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Tuesday, February 12, 2008


posted by on February 12 at 22:43 PM

We need warrantless wiretapping to be safe? Bullshit.

The Cole bombing? The attacks on 9/11? The invasion and occupation of Iraq? Yes. All were failures of intelligence—failures of properly interpreting, of presenting and of acting upon information already available through constitutional and legal means. “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” tells you that.

Adding more raw data, crappy massive aggregate data like that gathered by the NSA’s program, won’t help. It’s a distraction, a waste, a horrifying compromise of the basic premise of our society for a dubious gain.

Smart people, clever human minds sifting through a high quality trickle of data are far, far, far more likely to succeed. Who do we need working at the CIA and the NSA? A person who finds the notion of spying a little uncomfortable, who feels a bit of the moral compromise behind covert work. The exact sort of Liberal, well-educated, and principled individual who would find a warrantless wiretapping program to be abhorrent. The sort of person who wouldn’t want to work for a president supporting such a program.

I think about all the talented cryptographers, computer engineers, linguistic experts, political scientist, historians—all the sharp minds I’ve encountered in my long education—who have no place in, who would feel no welcome within an unconstrained intelligence agency. We’re less safe without their service.

This argument was never about collecting information or defending our country and interests. This is about checks upon the executive branch, of acknowledging the vital role of the Judiciary branch of government, of legal oversight. This is the very core belief of a big-L Liberal nation—the rule of law over all. It’s imperative for the next president to recognize this ugly error, imperative for him or her to constrain the overgrown power of the present presidency.

So, shame on the 17 Democratic and 49 Republican Senators who voted to excuse this behavior, to protect the complicit telecom companies. (Qwest, our RBOC, refused to go along. Good for them.) Obama and Washington’s senators—even if resistance was symbolic—voted against this dangerous forgiveness. Senator Clinton didn’t vote at all—but at least opposed immunity in the past. McCain voted for the spying.

RSS icon Comments


Present voting my ass, Clinton wasn't even present

Posted by vooodooo84 | February 12, 2008 11:02 PM

jonathan, according to the NYTimes Obama and Clinton didnt vote ( both were out campaigning) but both said they would have voted against it. Obama did try to add amendments. Your post claims senator Obama voted.

If the Times is right, you should fix that post.

Posted by SeMe | February 12, 2008 11:03 PM

link and quote:

"Among the presidential contenders, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, voted in favor of the final measure, while the two Democrats, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, did not vote.""

Posted by SeMe | February 12, 2008 11:08 PM


I think the NYT is wrong. From the official senate roll call, Obama voted "Nay" and Clinton was "Not Voting."

In the least, they conflict. I went with the senate roll, and the Washington Post's coverage.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | February 12, 2008 11:16 PM

Obama voted nay. it's in the record.

What really scares me isn't the spying going on today. It's the precedent we're allowing the Bushies to set. The precedent that the Executive doesn't need to obey the law, and that tapping our phones and email is something that a President can do without any kind of oversight. Sure, they may be spying only on suspected terrorists today. But if you know anything about power, you KNOW that it won't be long before they use the power to intercept the email of their political rivals, activists, anybody they don't like. The only thing keeping the Executive from abusing its power is judicial oversight. To allow spying without warrant is the same as shredding the Fourth Amendment of the Consitution. (And the fact that most Americans don't even KNOW what the Fourth Amendment says is even more depressing....)

Posted by Olaf | February 12, 2008 11:23 PM

In any case, nice post.

Posted by Mike of Renton | February 12, 2008 11:25 PM

I don't buy that intelligence on Iraq was correctly interpreted. It was willfully misinterpreted. However, that actually winds up being an excellent argument against warrantless wiretapping. The powers that be will interpret raw data any way they please, even if it means implicating an innocent person.

Posted by keshmeshi | February 12, 2008 11:27 PM

Clinton didnt vote? Clinton who harassed Obama about his present votes? I cant wait to see her explain that.

Posted by blaire with an e | February 12, 2008 11:32 PM

"Who do we need working at the CIA and the NSA? A person who finds the notion of spying a little uncomfortable..."

Thanks for pointing this out... as a student studying what's known as computational linguistics, the NSA is trying to recruit my kind for precisely this task (data mining)... and they may well yet, despite my qualms about doing that work. Yours were precisely my thoughts when considering potential position... "If not me, then who?"

