Friday, May 19, 2006

Intelligence? What Intelligence?

While watching the joint Senate and House Intelligence Committee confirmation hearings for General Hayden, a few thoughts hit me.
First of all, that NSA "telephone number trolling" program that was reported in the NY Times in December and in USA Today last week. Several politicians decided to sensationalize the headlines, as they are wont to do. Nancy Pelosi, of the House Intelligence Committee, and several others, claimed that they had not been briefed on the NSA surveillance programs. Pelosi requested that a list of Congressional Members who had been briefed be published, and, surprise, her name turned up on it. It's just politics as usual.
Let's examine the alleged program. I say "alleged," because, as it deals with classified national security matters, it can be neither confirmed nor denied. The Press reported that only telephone number records had been turned over to NSA, that names and addresses are not associated with the numbers. Common law is that, unless probable cause is found and a court issues a warrant, the name cannot be associated with the number, nor can the number be wiretapped without a warrant. The current War Powers Act, aka the "Patriot Act" expedites the process, but if the user of the telephone number doesn't give probable cause, he or she should have nothing to worry about violation of privacy.
Most of us who use Google, and other search engines, those who use credit cards, Ebay, or get telephone bills, are well aware that there are no privacy laws covering telephone numbers. So, if you are worried about violation of privacy, all you have to do is stop calling or accepting calls from Osama, and don't use the commercial telephone system to discuss with other members of your cell on what to do with the 300 pounds of explosives you stole last week. Since alleged surveillance programs have been so well publicized, we can be pretty certain that the Al Qaeda and other terrorist cells in the US have already found alternative means to communicate. This is why we must understand that classified matters dealing with national security must be kept classified.
During the confirmation hearings, yesterday, the members of the Intelligence Committees were given the opportunity to ask questions dealing with classified matters in a secure, closed session. Only seven members went to this session. The others didn't go because a) they didn't have any further questions on the matter, b) they didn't want to know the real answers to their questions, or c) there is no TV time behind closed doors.
The hearings serve to remind us that many of our elected Congresspersons are more apt to use their office for self-aggrandizement than to actually do the job they were elected to do.
With so many important issues to deal with--National Security, border security, immigration, energy resources, and minimum wage, to name a few--it is more important to these "representatives of the people" that they make their stand clear that they stand with or against anything the current administration stands for. TV time is campaign time. As long as we keep electing persons whose agenda is unmitigated self-promotion, we cannot expect an effective Congress.
More interesting commentary on this subject is on the blogs Atlas Shrugs and Don't Go Into The Light.

An Iraqi Views Iraq, From The US Media POV

I don't have anything to add to this except that it confirms what many of us already know. Much of the US Media is presenting a distorted and misleading account of what is going on in Iraq. Please take time to read the entire post.