Are we at a tipping point yet? What author Malcolm Gladwell described as small things that make a big difference seems like an apt metaphor for the latest developments on civil liberties and the Bush administration. First was Thursday morning's USA Today story, declaring, "NSA Has Massive Database of Americans' Phone Calls." The story dominated the morning news shows and drove the day's events, with the President racing to the microphones in the Diplomatic Room of the White House before departing on a trip to Mississippi. Bush didn't get into the specifics of the USA Today story, but he did defend the program, saying the federal government is not "mining or trolling through the personal lives of innocent Americans."
Public Supportive So Far, But will it last?
The MSM has been reporting a recent overnight poll that is purported to show that Americans support this latest revelation. However, I think Americans are not as accepting as this poll seems to reveal.
Not Only Has Domestic Surveillance Continued, But The Magnitude Is Revealed To Be Much Larger Than Previously Admitted -- And Denied!
To date, the Bush Administration has enjoyed public support for a slew of policies -- including detentions without trials and new methods of eavesdropping -- that critics describe as an encroachment on civil liberties. Last year, the Democrats tried to make renewal of the USA Patriot Act an issue, but in the end they buried their objections and passed a bill that Bush could sign. When the NSA's policy of warrantless eavesdropping on some domestic calls was revealed by The New York Times in December, Democrats along with many Republicans also screamed from the rafters, but the program proved popular with the public. Presidential advisers thought it was such a winner that they put it in Bush's State of the Union address. Despite calls to investigate the program and shut it down, what the White House dubs the "terrorist surveillance program" continued unabated.
Will the new revelations about the NSA tip the balance? Perhaps. According to the story, the NSA is not actually listening in on the phone calls but monitoring the patterns of calls in a kind of giant Google search, with the hope that their algorithm will detect something untoward and worth investigating. But even if your call to Aunt Sally isn't being listened to by some NSA officer, the program sounds creepy enough that no shortage of senators jumped all over it. The Republican Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said he'd subpoena the heads of the three telecommunications companies involved -- AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth -- before hearings to find out what they knew. Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, who had kind words about former NSA head Gen. Michael Hayden when he was nominated to be the new CIA boss on Monday, talked ominously about a "showdown" over the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unlawful search and seizure.
Judge Michael Luttig Resigns In Protest
Why do the good guys keep resigning but we keep the bad guys. It is supposed to work in the opposite direction. We have to encourage the good guys to stay to help us hold these others accountable.
At the same time, conservative Judge Michael Luttig of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, whom many on the right wanted President Bush to name to the Supreme Court, abruptly resigned yesterday, reportedly in part because of civil liberties issues. The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Luttig was shocked back in November when the Bush Justice Department announced that the government would file charges against suspected terrorist Jose Padilla as if he were a regular citizen. Just two months earlier, Luttig had written a seminal opinion saying that the federal government could detain Padilla without a charge, reasoning that the government must have had an extraordinary case against Padilla to justify such an extraordinary imprisonment. When the Bush administration reversed position and in effect acknowledged that the regular old justice system was able to accommodate the case, Luttig was enraged, saying the reversal strained the Bush administration's "credibility before the courts." It was that frustration that helped lead to his resignation, the Journal reported.
So to review the bidding: Bush's Justice Department is blocked from investigating its own controversial spy program; a leading conservative jurist resigns, reportedly in part over the government's handling of civil liberties; and a big NSA program of eavesdropping on Americans' phone-calling patterns is revealed. Will this be enough to turn public opinion against Bush on civil liberties and terrorism? Given the collapse in public support for the President on so many issues, it wouldn't be surprising
Matthew Cooper wouldn't be surprised if these most recent disturbing revelations are sufficient to turn public opinion against Bush on civil liberties and terrorism. However, I've already been astounded that the previous year of revelations has not already not so. Over reactive fear of foreign threats such as communism, terrorism, war, and Mexicans has always been a weakness and blind spot of the American public.
What would surprise me would be if the American people and our political leaders actually followed through on the many declarations that "enough is enough" and hold effective hearings to put a stop to this creeping infringement of our civil liberties and consitutional system of checks and balances between the three branches of governments and hold those whom appear to have violated FISA laws accountable.
For a starter, this mean denying confirmation to General Hayden who supervised the design and initial launch of these transgressions.
UPDATE: Think Progress reports that NSA Whistleblower will testify next week that General Hayden and the NSA were much more deeply involved. The revelations so far are just the "tip of the iceberg." Hasta La Vista General Hayden.
CongressDaily reports that former NSA staffer Russell Tice will testify to the Senate Armed Services Committee next week that not only do employees at the agency believe the activities they are being asked to perform are unlawful, but that what has been disclosed so far is only the tip of the iceberg. Tice will tell Congress that former NSA head Gen. Michael Hayden, Bush's nominee to be the next CIA director, oversaw more illegal activity that has yet to be disclosed:
A former intelligence officer for the National Security Agency said Thursday he plans to tell Senate staffers next week that unlawful activity occurred at the agency under the supervision of Gen. Michael Hayden beyond what has been publicly reported, while hinting that it might have involved the illegal use of space-based satellites and systems to spy on U.S. citizens. ...
[Tice] said he plans to tell the committee staffers the NSA conducted illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of U.S. citizens while he was there with the knowledge of Hayden. ... "I think the people I talk to next week are going to be shocked when I tell them what I have to tell them. It's pretty hard to believe," Tice said. "I hope that they'll clean up the abuses and have some oversight into these programs, which doesn't exist right now." ...
Tice said his information is different from the Terrorist Surveillance Program that Bush acknowledged in December and from news accounts this week that the NSA has been secretly collecting phone call records of millions of Americans. "It's an angle that you haven't heard about yet," he said. ... He would not discuss with a reporter the details of his allegations, saying doing so would compromise classified information and put him at risk of going to jail. He said he "will not confirm or deny" if his allegations involve the illegal use of space systems and satellites.
Think Progress reports that "Tice has a history for blowing the whistle on serious misconduct. He was one of the sources that revealed the administration's warrantless domestic spying program to the New York Times."
He better be careful going up to the Hill next week to testify, Senator Pat Roberts is likey to have him put in jail and held incommuicado for violations of our national security secrets.