The Patriot Act, the NYT and the Wiretap
In an effort to compare current events to the Narnia movie, I submit the above title to this post.
We now all know the story. The NYT claims that the Bush Administration told it to sit on the story that is now confirmed, that the President authorized the NSA to listen in in communications between various individuals in the U.S. and people in other nations. The White House more or less admits the whole thing, and yesterday, the President made very clear that he will do whatever it takes to protect us from a terrorist attack.
But the big problem with this issue is that the NYT released the story just as the Senate was preparing to reauthorize the Patriot Act. And predictably, a filibuster ensued.
And while the Times is no doubt trying to influence policy--which is its prerogative, despite its inaccurate claim that it is an unbiased news source--playing games with the Patriot Act is no joke.
I don't wish to be heard to argue that the Patriot Act should not be debated. It represents a sweeping change in the way that law enforcement and intelligence have access to information about private individuals, and impinges upon people's right to expect that the government will not intrude on their private affairs without first consulting a court. But a failure to reauthorize the thing and to play politics with national security is serious business. And whatever euphamistic terms are used to describe a filibuster, real "debate" does not occur under the current rules.
This represents nothing more than the left reinforcing the very reasonable public impression that they are soft on national security and more specifically soft on terror. But that's the topic of the next post.
Bush made clear that the eavesdropping was not the casting of a wide net to listen in to anyone's communications, but rather on conversations by people to foreign nationals believed to be involved in international terror operations. But that aside, the warrantless intrusion into private conversations raises a number of questions about where national security stops and Big Brother starts. Ignoring for a second the specific nature of the eavesdropping, I'm less concerned about keeping my calls about what time I'm coming home or what's for dinner private than preventing another terrorist attack on American interests. But as comfortable as I am with the Bush Administration holding this power, I would be frightened if it were held by Hillary Clinton, whose husband's administration was responsible for the infamous long-form 2000 census that pried into the minutae of Americans' lives. So where do we draw the line?
Bush was wise to consult Congressional leaders about his use of this power. He recognizes the importance of the separation of powers which protects the people from an overreaching government. That's a fine check to use. But I don't think that it is wise to set a precedent of leaving a judge out of the loop. Of course, there will be times when the evidence needed to interdict a terror plot requires instant action, and special exceptions can be made, and that is the job of the Congress to decide.
But the New York Times's decision to drop this story in an effort to scuttle the Patriot Act reflects a particularly inexcusable and irresponsible effort to undercut the law that has provided for our security for over four years. I understand partisan motives, but this effort on the part of the left on a literally life and death issue seems nearly treasonous. We can always amend the Patriot Act. But we can't live in this age without it.