AUSTIN, Texas -- My theory is that they don't tell him anything, that's why the president keeps sounding like he doesn't know what he's talking about.
There he was at Brooke Army Medical Center over the weekend, once again getting it wrong: "I can say that if somebody from al-Qaida's calling you, we'd like to know why. In the meantime, this program is conscious of people's civil liberties, as am I. This is a limited program ... I repeat, limited. And it's limited to calls from outside the United States, to calls within the United States."
So then the White House had to go back and explain that, well, no, actually, the National Security Agency's domestic spying program is not limited to calls from outside the United States, or to calls from people known or even suspected of being with al-Qaida. Turns out thousands of Americans and resident foreigners have been or are being monitored and recorded by the NSA. It's more like information-mining, which is what, you may recall, the administration said it would not do. But now Bush has to investigate The New York Times because Bush has been breaking the law, you see?
I really don't think he'd sound like an idiot if they kept him informed. He would, however, still sound like a kid trying to get out of trouble by tattling on something Billy did: "My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program (the NSA surveillance program) in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."
There he goes again. He is being deceitful and insincere. Bush and Co. have broken the law, and furthermore, it was completely unnecessary to do so. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is not a hindrance to tracking down al-Qaida -- every objection to its requirements is easily refuted.
So Bush breaks a law he didn't remotely need to and then denounces anyone who discusses this as helping the enemy. Come on. It's so stupid. The choice is not between a police state and another al-Qaida attack. (Speaking of disingenuous, if you wanted to make this country safer from terrorist attack, you'd do a lot better to trade in the NSA spy program for some sensible precautions at chemical plants, or making the Department of Homeland Security into something resembling an effective agency.)
I love the way we always start secret spy programs with great vows that the information shall be guarded and the innocent protected -- and it turns out one of the first to make use to the NSA program for his own purposes was that parfait, gentil soul of discretion John Bolton, the Godzilla diplomat. Came out during his confirmation hearings: Bolton -- no one's idea of a judicious, reticent man -- called on the NSA 10 times to identify sources he wanted the names of, presumably in connection with NSA's shamelessly undercover spying on the United Nations just before the Iraq War started.
Now, look at how this stuff spreads. We're only talking about the NSA, a top-security spy agency, super-secret -- surely it can hang onto information without having it leak all over hell and gone, right? Wrong. Also in the business of spying on American citizens are the Pentagon, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and dozens of private contractors.
Do you remember a parlor game that was popular a few years ago called "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon"? The game was to name any actor and then see who could connect him to the actor Kevin Bacon in the least number of moves. For example, Elvis Presley: Presley once appeared in a film with Ed Asner, Ed Asner later appeared in a film with Kevin Bacon, therefore Presley has a Bacon score of two.
How long do you think it would take to connect you to Osama bin Laden?
Another reason to be deeply worried about a huge domestic spying operation is that it will inevitably be manned by nincompoops. Just take, for example, this lovely 2003 memo from an FBI agent railing at what he perceived as the dreadful restraints by John Ashcroft's Justice Department: "While radical militant librarians kicks us around, true terrorists benefit from (Justice's) failure to let us the tools given to us."
Yep, time after time, it's those radical militant librarians impeding those pitiful, helpless agents at the FBI.
Speaking of helpless FBI agents, in a recent column I misattributed the FBI's fine program of spying on vegans and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to the NSA. I'm sure both agencies would appreciate a correction.
P.S. -- You can always suggest to the radical militant librarians that instead of saying, "Shhhh!' they yell, "Shut up!"
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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