And finally, as someone who works closely with the DoD pointed out to me, "The whole reason we know about the NSA wiretapping is because of, well, the NSA." We have to remember that the leak of this program was, after all, an civic-minded internal whistleblower.

Posted by Rgeorgi | February 12, 2008 11:35 PM

I think I agree with this post but I'm not entirely sure because it reads a lot like a siren with a kind of pulsating bold and unbold rhythm that really detracts from any message that is actually there.

Posted by also | February 12, 2008 11:54 PM

Exactly, @9, it's not like they installed Echelon listening transponders on all the Net cables to Iran over the past two weeks ...

Meanwhile Afghanistan is going belly up.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 13, 2008 12:06 AM

The precedent... The Patriot Act I & 2

Both Clinton and Obama were "Yea"

Posted by Bald Face Lie | February 13, 2008 12:23 AM

Besides what has already been said about wiretapping, I don't buy the argument for retroactive immunity for the telecoms. "Companies may be less willing to cooperate with the government in the future if they know they could get sued later." Well, shit, I guess they better know the laws of the land, then.

Posted by obamatron | February 13, 2008 12:50 AM

Great post Jonathon and absolutely right on. On several different fronts all at once.

Eavesdropping and other such forms of intelligence are, at best, a good supplement to human intel.

Those who are bast suited to human intel work and know the most about the areas of the world of primary geopolitical interest to the US, have either been systematically driven away or are utterly disgusted by US policy. In either case their talents are lost.

One of my three high schools was in Langley,VA (about two miles from CIA headquarters). Easily half the kids there were CIA, DIA, NSA or State dept brats. Many, many of these kids went on to careers in anthropology, linguistics, political science, and religious studies and most of them wouldn't have touched the CIA with a 50 foot pole.

Posted by gnossos | February 13, 2008 12:53 AM

All the Bushies did was accurately observe the attention span and leadership abilities of all of us who claimed outrage following the original illegal wiretapping reports, what-a year ago? more?

They concluded, correctly, that we're still as much a nation of sheep as during the runup to Iraq. We taught them that lesson. We encouraged them to do this.

Obama, Clinton, or McCain will assume an office whose powers have grown exceptionally dangerous.

Posted by tomasyalba | February 13, 2008 1:01 AM

Yes, we need more people at the CIA that can neither do their job or get the right intel. It really is a shame that we should ask our intel community to actually go out and spy. What are we thinking spying on the bad guys is plain evil and we should be above that kind of nonsense. Everything should be run like the FBI and let the terrorists bomb and kill us and then when they are done we can track them down. It would so much better for all those millions the government has interned for no reason. I mean really, can't you see them rounding them up everyday? It is just out of control the government's want to prevent a future attack on the home land. We have more important things to do like studying the mating habits of the beetle. We need to make sure future spies in this country have to go through and endless maze of subpoena's and warrants in order to track down the guy they thought they had but has since left and then those things are no longer needed. So just delay it enough to where it is useless and then they will stop asking for them.

Posted by kabookey | February 13, 2008 5:45 AM

The point that drives home the utterly political nature of all this is this:

Bush says that these changes are absolutely, positively necessary in order to protect the lives of American people.

However, Bush also indicated that he would refuse to sign this bill without the provision that gives telcos immunity for previous warrantless wiretapping.

If Bush really believes that these spying changes are necessary to save lives, but refuses to implement them without the telco immunity provision, that means that (1) he believes telco immunity is more important than American lives, or (2) he's lying to cover his ass.

In my mind, "lying to cover his ass" is the more likely of the two (though not mutually exclusive with the other possibility). If the wiretapping trials were allowed to proceed, I'm almost certain that we'd see evidence of abuses that make warrantless surveillance look like jaywalking.

Posted by Mike | February 13, 2008 6:32 AM

We all know the civil liberties argument against telecom immunity & I join in those.

But too often progressive fail to make efficiency arguments, handing that issue over to the conservatives when we don't have to and shouldn't.

The Fourth Amendment ensures efficiency in antiterrorism and anticrime efforts since it simply makes the government focus on those for whom we have probable cause.

