Saturday, September 8, 2007

Wiretapping Is A NECESSARY Good

Monitoring of Electronic messages is normally thought of as wiretapping. Most people think of this in terms of attaching wires to phone lines to listen to a conversation. But in actuality it can be much more complex. Today's Electronic Message may be carried by many different methods while traveling from point A to point B.
  • Wireless (from a Cell Phone to a Tower or Satelite in space)
  • Fiber Optic Cable (between 2 land points)
  • Phone Wires (between 2 land points)
  • Micro Wave (similar to Cell Phones, but different frequencies)
  • Cordless Phones (Low Power Radio)
All these various methods are interconnected by networks. These networks are set-up so that any message may enter or move to a different network at many different points. Electronic messages are routed through the various networks automatically to yield the most efficient connections. For example my brother calls me from his
  1. cell phone in New York City which connects to
  2. a tower in Manhattan which connects to
  3. a Fiber Optic network in Albany, which connects to
  4. a Satelite up-link in Cleveland which connects to
  5. a down-link in Milwaukee which connects to
  6. a land line in Rockford which connects to
  7. a Micro Wave Tower in Chicago which connects to
  8. a Cell Tower at O'Hare Airport which connects to
  9. my Cell Phone near Chicago
In some parts of the world, certain types of networks may not exist. In other places a direct route may not be the most efficient. All these interconnections take place invisibly, seamlessly and efficiently for both of us. Because the US Networks are so efficient the route will probably not be the same if we talk 10 minutes later. This time the call may go through Atlanta or even Denver.

Generally Electronic Communications originating within the US stay Within the US because of the Advanced Technology of US Networks. It is because our Networks are so efficient, that Electronic Communications outside the US are likely to pass through one or more of the networks in the US. As is apparent, Electronic Message Monitoring of Foreign subjects by the Government is complicated by our efficiency, because it no longer can be done strictly outside the US.

Soon Congress will again ask the following Question. Why shouldn't we require a warrant to Monitor Electronic Transmissions in the USA? The answer depends on who and where.
  • Who is at the end of the Transmission?
  • Where are these ends located?
It should be obvious that not all of these Electronic Transmissions should require a Warrant just because they pass through the US. The fear of the Democrats is that Americans are being monitored without a Warrant. But the Government should not be required to obtain a warrant to monitor al Qaeda or other Terrorist communications. This is Foreign Intelligence Communication and the authority to gather Foreign Intelligence Information, without a warrant, is granted to the President by the Constitution.

We have used Electronic Surveillance to prevented several Terrorist Attacks. Attacks both in and out of the US. Today in the on-line OpinionJournal of the Wall Street Journal editorial page Listening In, highlights a part the US may have played in the recent German Planned Attacks against US targets in Germany.
When the German government announced arrests this week in a terrorist plot against American and German targets inside Germany, one telling detail got little notice: Two of the suspects were identified, in part, based on telephone conversations intercepted by American intelligence.
The Protect America Act which passed last month allowed the Government to use NSA like programs to intercept, without a warrant, certain communications, and protected Telecommunication Companies Like AT&T and Verizon from civil lawsuit if they co-operate with the US Government. But the protection only lasts for the 6 month period of the present law and does not retroactively protect either of the Telecoms.

This is a serious (intentional?) oversight by the Democrats who don't want any monitoring, without a warrant.
The Protect America Act that passed last month gave the phone companies protection from civil liability for the six-month duration of the law, but it offered no protection for their earlier cooperation in the aftermath of 9/11. The White House requested such retrospective immunity, but it was blocked by Democrats. A cynic might conclude this is one more example of Democrats doing the bidding of their tort lawyer financiers. But let's assume their motives aren't that ugly.

That still leaves Democrats tacitly endorsing a strategy of using lawsuits to gut the wiretapping program. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has said that the potential liabilities are of an order of magnitude sufficient to bankrupt some of our biggest telcos. And even if the suits are ultimately deemed meritless in court, they could well involve sufficient costs to make the companies wary of cooperating in the future. It has already been reported that at least some phone companies are contemplating suing the government to block the enforcement of any wiretapping law that does not immunize them. That's how seriously they take the liability risk.
We know that al Qaeda wants to carry out an attack even bigger than the 9-11 attack which took 3,000 lives. We have a choice to make. Do we allow the Terrorists to use our fears against us? Do we allow al Qaeda to require us to fight them with one hand tied behind our back?
In this context, this week's debate on Capitol Hill was often out of this world. For example, Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz took the mic to pose a hypothetical. Suppose her child was emailing with a child in Iraq. Wouldn't current law allow the NSA to read those emails? Former Congressman Bob Barr, who was a witness, allowed that this possibility "ought to be a very major concern for certainly all of us."

University of Virginia Professor Robert Turner--a rare voice of reason during the House hearing--replied that that "If we say [the NSA] can't look at anything that's got [a] U.S. person involved without a warrant, we're going to give [Osama bin Laden] the easiest way to immunize his whole communication system." In other words, all a terrorist would have to do to mask his communications would be to cc: an American email address, putting it off limits to American surveillance. [emphasis mine]
Frankly, if Osama bin Laden is communicating with me, I want the Government asking why. In fact, I demand of our Government the "right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" guaranteed under our Constitution. The Democrats would do well to remember the Words of FDR - "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself."
Which brings us back to those Germans and their cell phones in Pakistan. Critics of the surveillance program will argue that they have no problem with America eavesdropping on Germans making phone calls to terrorists, so the example is irrelevant to the controversy. But suppose those Germans were calling their fellow-travelers in America, to plot an attack not against Ramstein, but against Fort Bragg. Does anyone really think that phone call would be less important to intercept than those in Germany?

If Democrats want to vote against warrantless wiretaps, they should do so openly and accept the political consequences. What they shouldn't be able to do is hide their opposition behind lawsuits or the judiciary in such a way that guts the program without having to take any responsibility for doing so.
The Terrorists may succeed in carrying out another 9-11 like attack, but it shouldn't be because we couldn't monitor the suspects.

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