.” But with this administration’s litany of missteps and scandals, trust is running a bit low.
The question is to what degree the President must follow the law, even in wartime. President Lincoln bent the Constitution to call up the militia and silence dissent during the Civil War; President Roosevelt trampled it by interning Japanese-American citizens during World War II. What will history say about President Bush’s take on the limits of executive authority?
Congressional hearings on the warrantless eavesdropping begin next week. It is a prime opportunity for Congress to consider the fundamentally important question of whether the President is making necessary decisions to protect the American people, or overstepping his Constitutional bounds.
Far left moonbats have warrantless spying case backwards

Dear Editor,
The Journal should refrain from commenting on national politics if Feb. 1st’s “War is not a Blank Check” editorial is going to be a typical example. If I want condemnation of the government that is long on hyperbole, but short on facts, I can turn to the Daily Kos.

You refer to the “Warrantless eavesdropping on the phone calls of American citizens.” That’s an interesting supposition, that the targets of the eavesdropping were citizens. Can you name just one American citizen who was bugged while calling up members of al Qaeda? Name names or admit you don’t know. Just like you didn’t know that the appropriate members of Congress were briefed, so there was,in fact, Congressional oversight.

Anyone who has looked into this story would know that it wasn’t American citizens who were being monitored. It was known terrorist cell phone numbers abroad, about 500 or so, all derived from the phones of captured terrorists in Europe and the Middle East.

The Fourth Amendment does not apply in foreign countries. Now if we’re watching the communications of a terrorist hanging out in Hamburg, Germany, are we supposed to ignore it if another terrorist calls him from Seattle to say he’s ready to blow up Boeing? It’s perfectly legal for the NSA to be watching the cell phone transmissions of terrorists overseas, regardless of who calls them. In fact, warrants are only called for in criminal cases, not intelligence. The Clinton administration used warrantless searches to capture spy Aldrich Ames.

All the far left moonbats calling for Bush’s impeachment over this case have it exactly backwards. I’d consider it incompetent on Bush’s part if he weren’t trying to listen in on al Qaeda. In fact, if this program had been running in 2001, we might have caught Mohammed Atta and prevented 9/11.

Atta, by the way, was not an American citizen.
Richard Chandler, Everett

Response To: Far left moonbats have warrantless spying case backwards

Dear Mr. Richard Chandler,

Your attack on the Lake Stevens Journal seems to be founded more in the defense of the Bush administration than a love for your liberty. In an effort to confuse readers with half-truths and false assertions, you managed to muck up the entire argument with pure dribble. It is this dribble I intend to clean up with this response. The truth knows no bounds. Hopefully the Journal will extend to me the same as this letter will run longer than their 300 word limit.

In your letter you challenged the Journal to name for you just one name of an American who had been surveilled? Here's a name: Richard Chandler. Now, it's my turn for a challenge: Can you show me the list of surveilled names that you will use to disprove me? You can't. You will never know with any certainty that you were never eavesdropped upon.

You continue your letter by asserting that this program does not eavesdrop on Americans and that only the informed know this. Well, Mr. Chandler, your ignorance has failed you once again. Quoting from a Washington Post article titled Surveillance Net Yields Few Suspects (February 5, 2006)[1]:

The Bush administration refuses to say -- in public or in closed session of Congress -- how many Americans in the past four years have had their conversations recorded or their e-mails read by intelligence analysts without court authority. Two knowledgeable sources placed that number in the thousands; one of them, more specific, said about 5,000.

So, if the Bush administration won't even tell members of Congress who they're eavesdropping on, are we to believe that you are somehow in possession of that privileged information? I seriously doubt that! As for your claim that members of Congress were briefed and gave the President their official approval, that neither makes it right nor constitutional. Besides, the determination of the program's constitutionality lay with the Supreme Court, not Congress.

You attempt to explain for the readers what the Fourth Amendment applies to and what it does not. Before we get into that, let's look at the exact language of the Amendment, since so many are unfamiliar with what it actually says.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

This is a written restriction telling government actors that when it comes to all matters of a person's privacy, they have but one recourse to obtain needed information. In plain English, the Amendment generally states, "The people have the right to privacy. If government wants to intrude on that privacy, they will need to present their case before an unbiased third party. If their cause is just (i.e. evidence of illegal activity), a warrant will be issued allowing them to suspend that person's rights." Our government cannot revoke your rights. In certain circumstances, it can suspend them, though.

Finally, you elude to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which needs to be addressed, too. No where in the Act does it exempt government from obtaining a warrant to gather intelligence on United States persons. Your statement that "warrants are only called for in criminal cases, not intelligence" is just plain wrong. If readers want to verify these facts for themselves, the FISA is Title 50, Chapter 36 of the United States Code[2]. I won't quote the entire Act here, but here's a teaser to chew on:

50USC36§1802(a)(1) Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year if the Attorney General certifies in writing under oath that -- 
(B) there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party.

To summarize, without a warrant there shall be no surveillance of U.S. persons, period. The statutes clearly state this, as does the Constitution. Do I think the Constitution is a suicide pact? Absolutely not. I understand that there are certain circumstances where the situation calls for drastic measures, and the FISA allows for this (50USC36§1805(f)). We must remember that our government's primary job is to protect all the rights of the people, not just those that are convenient. As for me, I will always have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. If you think you need to listen in on my phone calls or to read my mail, you had better have a damned good reason -- and a warrant -- for violating my rights.

You see, Mr. Chandler, the only person who has the facts of the warrantless spying case backwards is you. You're letter to the Journal attempts to make the law fit around the actions of the Bush administration when, in fact, its their actions that needs to fit within the law... and they clearly don't.


Don Bangert


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