Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Wartime surveillance

Kevin Drum joins the debate about the administration's use of warantless electronic surveillance.
It's safe to say that whatever Bush's NSA program actually involves, no one would have batted an eyelash if FDR had approved a similar program during World War II. In other words, during a period of genuine, all-out war, it's a dead certainty that nearly everyone agrees that the president does have the power to order warrantless domestic wiretaps for purposes of gathering foreign intelligence...given the nature of the War on Terror, we'll continue to be at war for the next several decades...If this is how we define "wartime," it means that in the century from 1940 to 2040 the president will have had emergency wartime powers for virtually the entire time. But does that make sense? Is anyone really comfortable with the idea that three decades from now the president of the United States will have had wartime executive powers for nearly a continuous century?
I don't know if I'm "comfortable" with it, but I think I am indeed "ok" with it, as long as there exists a high-level conspiracy of ideologues who are seeking to kill large numbers of Americans. It certainly sucks that we're in such a war, but the large degree of suckitdue doesn't make it any less a part of our day to day reality. We really are at war.

Maybe the president ought to ask for congressional approval of non-warrant surveillance. But should he get it, has anything changed, substantively? Either way they'll be able to scan that email you sent abroad for key words. And, given the enemy's use of electronic means of communication, can we afford not to monitor such things?

Putting aside politics for a minute, would any liberal want to deny this power to a President Clinton or Feingold? The key safeguard in my view is not the use of warrants, but rather a strict prohibition of the improper use of "evidence" gathered in the name of national security. No IRS audits or federal (non-terrorism) indictments, in other words, resulting from clues picked up by spooks spying on German Al Qaeda cells.


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