Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Portrait in Futility: Bush breaks the law, spies on innocent Americans and still can't find the bad guys

Like the rest of the liberal blogosphere this morning, I was fascinated by the New York Times report Spy Agency Data After Sept. 11 Led F.B.I. to Dead Ends.
My favorite part is:
President Bush has characterized the eavesdropping program as a "vital tool" against terrorism; Vice President Dick Cheney has said it has saved "thousands of lives."

But the results of the program look very different to some officials charged with tracking terrorism in the United States. More than a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, including some in the small circle who knew of the secret program and how it played out at the F.B.I., said the torrent of tips led them to few potential terrorists inside the country they did not know of from other sources and diverted agents from counterterrorism work they viewed as more productive.

“We'd chase a number, find it's a schoolteacher with no indication they've ever been involved in international terrorism - case closed," said one former F.B.I. official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau.

Kevin Drum over at The Washington Monthly cautions folks not to get too excited about the report.
Aside from the fact that the whole thing smells pretty strongly of a bureaucratic turf war, the effectiveness of the program just isn't a big issue. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn't. Not every program pans out. What's important is that the intercepts were done without a warrant even though the law expressly requires a warrant. That's the issue.
I agree with him about the key issue, but I can’t see how this report isn’t important. The one justification for this kind of spying that plays well, at least out here in red-state America, is that it works.

Meanwhile, the ACLU has filed suit to stop the spying. Thank you ACLU.

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