It's All On the Line

Friday, February 06, 2009


Late last month, former National Security Agency analyst turned whistleblower Russell Tice said definitively that the NSA monitored domestic communications of American journalists. Reporter Lawrence Wright, who has long believed he was a target, says he's not surprised by the allegation.

Comments [23]

flywheel from Texas

"There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of freedom to the question of free trade, and quietly read the prices-current along with the latest advices from Mexico, after dinner, and, it may be, fall asleep over them both.
“What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot today? They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and Godspeed, to the right, as it goes past them. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man. But it is easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian of it."
-- Henry David Thoreau.

Feb. 27 2009 12:09 AM
David from Rhode Island

Except that you said "Well, there's nothing left to say except to suggest that you brush up on your recent history." TGhen you gave nothing. Weak. Very weak. But then, I have shown time and again that you take things as facts that are anything but, and your version of history is mostly about things that are either irrelevant or not even known yet. Interestingly, the names you gave (Hoover, McCarthy, Nixon) that abused power were all brought down and ended in disgrace. Brilliant debating!!! Maybe you need to learn a little history.

Feb. 15 2009 07:17 PM

That's exactly what I mean by "there's nothing left to say." Why would I say that and then commence arguing the same points?

Feb. 14 2009 10:04 PM
David from Rhode Island

Such a fact laden retort, lol.

Feb. 14 2009 09:01 PM

Well, there's nothing left to say except to suggest that you brush up on your recent history. Of course that won't really matter if your entire world view has nothing to do with fact, but rather is entirely dictated by ideology.

Petey out.

Feb. 13 2009 11:15 PM
David from Rhode Island

Petey - Wow, I hardly know where to start, except to say you sure see the world in black and white. First off, your "16 guys with boxcutters" killed over 3,000 people. Sure, they will do it differently next time if they can. That's the point of having to use these methods of "spying". And you are right, it is really hard to make us safer, everyone has always said so. Again, that's the point. Look at what they managed to do in Spain. And London. And Germany. And Bali. But to say Al-Queda was waning when we invaded Iraq? That is a non sequiter if I ever heard one. Iraq has nothing to do with the points being discussed here. They were waning because we invaded Afghanistan, and because these methods were put in place before Iraq, resulting in frozen funds, cells being broken up, plots foiled. Even the most hardened Dems admit that. So hell yeah Bush made us safer, but of course not absolutely safe.

Your rant is so far off on so many counts, it is really impossible to reply. It just makes no sense. You must be a descendant of Neville Chamberlain.

Feb. 13 2009 09:34 PM

So what are we left with as a threat?
Well, the same thing as always... people who would do us harm if they could. If you'll recall, our intelligence was good enough using old standards of data mining to produce a security brief entitled "Bin Laden determined to attack in the United States." It even detailed planes being hijacked and crashed into buildings as a possible method. We knew about the presence of the terrorists within our borders, and even that some had taken flying lessons. Laxity was all that allowed the attack to happen as it did (and a little luck for the terrorists).
So we still have the same threat as always. Do you really think Bush made us any safer? The borders are as porous as ever, as evidenced by how much illegal immigration we had throughout the Bush years. Terrorists wanna get in? Hire a Coyote! It's as easy as that, and probably easier. An estimated seven percent of what comes into our ports is inspected using any means whatever! So how the hell has Bush made us safe? Al Qaeda was a waning organization and Bin Laden was almost irrelevant until Bush invaded Iraq.
I mean come on! Sixteen guys with box cutters, who certainly should have been rounded up and extradited if Bush wasn't so busy reading books to kids, and a couple of hundred thousand dollars is hardly the mark of a super-sophisticated international network.
If you ever want to hear it, I have a very plausible theory as to why we haven't been attacked again, and it has nothing to do with Bush policies and the “extraordinarily fantastically effect surveillance regime” his administration put in place under the guise of "keeping Americans safe."

I’ve got no problem whatever with extraditing questionable persons, and tightening immigration standards by any means possible… I just don’t think Americans need to give government abusive powers to keep us safe, and history has shown such powers will ultimately be abused.

Feb. 11 2009 11:00 PM

Apparently to a degree we see eye to eye.

My main point is that this sort of power cannot be trusted to whatever few individuals are holding the reins at any particular time, regardless of whether or not the Bush administration abused it. Sooner or later someone will come along with less scruples... that's simply a matter of probability, as the examples I listed above demonstrate. We will find out eventually if Bush was trustworthy in this regard, although we've already heard from a few voices and we know that Bush certainly cleaned house, trying to get rid of anyone and everyone who disagreed with his tactics and policies... one has to wonder why.

But your statement, "it is not fine to take any tactic used to foil terrorist activity and claim we are being taken over KGB style," exemplifies what I mean about buying into the hype (rhetoric of fear).

I mean, let's be clear:
We're talking about sixteen guys with box cutters, and look at how a whole country has been paralyzed and taken such a wrong course because the Bush administration decided the opportunity could be exploited by taking advantage of American's fear.

