Saturday, May 13, 2006


Breathtaking Naïveté From The New York Times

I don't often read the New York Times, particularly about international affairs; these days they seem too clueless to me to be relevant. (Unfortunately, the editors of the NYT are determined for their opinions to become relevant, delusional or not.)

On the occasion that I find myself reading the Times, it takes my breath away with drivel such as this (reprinted by the International Herald Tribune):
America's expanding secret
The New York Times
FRIDAY, MAY 12, 2006

Ever since its secret domestic wiretapping program was exposed, the Bush administration has depicted it as a narrow examination of calls made by and to suspected terrorists. But its refusal to provide any details about the extent of the spying has raised doubts. Now there is more reason than ever to be worried - and angry - about how wide the government's web has been reaching.
Uh, please excuse my ignorance... but isn't the whole idea of the NSA to operate secretly, without providing any details?

Certainly, oversight is essential, even during wartime... and the Bush Administration claims it has kept key members of Congress, of both houses and both parties, informed about this (which has not been denied by Senators and Congressmen). But the New York Times seems to be complaining that they were not informed, so that they could turn around and inform their readers (and al-Jazeera stringers, and al-Qaeda NYT subscribers, and so on).

As the old wisecrack goes: who was it that appointed the New York Times editorial board to be the acting government of the United States?
According to an article in USA Today, the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting telephone records on tens of millions of Americans with the cooperation of the three largest telecommunications companies in the United States. The scope of the domestic spying described in the article is breathtaking. The government is reported to be working with AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth to collect data on phone calls made by untold millions of customers.

The government has emphasized that it is not listening in on phone calls, only analyzing the data to look for calling patterns. But if all the details of the program are confirmed, the invasion of privacy is substantial. By cross-referencing phone numbers with databases that link numbers to names and addresses, the government could compile dossiers of what people and organizations each American is in contact with.
Actually, as is pointed out by Glenn Reynolds and others, we can do better than that -- type a telephone number into Google and you're likely to get a name, an address, and probably a satellite photo.

But the polls seem to indicate that Americans aren't overly concerned with the NSA knowing which phone number calls which other phone number, nor how often, nor for how long -- which is, as I understand it, all the NSA is trying to find out anyway. Heck, the way people wax lyrical on their cell phones in public -- while jaywalking, in public men's rooms, and so forth -- Americans don't even seem to mind that much if their private conversations are known, which the NSA isn't doing.

(I must admit that there's a difference -- the annoying twits who force an entire restaurant to eavesdrop on their cell-phone conversations are, actually, exercising some self-censorship. They have chosen which conversations to make public; if the conversation really was private, presumably they'd find a private place to have it. That's by no means the same as a government agency deciding which of your conversations to listen to. But again, that's not what the NSA is doing.)
The phone companies are doing a great disservice to their customers by cooperating. To its credit, one major company, Qwest, refused, according to the article, because it had doubts about the program's legality.
...meaning that domestic terrorists, attempting to communicate plans to co-conspirators, will now choose Qwest exclusively. We can hope that the terrorists will offer thanks to USA Today, and to the New York Times, for helping them choose a network free from NSA scrutiny.

(I can't find it in my heart to condemn USA Today for revealing this, however. No doubt they thought they were doing USA Today a favor, by lauding their refusal to cooperate with the NSA. But you can bet that, the moment that newspaper hit the streets -- and the NSA learned that Qwest's refusal had become public knowledge -- the NSA started leaning on Qwest like a huge unfriendly planet. It would be very much to the NSA's advantage, after all, to have terrorist cells all switching to Qwest at once... especially if Qwest can be reminded of national security, and which nation has made it possible for them to operate in the first place.)
What we have here is a clandestine surveillance program of enormous size, which is being operated by members of the administration who are subject to no limits or scrutiny beyond what they deem to impose on one another. If the White House had gotten its way, the program would have run secretly until the war on terror ended - that is, forever.
The NYT seems to be objecting here to the very idea of secret programs -- again, as though what really bothers them is that they were left out of the loop.

Please note that nowhere in this editorial is any recognition, any whatsoever, that clandestine programs -- kept secret from the general public -- might be A Good Thing in helping to win a war. Perhaps this concept has escaped the New York Times somehow.
Congress must stop pretending that it has no serious responsibilities for monitoring the situation. The Senate should call back Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and ask him - this time, under oath - about the scope of the program. This time, lawmakers should not roll over when Gonzales declines to provide answers.

Most of all, Congress should pass legislation that removes any doubt that this kind of warrantless spying on ordinary Americans is illegal.
Whoa, Nelly! So now the New York Times is no longer interested in determining if the Bush Administration's actions are legal. The New York Times has determined for us that this is illegal, and call for new laws to enshrine their beliefs.

What was that I said about the New York Times acting as though it was the United States government? Now they seem to have taken on the role of the Attorney General's office as well. If you want to know whether the government's actions are legal or not, don't ask a lawyer, read the New York Times.
Bush began his defense of the NSA program Friday by invoking, as he often does, Sept. 11. The attacks that day firmed America's resolve to protect itself against its enemies, but they did not give the president the limitless power he now claims to intrude on the private communications of the American people.
Uh, yes, they do. Presidents during wartime have very broad powers indeed, since they are charged with the protection of the United States. Theirs is the ultimate responsibility -- "the buck stops here", as one of Bush's predecessors famously said.

"Breathtaking" indeed -- breathtaking to see the extent to which the New York Times, once the "newspaper of record", is willing to undermine the American government at a time of war.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin had some fun with this, in her latest Hot Air Vent. Have a look!

UPDATE II: Citizen Smash points to a Stephen Spruiell article, dated May 11th, with a screen shot from Google News that pretty much says it all:

If we don't go looking for the terrorists, it's no big surprise when we fail to find them, is it?


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