Tuesday, February 07, 2006

More Than One Way To Kill A Program

Yesterday's Washington Post carried an editorial as a lead in to the hearings on the NSA terrorist surveillance program. One excerpt, and the Post's interpretation, struck me as strange. See what you think.

The editorial, There Ought To Be A Law, points out that "al Qaeda certainly is aware that U.S. intelligence agencies monitor various forms of communications," then asks the question, "Given that, why does it make sense to decide -- even before trying -- that there's no way to update the law without tipping off terrorists?"

Well, the reason being given by AG Gonzales may be that the administration is worried about tipping off terrorists about the nature of the intercepts, but there may be another reason. Witness this paragraph:

Mr. Gonzales said in December that the administration "had discussions with members of Congress . . . about whether or not we could get an amendment to FISA, and we were advised that . . . was not something we could likely get, certainly not without jeopardizing the existence of the program, and therefore, killing the program." But lawmakers are routinely entrusted with highly classified information. If the administration is arguing that the law can't be rewritten with enough specificity without also revealing its details -- well, why not at least get behind closed doors with lawmakers and try?

The Post editors are assuming here that the issue was in possibly revealing the nature of a classified program. I don't think so. It appears to me, in reading Mr. Gonzales quote, that the administration was more worried about the politics of getting such legislation passed in the poisoned partisan atmosphere of Congress. They were concerned that the Democratic partisans would use the opportunity to kill a valuable security program rather than to make minor changes in the law to protect and continue it.

And what makes me think that Congress would let partisan politics kill a valuable national security program? This.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of U.S. senators, demanding increased protection of civil liberties, defied President George W. Bush on Friday by blocking renewal of the USA Patriot Act, a centerpiece of his war on terrorism.

A showdown bid to end debate and move to passage of renewal legislation fell eight votes short of the needed 60 in the 100-member Senate. The vote was 52-47, with a handful of Republicans joining most Democrats in a procedural roadblock.

Bush replied, "The senators who are filibustering the Patriot Act must stop their delaying tactics so that we are not without this critical law for even a single moment."

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