Certainly, the images of 9/11 were horrific and very effective for such a purpose, but could those same sixteen guys do it again? I'm sure the passengers of those planes had no idea what might happen, or they would have chanced getting wounded in mass retaliation. Remember, the passengers of one of the planes did just that. Today, intelligent precautions have been put in place, and they should have always been in place. No passengers would allow sixteen guys with box cutters to do the same thing again.

Feb. 11 2009 10:59 PM
David from Rhode Island

However, there have been a lot of changes in the world since 1780's, and simply bearing arms is not enough to protect the citizenry from various threats. Security versus liberty is an extremely fine line at times, and until I see real proof that the Bush administration used these tactics to systematically and frequently usurp the civil rights of American citizens to their detrement, I will say you are being hyperbolic. A smattering of anecdotal mistakes is not enough. Just like friendly fire in battle, mistakes will happen. It is fine to say let's watch them (any administration) like a hawk, it is not fine to take any tactic used to foil terrorist activity and claim we are being taken over KGB style.

Feb. 11 2009 09:17 PM
David from Rhode Island

OK, you have changed your name to Petey. So Petey, I agree with yout point about how easy it is for governments to become abusive, controlling, and limit freedoms, and have said so numerous times. I abhor big government, big brother tactics, and have used Nixon as an example numerous times. Hence the need for Americans to bear arms. The Second Amendment was put in there as much for protecting oneself from the police state as it was to be ready to fight foreign invaders.

Feb. 11 2009 09:15 PM

By the way,
No less important is the "freezing effect" that such infringement on civil liberties has on public dissent and the media, making exposure of unconstitutional or illegal behavior much less likely in the future. Necessary political change then becomes more problematic, and public access to knowledge is compromised. Not only are these points common sensical, but this "freezing effect" was well observed during the McCarthy era and later thoroughly written about in historical context.

Feb. 11 2009 10:36 AM

If you think I'm being "hyperbolic" in my disgust with the Bush administration's power grab and contempt for American's civil liberties, then I suggest you read a little recent American history.
Here are a few names to start with from within the lifetimes of many living today:

J. Edgar Hoover

Joseph Raymond McCarthy

Richard Millhouse Nixon

The threat from government officials who flout the constitution and the civil liberties and?or rights of Americans is very real. I'm not pulling these names from American history out of my butt. These people surveilled and abused Americans for their own personal and political reasons, and many alive today remember these names well. They are not from some long ago America, they are from recent history.

If our own history doesn't satisfy you, there are plenty of examples from other countries of horrifying abuse of the populace by power hungry politicians and governments... you don't even have to go to South America or Africa to find them. These abuses happen anywhere the populace gets complacent enough to let them happen, and history is rife with examples.

I would say this sort of complacency is exactly what you and others on this website have often exhibited, and that is what should scare sensible Americans as much as Bush's power grab itself. No one should be so easily fooled by the rhetoric of fear, such as that rhetoric used by the Bush administration concerning "the so-called war on terror."

Feb. 11 2009 09:36 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Frankly, I think George was too much of a boob to use these tools malevolently against citizens and, while all our civil liberties were infringed upon, I have seen no convincing evidence that these tools were ever used for other than either the purposes they were meant to be employed or the titilation of the "listeners".

Maybe Cheney stored a bunch of mpegs of conversations he intends to use against his political enemies in his retirement, but George? I don' think so.

Feb. 10 2009 12:11 AM
David from Rhode Island

Matt W. - Thanks, I see what you mean now, and you couldn't be more correct. It is unfortunate that John P. is a hyperbolic #*&#@$, because I think he does have a fundamental point, just inaptly and ridiculously applied here.

Governments, single-minded communities, people in positions of power in almost any situation can all be very dangerous, of course. We all have to passionately protect our civil liberties and fundamental rights, and I think we have already given up too many too easily. At the same time, hysterical charges without proof is the same thing from the other direction. Believe me John, the first time it is proved that Bush or anyone malevolently abused their power against individual Americans ala Nixon, I will be the first in line to call for them to be jailed. Not that it will happen, but I would be all for it. But turning policy differences into criminal charges is a very different thing.

Feb. 09 2009 09:32 PM

Sorry about the double post, but the site did not seem to accept my post #8.

Most of post #7 was also excerpted from Wikipedia.

Feb. 08 2009 06:01 PM
John Petesch

These are not the only cases, there are many others.

From Wiki:
"On September 18, 2008, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an Internet-privacy advocacy group, filed a new lawsuit against the NSA, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney's chief of staff David Addington, former Attorney General and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and other government agencies and individuals who ordered or participated in the warrantless surveillance. They sued on behalf of AT&T customers to seek redress for what the EFF alleges to be an illegal, unconstitutional, and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records. An earlier, ongoing suit by the EFF may be bogged down by the recent changes to FISA provisions, but these are not expected to impact this new case."

Now that the Bush Administration is out of power, some of these old cases and probably some new ones are much more likely to wade their way through the appeals process to a final verdict.

Despite all of these cases, however, I reiterate this point:

History has shown that such powers are too much of a temptation when it comes to political gain or battling any kind of opposition.

THIS POWER WILL BE USED AGAINST AMERICANS if it hasn't been used already.


