The Denver Post editorial staff who attacked the NSA international intercept program yesterday probably think of themselves as bold crusaders for domestic civil rights. Unfortunately for them, they comes across as willfully ill-informed. Again.
President Bush launched a campaign-style offensive this week to defend his secret executive order allowing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop, without court warrants, on phone calls and Internet traffic in the United States.
His advisers hope the publicity blitz will impress the public in advance of Bush's State of the Union address next Tuesday and upcoming congressional hearings on whether the president has the authority to order such surveillance.
It's not until the end of the editorial that the Post acknowledges that the speeches are not happening in a vacuum, but are coordinated with the release of a Justice Department white paper laying out the President's legal case.
The road show is a distraction. If the president sees the need for an unbridled domestic eavesdropping program, he should negotiate its provisions with Congress. (emphasis added -ed.)
And if the President wanted to declare Tuesdays to be "Dress Like a Disney Character Day," he'd need to negotiate that, too, and it has about as much relevance. That the Denver Post can't understand the difference between "domestic" and "international" suggests a woeful shortage of dictionaries in the newsroom. Intercepting phone calls that cross international boundaries is nothing like an "unbridled domestic eavesdropping program." Things that cross borders are different from things that don't. We have passports, visa, tariffs, Customs, border police, the Interstate Commerce Clause.
As the Justice Department notes:
Finally, as part of the balancing of interests to evaluate Fourth Amendment reasonableness, it is significant that the NSA activities are limited to intercepting international communications where there is a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member or agent of al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization.
It's also little short of bizarre that the Post would argue that the President should enter into political negotiations without making a political case to the public. Of course, for a paper that has consistently supported elections without campaigns, also known as McCain-Feingold, maybe this position makes sense to them. It also presumes good faith on the part of Congressional Democrats, who were well-informed of the program, failed to object in any meaningful way for years, still don't call for the program's end, but are willing to use its existence as a political bludgeon.
On the campaign trail, the president is re-branding the surveillance program to make it seem more palatable. "It's what I would call a terrorist surveillance program," Bush said Monday during a town-hall-style session at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.
So the Post, having out-and-out lied about what the program is doing, turns the tables and accuses the President of "rebranding."
Polls suggest the public is divided on the issue, although two recent surveys indicate most Americans favor the NSA obtaining a warrant whenever it sees a purpose to snoop on domestic communications.
When asked about what's actually going on, however, the public turns out to be not quite so divided.
After finally acknowledging the Justice Department White Paper, the Post quotes, verbatim, from a discredited Washington Post report on the Congressional Research Service's own findings. (Incidentally, the DenPo has the CRS responding on January 7 to a White Paper issued on January 19. Someone needs to look into this covert time-travel program.)
"It appears unlikely that a court would hold that Congress has expressly or impliedly authorized the NSA electronic surveillance operations here," the authors of the CRS report wrote. The administration's legal justification "does not seem to be ... well-grounded."
Note the ellipses. This particular quote - and the WaPo's misrepresentation of the CRS report - has already been deconstructed by Powerline.
For the record, here's the full quote: "Given such uncertainty, the Administration's legal justification, as presented in the summary analysis from the Office of Legislative Affairs, does not seem to be as well-grounded as the tenor of that letter suggests."
The Denver Post editorial writers willfully repeated a discredited, misleading partial quote, weeks after its appearance. Who do they think they are, the LA Times?