Cheat-Seeking Missles

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Most Obvious Overlooked Point

In all the NSA scandal natterings, the Dems are proving that they're willing to stay dangerously behind the technological curve if it means they score a point. For their arguments to work, they have to refuse to acknowledge that technology has outrun FISA.

NYTimes readers (Libs that they overwhelmingly are) may choose, then, to overlook former National Security Director Philip Bobbit's op/ed this a.m., entitled, "Why we listen." After making the point that about 60 percent of the president's daily briefing comes from NSA findings -- in other words, the agency is essential to our national security -- he talks tech:
[NSA] was created during the cold war to collect against enemy countries, and that war, indeed that kind of war, has now been superseded. Signals intelligence in the 20th century meant intercepting analog signals along dedicated voice channels, connecting two discrete and known target points. In the 21st century, communications are mostly digital, carry billions of bits of data, are dynamically routed in packets to be reassembled and are globally networked.
He tells of telltale, pre-attack phrases NSA picked up by monitoring telephone booths in Afghanistan (!) on Sept. 10. The calls were to al Qaeda operatives in the US, but they were not translated until Sept. 12. With more time -- the kind of time going before a FISA judge just does not allow --
[NSA could have] cross-referenced credit card accounts, frequent-flyer programs and a cellphone number shared by those two men, data mining might easily have picked up on the 17 other men linked to them and flying on the same day at the same time on four flights.
Bobbitt admits that none of this is done with probable cause -- but that argument only matters in the Clintonian structure, where fighting terrorism is a police action (defensive) instead of a military operation (offensive).

Having no case is no big consequence if the planes are never hijacked, the towers and Pentagon never hit, the heroes never obliterated into a Pennsylvania field.

FISA reform legislation needs to be submitted today to bring the Act up to date. Let the Dems fall on their swords fighting it, trying to convince the American people that the rights of people who get phone calls from phone booths in Afghanistan mean a darn thing in the war on terror.

See also Michael Barone's column, "Stuck in the 70s."

(h/t RCP)