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End of the NSA Program? By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, November 02, 2006

The importance of next Tuesday’s election to the security of each and every American can be summed up in a single thirty-second spot, called “Wiretap.”

It was written by former Clinton pollster Dick Morris, and is being aired nationwide by Dave Bossie’s Citizens United, a conservative interest group.


Here is the script.


Two Arabic-speakers are discussing an imminent terrorist attack, as an NSA tape-recorder captures their conversation.


“All is now prepared,” says the first.


“Is everything in place?


“It is done. When do we attack?


“Be prompt. Plant the bomb at—“


At that point, the screen goes blank, and the narrator delivers the come-on: “This terrorist wiretap has been disconnected by a Democrat-controlled Congress.”


Referring to Democratic party opposition to the President’s terrorist-surveillance program, the narrator then says: “If the Democrats win, the NSA won’t be allowed to listen as terrorists plot attacks.”


Liberal commentator Alan Colmes, partner with Sean Hannity on the FoxNews channel, was beside himself with indignation on Oct. 30 when he grilled Dick Morris on what he called a “dishonest” bit of negative political advertising.


The Democrats are not against the Patriot Act, he argued. “Only parts of it. They are against doing it without a warrant.”


Thankfully, Morris set Colmes straight. Warrantless wiretapping has nothing to do with the Patriot Act, but with an NSA program, launched in utter secret shortly after the September 11 attacks, to “troll the water front” for potential threats to the United States.


When individuals living overseas with known terrorist connections phone a number in the United States, President Bush ordered the NSA to listen in – just in case.


You would think it would be a no-brainer, but it’s not. Democrats from Nancy Pelosi to Alcee Hastings, the prospective chairman of the House intelligence committee, have all vowed to put a stop to the practice, and require the NSA to get a warrant for each and every phone call or email or other communication they want to intercept.


To get those warrants, the NSA will need to go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court and prove “probable cause.” Hard to do, when the subject, as Dick Morris points out, is “the bridge in the Godzilla movie.”


How do you go to a judge and say, we think this gentleman in Brooklyn is potentially conspiring to commit at terrorist act because we heard him talking about “the bridge in the Godzilla movie”?


As it turns out, that is a real case. The terrorists were referring to the Brooklyn bridge. When the NSA figured that out, they phoned the NYPD, who flooded the bridge with cops.


“Then they picked up in their intercept it’s too hot to work on the Brooklyn Bridge,” Morris said. Because of the intercept, and the quick reaction by the NYPD, the terrorists were forced to abandon the plot.


The world of real-time intelligence moves almost as fast as the electrons that convey messages over phone lines. The problem is not so much that the FISA court won’t approve terrorist-suspect wiretaps, but the incredible amount of time it takes to pull together the application.


FBI agents just roll their eyes when asked about FISA applications. They can take weeks, even months to compile. “The last thing you want is to go the court and have your application turned down,” one FBI special agent told me.


The whole process is simply not built for speed or efficiency, as the National Review’s Byron York pointed out last year. “It is built with an eye to keeping [investigators] in check.”


Earlier this year, 71 House Democrats joined with independent Bernie Sanders (now running for U.S. Senate in Vermont) to block the NSA from continuing to monitor terrorist phone calls.


Joining with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional rights, they filed an amicus brief in two federal courts reviewing challenges to the warrantless wiretapping program in Detroit and New York.


Both lawsuits demanded that the NSA terrorist surveillance program be ended, pure and simple. Leading the charge was Michigan Democrat John Conyers, in line to be the next chairman of the House Judiciary committee, should the Democrats win a majority of the House next Tuesday.


"As our brief makes clear, this Congress dealt with this issue authoritatively almost 30 years ago - warrantless spying on American soil is flatly prohibited,” Conyers said.


Rep. Jane Harman, currently the ranking member of the House intelligence committee, sponsored legislation along with Conyers and Hastings earlier this year that would require the NSA to get a warrant for each and every communication it sought to monitor.


Called the “Lawful Intelligence and Surveillance of Terrorists in an Emergency by NSA Act, or the LISTEN Act, H..R. 5371 could become law should Democrats win the House.


"As one who has been briefed on this program, I strongly disagree with (NSA Director) Gen. Alexander," Rep. Harman said in July, when Republican legislation aimed at broadening existence eavesdropping statutes came before the House. "The numbers (of targets requiring a warrant) are manageable, and the principle is non-negotiable."


The Democrats have decided to run against George W. Bush in every race across the nation. That puts issues such as the NSA terrorist surveillance program right on the front burner. The Democrat plan – such as it is – will gut this and other programs needed to fight terrorists, capture terrorists, and interrogate terrorists, to prevent attacks against Americans and on American soil.


Dick Morris put a clean cap on it all. “This year, vote like your life depends on it,” the “Wiretap” ad winds up.


“Because it does.”

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Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).

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