Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Macy's Window

There is a saying of some sort that goes along the lines of “no one will notice you doing the obvious if you do it Macy’s window”.  Indeed, how often have you looked for something that ultimately was right in front of you?

In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Attorney General Michael Mukasey defended the Bush administration's wiretapping program Thursday to a San Francisco audience and suggested the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks could have been prevented if the government had been able to monitor an overseas phone call to the United States.

The government "shouldn't need a warrant when somebody picks up a phone in Iraq and calls the United States," Mukasey said in a question-and-answer session after a speech to the Commonwealth Club.

Before the 2001 terrorist attacks, he said, "we knew that there had been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States.  We didn't know precisely where it went.  You've got 3,000 people who went to work that day, and didn't come home, to show for that."

Mukasey did not specify the call to which he referred.  He also did not explain why the government, if it knew of telephone calls from suspected foreign terrorists, hadn't sought a wiretapping warrant from a court established by Congress to authorize terrorist surveillance, or hadn't monitored all such calls without a warrant for 72 hours as allowed by law.  The Justice Department did not respond to a request for more information.

A congressional investigation found in 2003 that the National Security Agency had intercepted messages between one of the Sept. 11 hijackers and an al Qaeda safe house in the Middle East as early as 1999, but had not shared the information with other agencies.”  (Go to http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/03/28/BA69VROE9.DTL .)

On the surface, this was a plea by Mukasey to give US phone companies immunity for breaking the law in assisting the Federal Government in their unwarranted spying on Americans by appealing to our fears.  By brazenly disclosing the “existence” of this phone call, Mukasey must think that manywill not see either the obvious untruth or incompetence of the whole situation.

It is legal for the government to intercept foreign phone calls.  As far as anyone can tell, there is no legal reason why they could not have done so in this case.  Authorization can come up to 72 hours after the call is intercepted.  What, exactly, is the problem that giving immunity to phone companies would solve?  The FISA Court is right now almost a rubberstamp for the Federal Government when it makes requests.

If one, therefore, can see beyond their nose, and perceive the obvious, either Attorney General Mukasey was lying about the whole “al Qaeda phone call” episode, or he is saying that the Bush Administration was so incompetent and secretive, that they could not perform a legal surveillance properly.

Except that when he does it in “Macy’s Window,” many simply will not see the obvious at all.

Don’t believe it?  Here’s what the Wall Street Journal wrote:

“Mr. Mukasey said, ‘We (Americans) face the prospect of disclosure in open court of what they (the phone companies) did, which is tosay the means and the methods by which we collect foreign intelligence against foreign targets."  Al Qaeda would love that.  The cynics will call this "fear-mongering, ‘but most Americans will want to make sure we don't miss the next terror call.’”

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