Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Wiretappers That Couldn't Shoot Straight - New York Times

The Wiretappers That Couldn't Shoot Straight - New York Times:

"the White House's over-the-top outrage about the Times scoop is a smokescreen contrived to cover up something else is only confirmed by Dick Cheney's disingenuousness. In last week's oration at a right-wing think tank, he defended warrant-free wiretapping by saying it could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Really? Not with this administration in charge. On 9/10 the N.S.A. (lawfully) intercepted messages in Arabic saying, 'The match is about to begin,' and, 'Tomorrow is zero hour.' You know the rest. Like all the chatter our government picked up during the president's excellent brush-clearing Crawford vacation of 2001, it was relegated to mañana; the N.S.A. didn't rouse itself to translate those warnings until 9/12."

“If the Bush administration did indeed eavesdrop on American journalists and political opponents (Ms. Amanpour's husband, Jamie Rubin, was a foreign policy adviser to the Kerry campaign), it's déjà Watergate all over again. But even now we can see that there's another, simpler - and distinctly Bushian - motive at play here, hiding in plain sight.

That motive is not, as many liberals would have it, a simple ideological crusade to gut the Bill of Rights. Real conservatives, after all, are opposed to Big Brother; even the staunch Bush ally Grover Norquist has criticized the N.S.A.'s overreaching. The highest priority for the Karl Rove-driven presidency is instead to preserve its own power at all costs. With this gang, political victory and the propaganda needed to secure it always trump principles, even conservative principles, let alone the truth. Whenever the White House most vociferously attacks the press, you can be sure its No. 1 motive is to deflect attention from embarrassing revelations about its incompetence and failures.

That's why Paul Wolfowitz, in a 2004 remark for which he later apologized, dismissed reporting on the raging insurgency in Iraq as "rumors" he attributed to a Baghdad press corps too "afraid to travel." That's also why the White House tried in May to blame lethal anti-American riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan on a single erroneous Newsweek item about Koran desecration - as if 200-odd words in an American magazine could take the fall for the indelible photos from Abu Ghraib.

Such is the blame-shifting game Mr. Cheney was up to last week. By dragging 9/11 into his defense of possibly unconstitutional bugging, he was hoping to rewrite history to absolve the White House of its bungling. And no wonder. He knows all too well that the timing of Mr. Bush's signing of the secret executive order to initiate the desperate tactic of warrant-free N.S.A. eavesdropping - early 2002, according to Mr. Risen's new book, "State of War" - is nothing if not a giant arrow pointing to one of the administration's most catastrophic failures. It was only weeks earlier, in December 2001, that we had our best crack at nailing Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora and blew it.

What went down that fateful December is recalled in particularly gripping fashion in a just published book, "Jawbreaker," which, like Mr. Risen's book, is rising on the best-seller list at an inopportune moment for this White House. "Jawbreaker" is the self-told story of a veteran clandestine officer, Gary Berntsen, who was the pivotal C.I.A. field commander in the hunt for bin Laden. Mr. Berntsen is a fervent Bush loyalist, but his honest account doesn't do the president any favors. "We needed U.S. soldiers on the ground!" he writes, to "block a possible Al Qaeda escape into Afghanistan!" But his request to Centcom for 800 Army Rangers to do the job went unheeded.

We don't know whether the Bush order relaxing legal controls on the N.S.A. was in part a Hail Mary pass to help compensate for that disaster. Either way, all the subsequent wiretaps in the world have not brought bin Laden back dead or alive. Though the White House says that its warrantless surveillance has saved lives by stopping other terrorists since then, Mr. Bush has exaggerated victories against Al Qaeda as often as he has the battle-readiness of Iraqi troops. After he claimed in an October speech that America and its allies had foiled 10 Qaeda plots since 9/11, USA Today reported that "at least" 6 of the 10 had been preliminary ideas for attacks rather than actual planned attacks.

The louder the reports of failures on this president's watch, the louder he tries to drown them out by boasting that he has done everything "within the law" to keep America safe and by implying that his critics are unpatriotic, if not outright treasonous. Mr. Bush certainly has good reason to pump up the volume now. In early December the former 9/11 commissioners gave the federal government a report card riddled with D's and F's on terrorism preparedness.

The front line of defense against terrorism is supposed to be the three-year-old, $40-billion-a-year Homeland Security Department, but news of its ineptitude, cronyism and no-bid contracts has only grown since Katrina. The Washington Post reported that one Transportation Security Administration contract worth up to $463 million had gone to a brand-new company that (coincidentally, we're told) contributed $122,000 to a powerful Republican congressman, Harold Rogers of Kentucky. An independent audit by the department's own inspector general, largely unnoticed during Christmas week, found everything from FEMA to border control in some form of disarray.

Yet even as this damning report was released, the president forced cronies into top jobs in immigration enforcement and state and local preparedness with recess appointments that bypassed Congressional approval. Last week the department had the brilliance to leave Las Vegas off its 2006 list of 35 "high threat" urban areas - no doubt because Mohammed Atta was so well behaved there when plotting the 9/11 attacks.

THE warrantless eavesdropping is more of the same incompetence.… ”

The real questions are: "Are we still free?" , "Is the United States still a Democracy?", "If not, can we make it one again?"

Do we accept unlimited executive power in a war that, like the war on drugs, can never, ever, end?

While no one was watching the watchers, Caesar crossed the Tiber and his war powers became his permanent powers. Caesar was stopped, but the republic, imperfect as it was, died too.

Our representatives routinely pass laws they haven't read. Like the executive they've become accustomed to, and their leadership also prefers to operate in the dark.

Where there is no sight, there can be no oversight.
con·cept: The Wiretappers That Couldn't Shoot Straight - New York Times