The news that billions of phone records are stored in a faceless, lifeless, dumb brute of a computer data base has set off a tantrum on the left the likes of which have not been seen in this country since the Civil War. Whipped into a frenzy of outrage not by any actual “spying” or “eavesdropping” by the NSA’s data mining of call records but rather by the idea that the government now has the exact same information available to it that your phone company has had all along, Members of Congress as well as the left side of the blogosphere have given in to hysteria and have allowed their imaginations to take flight about the program, positing all sorts of sinister scenarios where we are a hair’s breadth away from some kind of third world dictatorship.
Their reasoning (or unreasoning) goes something like this; if the NSA wanted to, it COULD abuse the program. Or, THERE IS THE POTENTIAL for mischief by the government if the program’s parameters were violated. The point, of course, is not to demonstrate anything untoward that has actually happened but rather to flaunt a self-image of themselves as saviors, crucified for their beliefs, manning the battlements, waving the bloody shirt, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY while the rest of us peasants look upon them with doe-eyed admiration and worship.
I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the exaggerations about the “danger” that the country is becoming a dictatorship, a word they throw around with the practiced ease of someone who has no idea what an actual dictatorship looks like. I’m sick of the ginned up outrage against anything and everything the Administration has done in the past 5 years to protect us. I’m sick to death of these immature, emotionally unstable, intellectually dishonest philistines whose foot stomping tirades have begun to resemble the wailings of teenage girls who put on melodramatic, angst ridden histrionics over the tiniest of slights.
CNN’s Jack Cafferty is the star of this high school production of Little Women. In what must be considered some of the most unbalanced, off the wall remarks ever uttered on a major television network, Cafferty gravely informed us (in all seriousness) that “all that stands between us and a full blown dictatorship in this country” is…is…(wait for it) ARLEN SPECTER!
Cafferty: We all hope nothing happens to Arlen Specter, the Republican head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, cause he might be all that stands between us and a full blown dictatorship in this country. He’s vowed to question these phone company executives about volunteering to provide the government with my telephone records, and yours, and tens of millions of other Americans.
Shortly after 9/11, AT7T, Verizon, and BellSouth began providing the super-secret NSA with information on phone calls of millions of our citizens, all part of the War on Terror, President Bush says. Why don’t you go find Osama bin Laden, and seal the country’s borders, and start inspecting the containers that come into our ports?
In another age, another time when such drivel would have led to the newscaster’s immediate dismissal (or earned him a trip to the sanatorium so that he could dry out properly) Cafferty would suffer the consequences of his on-air breakdown. Instead, he is lionized, feted, elevated to sainthood all because his outburst reflects exactly what they have been saying on conspiracy laden websites for years; that George Bush is hell bent on turning this country into a dictatorship, that 9/11 was part of the plot to make him king, and that there are top secret government concentration camps that are already built and just waiting to be filled up with all the courageous liberals who “speak truth to power.”
Nice company you’re keeping there, Jack.
Not to be outdone in the Getting Hysterical Department, the mainstream media has predictably gotten on the conspiracy bandwagon and millions of words have been written about what the program is about, what Bush said about the NSA, and, of course, the inevitable quotes from civil liberties absolutists who get their panties in a twist if the government so much as raises a finger to try and find out what al Qaeda and their sympathizers are doing in the United States.
This is all predictable - as is their raising the strawman of potential abuse while offering absolutely no evidence that any shenanigans have taken place:
The phone records include numbers called, time, date and direction of calls and other details but not the words spoken, telecommunications experts said. Customers’ names and addresses are not included in the companies’ call records, though they could be cross-referenced to obtain personal data.
And from the NY Times editors desk:
The government has stressed that it is not listening in on phone calls, only analyzing the data to look for calling patterns. But if all the details of the program are confirmed, the invasion of privacy is substantial. By cross-referencing phone numbers with databases that link numbers to names and addresses, the government could compile dossiers of what people and organizations each American is in contact with.
According to USA Today, the telephone companies are removing the names and addresses of their customers from the records they give the NSA. But the government has many means of identifying account owners, including access to commercial databases from ChoicePoint and LexisNexis.
Although customersâ€™ names and addresses are not being handed over, â€œthe phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information,â€ it said.
On Thursday, USA Today reported that after 9/11, the NSA asked telecommunications companies to turn over the “call-detail” records of millions of customers. The records â€” essentially a list of phone numbers â€” reportedly have been used by the agency to identify patterns that would help identify terrorists. The newspaper said that the data turned over by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth did not include customers’ names or personal information. But it would not be hard for the agency to connect those dots.