Feb. 08 2009 05:53 PM
John Petesch

In one case, the Bush Justice Department tried for more than two years to kill a lawsuit brought by an Oregon charity, saying any surveillance of the charity or other entities was a “state secret” and citing the president’s constitutional power as commander in chief to order wiretaps without a warrant from a court. Judge Vaughn R. Walker, a judge appointed by George H.W. Bush, rejected the government’s claim that the president’s constitutional authority as commander in chief trumped that law. In an appeal of the case, a three judge panel decided the cprosecution could not introduce a key piece of evidence in its case because it fell under the government's claim of state secrets, although the judges said that "In light of extensive government disclosures, the government is hard-pressed to sustain its claim that the very subject matter of the litigation is a state secret."

In another case, Detroit District Court judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled on that the program was illegal under FISA as well as unconstitutional under the First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution. An appeals court did not rule on the spying program's legality. Instead, its 65-page opinion declared that the American Civil Liberties Union and the others who brought the case - including academics, lawyers and journalists - did not have the legal standing to sue because they could not demonstrate that they had been direct targets of the clandestine surveillance. In other words, the prosecution was not allowed to bring forth evidence on behalf of someone not represented directly in the case.

Feb. 08 2009 05:52 PM
John Petesch

I'm amazed at how so many people miss the point when it comes to the government pushing for nearly unrestrained surveillance powers.

Don't you people get it?

If Bush didn't abuse the power (which almost surely he did), Obama will abuse it; if Obama doesn't abuse the power, the next president will.

History has shown (we need only go back as far as Nixon) that such powers are too much of a temptation when it comes to political gain or battling any kind of opposition.

THIS POWER WILL BE USED AGAINST AMERICANS if it hasn't been used already.

The real question is why Bush and his Justice Department pushed to circumvent FISA, which would have easily accommodated any request he made that was within the law. No reasonable answer has been provided to this question!

One naturally assumes that Bush circumvented precedence because he intended to do or had already done something unprecedented. This assumption gains traction when combined with testimony from several voices within the intelligence and communications fields.

Cases have already been brought against the Bush administration, though no case has been allowed to reach a verdict determining guilt or innocence.

Feb. 08 2009 05:50 PM
David Rowe from Lawrenceville, NJ

I can only agree with Matt W. But I would also add that with regard to Mr. Tice, so far we only have his say so. If he is blowing the whistle it would be good to know who ordered what, rather than simply "the agency" did this.

I don't trust MSNBC any more than I do Faux News. Does he have evidence? Are there emails ordering this? We can see from the provided link that he has offered to volunteer for the Obama Administration and be a consultant to them…. Are they going to pick up the ball and investigate?

What we have here the hearsay of a fired analyst. He is a man who is "saying definitively" that this happened with no corroborating facts or evidence, and a reporter who is "not surprised" by the allegation. Is evidence impossible to get? Will he be brought before a congressional committee? If there is evidence, it should come to light and perhaps someone should be prosecuted!

Feb. 08 2009 02:13 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

Sure thing David,
I was specifically referring to the minimization procedures described by Lawrence Wright and his admission that Federal Agents asked him about calls to individuals, located overseas, connected to violent jihad.

The Federal Agents not knowing that Lawrence's daughter Sarah was not named Brown, instead was a student there, shows that the minimization process was in place as described by James Bamford in his book.

Additionally, if OTM had reread General Michael Hayden's statements at The National Press Club, the most direct comment by a public official on this policy, they would know that Lawrence Wright's communications with the middle east were included what intelligence the NSA was authorized by Congress to collect and analyze in its properly minimized format.

I am taken back, buy the outrageous assertion that there has been a chilling effect on the revealing of classified information to the press and then via the press to the world and common knowledge.

OTM was 100% against the revelation of the identity of a CIA analyst after she inserted her ambassador husband into a policy debate first within the CIA and then on the pages of the New York Times, but now is 100% in favor of cultivating an environment where the sources, methods, and techniques of intelligence collection against violent jihadist, that Mr. Wright was seeking to contact overseas, are revealed to the nation and the world through the press. Hypocrisy doesn't even come close.

OTM, It seems to me to have gone to great lengths in this story to ensure the politicization of intelligence and criminalization of politics. I think such mental gymnastics does no favor for the journalism profession, the intelligence community, or the nation. It erodes the position of the press as an honest broker in our politics when it ignores the actual governmental processes they claim to be reporting on.

Feb. 08 2009 01:59 PM
David from Rhode Island

Matt W. - It would be useful if you could expand on what you are referring to, and clarify what you mean by accusations that contradict the guest. I am not saying you are wrong, I just would like to know what you mean.

Feb. 07 2009 09:46 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

OTM should really read James Bamford's book Body of Secrets and re-read General Hayden's public statements about NSA activities before gasping at these wild accusations that contradict your own guests explanation of US Intelligence activities.

Feb. 07 2009 04:25 PM

Never.... never, ever, has any government anywhere assumed the sorts of power the Bush administration assumed and not ultimately abused the power by using it against its own citizens.



Don't be fooled by any argument that the powers are being used for our own good! That is always what an over-reaching government will say!



Feb. 07 2009 10:30 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.