Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Unsolved Spying Mysteries

We are all used to hearing some whoppers told by President Bush whenever he stands up to talk. I for one look forward to them. There is one Presidential lie in particular which weighed on my mind, however, as I heard it being told. It was the story, told repeatedly in recent weeks, about how the CIA failed to monitor or catch two of the 9/11 hijackers who were living in San Diego before the attacks. Bush says they could have been caught if the NSA had been allowed to wiretap them. This claim is untrue on a number of levels(a Bush specialty,) as 1) no existing law would have prevented the NSA from wiretapping the plotters with a court order as FISA requires, and 2) the CIA already knew of their existence yet failed to disclose it to the FBI. What is really suspicious about this story though is the unanswered question of why the Bush administration first began to circumvent the FISA court in the weeks after 9/11. I don't believe that it's because the President didn't understand the law (though he now pretends not to) or out of sheer willfulness just decided to ignore it. Rather, the only plausible explanation is that the President started asking for warrants which the FISA court rejected. This would be truly extraordinary since the court exists for the simple purpose of oversight and has hardly ever interfered with any request for a warrant which a President has requested. There would have to be a truly exceptional reason for the court to refuse such a request, especially in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. What could that reason be? The only possible explanation is that the President was requesting the power to spy on purely domestic individuals and organizations who were unrelated to any terrorist threat or national enemy. That means, most likely, peace groups, activists, and political opponents. Knowing what I know about the Bush administration, i.e. that it has no scruples and makes no difference between political opponents and enemies of the state, and given the tantalizingly unanswered questions about this case, I would be willing to bet that this is close to the truth.

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