One needs to ask if it is the government’s plan to get the names and addresses attached to these phone records why in God’s name didn’t they just ask for them at the same time that they asked for and received the other information? What stayed their hand? Fear of Jack Cafferty’s outrage? Maybe it was something a little more basic; they had no intention of getting the names and addresses of American citizens attached to those records unless they represented a threat to the people of the United States!
A regular reader of this site knows that I am not a huge fan of this President, or Republicans, and am even getting a little disgusted with my conservative brethren over some issues. But the behavior of the left, of the media, and of Members of Congress these past 24 hours has gone beyond mere political posturing and has become pure scaremongering. There may be reasons to rationally examine this latest revelation about what the NSA is doing to safeguard the United States. The fact that 12 Members of Congress knew about this program and never opened their yaps in opposition to it should tell you all you need to know about the program being a nail in the coffin of democracy- it isn’t even close.
And for the purveyors of Bush hatred and partisan scare tactics, perhaps they should ask who is a greater threat to America? The people who are doing their best to protect us from a terrorist strike? Or those who seek political advantage by making their jobs harder?
Howard Kurtz, Washington Post media columnist, linked to my post yesterday where I stated flatly that this latest leak about an NSA program was designed to derail the nomination of General Hayden for CIA chief.
Kurtz dismisses my speculation saying “Well, maybe. But how does he know the motivation of sources whose identity we don’t know?”
Although arithmetic is not my best subject (having given my poor parents near heart failure in high school, worrying about whether or not I would pass Algebra), let’s try a little basic math out and see what we can come up with, ‘kay?
1 + 1 = 2
As in: Hayden ran NSA when the data mining program began. There are those who wish to hurt the President by denying Hayden the post of CIA chief. Ergo, being an inveterate (degenerate?) gambler, I would bet a substantial amount of money that the reason the details of the program were leaked at this time was to hurt said General in his quest to serve as CIA chief.
If Mr. Kurtz were to peruse the pages of his own paper, he would find similar dot connecting even when the dots are half as visible as they are in this case.
Dana Priest, anyone?
Nevertheless, the civil liberties Chicken Little are screaming “Bushitler!” on cue. What they should be screaming for are the heads of the blabbermouths endangering all of us by running to the fifth-column press when they don’t get their way in Washington. But you can never find the leak-decriers when you need them, can you?
Prediction: To the dismay of the USA Today prize-seekers and fear-stokers, most Americans won’t react to their precious scoop by hysterically throwing their cellphones into the nearest lake and calling for President Bush’s impeachment.
Speaking of the Post, they are the only major media outlet I’ve read so far that comes out four square for the NSA data mining program. This Week’s Treason:
Far from disqualifying Gen. Michael Hayden from the job of CIA director, the political and news media uproar over a report that the National Security Agency is mining data from domestic phone calls only reinforces why Hayden should be confirmed.
For all the hyperventilating on the TV news and on Capitol Hill - by Republicans as well as Democrats, sad to say - there is little new in yesterday’s “disclosure” by USA Today. And even less to cause Americans concern.
As a matter of fact, prominent stories in both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reported the details of the program months ago. And a lawsuit filed against the NSA in January spelled out specific details.
Plus, the program has clear antecedents in a widely rumored surveillance program called Echelon, which was hotly debated across the Internet back in 1999 - nearly two years before President Bush took office.
This is pretty much a “topper.” Glenn Greenwald is telling the American people that they’re too stupid to understand the “nuances” of the NSA telephone program and therefore, they should wait until Greenwald and his intellectual bully boys spin the story until they are told exactly what they should think about it:
The whole point of having political leaders and pundits is to articulate a point of view and provide support for that view in order to persuade Americans of its rightness. That process changes public opinion on every issue, all of the time, often dramatically. None of that has occurred here. Let’s have a few days of debate over whether Americans actually want the Government to maintain a permanent data base of every call they make and receive — to their girlfriends and boyfriends, their doctors and lawyers, their psychiatrists and drug counselors. And let’s have a debate about whether the law prohibits this program. And then let’s see where public opinion is.
Is he kidding? What arrogance! Leave aside the hyperbole about the program itself (”Let’s have a few days of debate over whether Americans actually want the Government to maintain a permanent data base of every call they make and receive — to their girlfriends and boyfriends, their doctors and lawyers, their psychiatrists and drug counselors.”) - as if the NSA is curious about your call last week to Aunt Martha - and see how the left actually thinks of themselves. The whole point of having political leaders is to represent us. And to compare a pundit with a Congressman is scary as hell.
The people are perfectly able to make up their own minds about issues without Glenn Greenwald telling them what all the cool kids are thinking. Greenwald - not they - need to be instructed.