TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: We Must All be Terrorist Suspects Now

We Must All be Terrorist Suspects Now

Eugene Robinson (
Sun, 14 May 2006 14:06:58 -0500

by Eugene Robinson, The Anniston Star

At least now we know that the Bush administration's name for spying on
Americans without first seeking court approval -- the "terrorist
surveillance program" -- isn't an exercise in Orwellian doublespeak
after all. It's just a bald-faced lie.

Oh, and at least now the Senate will have a few questions to ask
Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the man George W. Bush has named to head the
CIA, at his confirmation hearings.

While Hayden was running the super-secret National Security Agency,
according to a report Thursday in USA Today, the NSA began collecting
comprehensive records of telephone calls made by "tens of millions of
Americans." If your service is provided by AT&T, Verizon or BellSouth,
according to the newspaper, this means your phone calls -- all the
calls you've made since late 2001. Of the major phone companies, only
Qwest reportedly declined to cooperate.

The allegation, which the president refused to confirm or deny, is not
that the spooks are actually listening in as you call home to check on
the kids or talk to the bank about refinancing your mortgage. Rather,
the idea is to be able to look at a given phone number -- yours, let's
say -- and see all the other numbers that you called over a given
period of time, or that called you.

No names are attached to the numbers. But a snoopy civilian with
Internet access can match a name with a phone number, so imagine what
the government can do.

You'll recall that when it was revealed last year that the NSA was
eavesdropping on phone calls and reading e-mails without first going
to court for a warrant, the president said his "terrorist surveillance
program" targeted international communications in which at least one
party was overseas, and then only when at least one party was
suspected of some terrorist involvement. Therefore, no one but
terrorists had anything to worry about.

Not remotely true, it turns out, unless tens of millions of Americans
are members of al-Qaida sleeper cells -- evildoers who cleverly
disguise their relentless plotting as sales calls, gossip sessions and
votes for Elliott on "American Idol." (One implication, by the way, is
that the NSA is able to know who got voted off "Idol" before Ryan
Seacrest does.)

Step back for a moment. There's an understandable tendency, with this
administration, to succumb to a kind of "outrage fatigue." Pre-cooked
intelligence on Iraq, secret CIA prisons, Abu Ghraib -- the accretion
is numbing, and it's easy just to say "there they go again" and count
the months until the Decider heads home to Texas for good. Bush and
his people have tried to turn flouting the law into a virtue if it's a
law they find inconvenient. They've tried to radically change our
concept of privacy. We already knew the NSA was somehow monitoring
phone calls, so what's the big deal?

The big deal is that now we know that the administration -- I'll say
"apparently," although if the report were untrue I think the president
would have denied it -- is keeping track of the phone calls of
millions of citizens who have nothing at all to do with terrorism.
Bush has tried to convince us that the overwhelming majority of
Americans are not affected by domestic surveillance, but now we know
that the opposite is true: The overwhelming majority of us are.

The president's claim, in his brief statement on the report, that the
government isn't "trolling through the personal lives of millions of
innocent Americans" is as disingenuous as Bill Clinton's claim that he
"didn't inhale." There's no point in collecting all that data if you
don't analyze it, and when you do it's inevitable that you learn
things about at least some innocent people that those people thought
were nobody else's business, certainly not the government's.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., his frustration
evident, said he intended to call executives of AT&T, Verizon and
BellSouth to testify at hearings, since the administration won't
explain just what it's doing.

And, of course, Hayden's confirmation hearings are coming up.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who has been one of Hayden's strong
supporters, said the new disclosures on spying may create "a major
impediment" to a nomination that was expected to quickly sail through.

"Shame on us, in being so far behind and so willing to rubber-stamp
anything this administration does," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. He
was referring to the Senate, but he could have been speaking for the
entire nation.

Copyright (c) 2006 Consolidated Publishing.
Source: The Anniston Star

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