Monday, December 19, 2005

Nothing "just happens"

Every action has its roots. In matters of governance, the motivations for actions ar e usually because of something either directly desired ("Duke" Cunningham's corruption) or something thwarted:

Certain members of Congress were particularly interested in campaign donations from Chinese individuals, and in determining possible national security breaches or lapses that may have resulted from these financial relationships. Specifically, the concerns among some Republicans and some Democrats were that Clinton had given away, or sold, the technology farm to China. Had trade policy generosity to China been due to legal or illegal campaign contributions and deals made between agents of the PRC and associates of the Clinton administration? Inquiring minds wanted to know, and congressional representatives wanted NSA to provide the US side of the intercepts.

Clearly, this information would have been useful to the Congress, the special prosecutor and others - but unfortunately, warrants weren't immediately available. My impression was (and I saw no indications to the contrary) that the NSA Director at the time pushed back, requiring the appropriate legal warrants and documentation be presented before handing over any material. In other words, the NSA Director, and all of us, and American citizens in the fifty states and elsewhere, were protected by the Constitution. The system worked. However, Congressmen were frustrated, including Porter Goss, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Between this activity in 1997 and 1998, and the attacks of 9-11, I don't know how the debate between Congress, the Department of Justice and the NSA leadership progressed. However, some aspects are crystal clear. Hayden served as NSA Director from 1999 until 2005, and now serves as the deputy to John Negroponte in the Directorate of National Intelligence. His is an intelligence career success story. The fifteenth director of the NSA, he served a longer tenure than any previous director, by half. In the intelligence field, there are few four star general positions and they are fiercely coveted. The intelligence reorganization that installed a super-bureaucracy above the CIA Director also created a brand new four star position, and Hayden was promoted to General in April 2005 to assume that position.

There are many questions we need to ask and answer regarding the 2002 executive order. What security, privacy and accountability guarantees do we have, should we have, and should we pursue regarding the government's data collection and retention process? Is executive eavesdropping on American citizens constitutional, in any way? Is it legal? In times of real or surreal war, Congress invariably becomes a rubber stamp for the bully pulpit at Pennsylvania Avenue. But our legislators have the distinct responsibility, and hopefully the motivation, to work hard and sort this out for the rest of us.

I may have been wrong about the integrity and personal courage of General Mike Hayden. His immediate boss, Ambassador Negroponte is a man known for bending the rules, for shaping political reality to pursue a "perfect" political solution. Negroponte's style seems to have withstood the test of time, whether the "final solution" of the day is the defeat of communism in Central America, the creation of an American-dependent Iraqi colony where he recently served as ostensible U.S. Ambassador, or the increasingly mystical White House mission of "fighting global terror."
And those questions are precisely the ones that need to be asked about a "secret order" giving any governmental agency sweeping powers, in "time of war" or not. No emergency is so grave that the country must be destroyed in order to save it.

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