In other words: go after the guys we know may be bad guys. Instead of going after everyone in the world who makes phone calls.

For the latter we need thousands of employees wasting thousands of hours listening to millions of innocuous conversations. A "typical wasteful government employment program" the right wing supposedly abhores.

But in this case it hurts our security, too, by dispersin resources so we don't focus them on the bad guys. Just like invading Iraq instead of going after OBL.
It's wrong, constitutionall, and it's ineffective and dangerous, too.

Posted by Cleve | February 13, 2008 6:34 AM

This is not, and has never been, about "Adding more raw data". It's about political and corporate eavesdropping, being given a veneer of respectability by tying it to "national security". That's why I think so many of the D's are voting for this - GOP insiders have info on them.

It's Nixon with better technology, and even less scruples.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | February 13, 2008 6:50 AM

Thank you for a well written summary of why this country is headed in the wrong direction. No more sacrifices of our freedoms for some so-called security from terrorists!

Posted by kelvinj1402 | February 13, 2008 7:26 AM

Look at all of those Democrats voting Yea.. It's a good thing they were elected to stop this sort of thing. Oh, wait.

Posted by Chris | February 13, 2008 7:31 AM

A point I haven't heard brought up yet that I wish I heard more about. They're trying to pass immunity for phone companies breaking laws, because the government told them to. They were just following orders right? Well so were the Nazi SS and we said that following orders was no excuse for breaking the law!

If the government tells you to do something that's illegal, it's still illegal. It's the citizen's, or company's responsibility to follow the law or be prosecuted for it.

I'm not saying AT&T ranks up there with Nazi SS but they're liable for breaking the law just the same.

Posted by Colin | February 13, 2008 7:52 AM

Yeah, maybe not so much with the bold. It tends to make you look like the pressure is getting to be too much for you. Perhaps a rule 'only two bold words per post'?

Also! The phrase "More after the jump" is hawt. Hot hot hot. It's striptease with words. Putting two thirds or more of your post after the jump is textual lingerie; it's the Wonderbra of blogging.

I know what I'm talking about.

Posted by elenchos | February 13, 2008 8:03 AM

In more important news, Britney Spears is a whore.

Posted by Mr. Poe | February 13, 2008 8:10 AM

Mr. Poe:

Like, an actual whore? Wow. I'd pay to hit that.

Posted by six shooter | February 13, 2008 8:21 AM

... now with 25% of the strong tag.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | February 13, 2008 8:34 AM



Posted by Mr. Poe | February 13, 2008 8:35 AM

Mmmmm, yes. Better.

Posted by elenchos | February 13, 2008 8:37 AM

It's a corruption issue. Really. The main reason the founding fathers wanted all those pesky civil rights was to provide a check on bad government.

Don't like the gov lying about WMD?

Don't like the gov colluding with bad banks to launder crappy loans? (e.g CDO's)

Don't like the gov writing health insurance law that screws you and enriches big pharma?

Then love and protect our civil rights. Cause when you raise the price of dissent, you get less of it. And without a check *of* the people, gov power is going to demand a lot more checks *from* the people :-)

Every time some scaremonger tries to decrease civil rights the question needs to be

"Why do you love corruption?"

Posted by bakfiets | February 13, 2008 8:52 AM

@27 damn you loch ness monster!

Posted by drewl | February 13, 2008 10:09 AM

Great post, interesting perspective. JG, weren't you going to e-mail me many moons ago?

Posted by Sam M. | February 13, 2008 10:35 AM

Depressing as all hell. i'm mourning the 4th amendment (again) which VERY CLEARLY DOES NOT APPLY ANYMORE to us in what used to be known as the freest country on Earth. Hell, why did we even have it in the first place??! Oh, oh, that's right-- everything changed since 9/11 (ahem this illegal wiretapping was going on right before 9/11 happened. It didn't prevent the attacks.) How exactly does one mourn an amendment of the Constitution? I'm not sure. I walk down the street, go about my business in public and notice that everything, everyone seems to be acting normally like it's just another day, not like the foundation of our country is being yanked right out from under us as we go about our lives.

I really like Mike Malloy's take on this. I recorded this audio yesterday and I highly recommend it. Link below:

Posted by brian | February 13, 2008 10:38 AM

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