Monday, May 15, 2006

"Tomorrow is zero hour."

That intercepted communication between 9/11 Al-Qaida attackers remained untranslated by the National Security Agency until after 9/11.

The nominee for CIA director, General Michael Hayden, failed to answer this issue when, earlier this year, he defended the NSA eavesdropping program.

The Washington Post, via Media Matters:

Hayden echoed a claim earlier this month by Vice President Cheney that, if the NSA program had been in place prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, "it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the 9/11 al Qaeda operatives in the United States."

Like Cheney, however, Hayden did not mention that the NSA, CIA and FBI had significant information about two of the leading hijackers as early as January 2000 but failed to keep track of them or capitalize on the information, according to the Sept. 11 commission and others. He also did not mention NSA intercepts warning of the attacks the day before, but not translated until Sept. 12, 2001.

Mining the phone calls of tens of millions of Americans, and eavesdropping on phone calls, is the wrong solution to the problem when the problem is incompetence.

One group of 9/11 families, September 11 Advocates, agrees:
"Our government intercepted two al Qaeda communications, during routine monitoring, on September 10, 2001 -- 'tomorrow is zero hour' and 'the match begins tomorrow,'" the group said in a statement. Those messages weren't interpreted until it was too late. "It was certainly not any FISA court issue that delayed such translation. Rather, the delay was ostensibly due to NSA's overwhelming workload created by its voluminous influx of information that needed to be translated and analyzed on a daily basis."

Would I really care if my phone calls and conversations were monitored if it could save the life of another American?

I do, however, care that any secret activities be done with oversight, minimally, by the FISA court, or congressional intelligence committees -- which they are not!

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley told Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation that Congress was informed about the phone call monitoring program.
SCHIEFFER: `How does the Congress, the Judiciary Committee, exercise its oversight authority on a government program if it doesn't know what the program is?' I think that's a good question.

Mr. HADLEY: Of course, the Congress does know. Now the House Intelligence--these are intelligence programs. They have been briefed to appropriate members of the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee. These were the committees established by the Congress to deal with these matters. These are the committees that we have been keeping appropriate members informed.

Senator Arlen Specter (Republican, Pennsylvania; Chairman, Judiciary Committee) disagreed with Hadley's claim that Congress was being informed about the program:
After we put pressure on with our hearings and legislation which we proposed, the administration started to brief a subcommittee of intelligence and part of the House committee, 11 members, but they still haven't complied with the act to inform the full intelligence committees as required by law. And there really has to be in our system of law, of government, checks and balance, separation of powers and congressional oversight. And, Bob, there has been no meaningful congressional oversight on these programs.

When Hadley said that "a lot of lawyers in the executive branch spend a lot of time to try to make sure that the things we do are within the law," you can be sure that what he meant (as with the administration's defense of torture) is that the lawyers determined how they could create a legal justification for the actions, not whether those actions were constitutional.

So what else is the Bush administration doing that we aren't being told about? Can we count on congressional Republicans to do their jobs, or do we have to wait for the USA Today to come out with another revelation?

Furthermore, has President Bush fixed the systemic problems that occurred under his watch -- has he hired more Arabic translators, and is he now actually paying attention to his Presidential Daily Briefs, like the August 6, 2001 brief with the title, "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US"?

New York Times columnist Frank Rich defends the revelation of the domestic spying programs by the press, answering critics who say the press is making the country weaker:
It's the recklessness at the top of our government, not the press' exposure of it, that has truly aided the enemy, put American lives at risk and potentially sabotaged national security.

I don't think any Bush critics are saying that hunting down terrorists is an easy job. All we're saying is, demonstrate to us that you've fixed the problems that were known to exist, which created the known failures to stop the 9/11 attacks. Then, reassure us that you're fulfilling the oath of your office to defend and protect the Constitution.

If you can't do the job within existing law, then seek to change the law. But never, ever, should a president BREAK THE LAW!!!

When a president breaks the law, the only recourse is impeachment. If the threshold for impeachment, set by congressional Republicans, is lying about what the meaning of the word "is" is, then a program to spy on citizens ought to be well beyond the threshold.


At 5/17/2006 06:45:00 AM, Blogger Jean Lafitte said...

All your points about legality are excellent, but we should note that this vast data mining project was doomed to failure from the start, no matter its legal status. It can be shown with very simple mathematics that any time you screen a large population for something that is very rare -- as I should hope Al Qaeda cells are -- the false positives will vastly outnumber the accurate hits. This is always true unless your screening process is 100% accurate, which is humanly impossible, especially when dealing with intelligent infiltrators actively concealing themselves.

If this massive screening program was intended to find Al Qaeda it was a failure before it began. If NSA went ahead with it anyway, either they can't multiply 6 by 5 and get 30 or they had other reasons for going ahead with the program. Given that these are intelligent people who have shown utter disregard for the law, how would you bet?

At 5/17/2006 08:45:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

EXCELLENT analysis -- and thanks for the contribution. I was thinking about delving into this realm, but it's not an area in which I have any expertise. I don't do "data mining" per se, but I have occasionally had to work with massive amounts of data to find patterns, and I know the difficulty that is inherent in identifying even broad patterns, let alone a specific answer to a question.

It's like finding a needle in a haystack.


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