Congress appears to have declared war on administration efforts to obtain information that can be used to combat terrorism. First, it forced the president to accept John McCain’s terrorist rights bill which, if interpreted and implemented as McCain intends it to be, will effectively end our ability to obtain any information from terrorists (if interpreted and implemented otherwise, it will be a meaningless gesture that will end up undermining U.S. credibility once folks realize how it’s being interpreted and implemented). Second, Congress has failed to renew the Patriot Act, which means that our government will lack the same ability to obtain information about terrorists that it has when it comes to obtaining information about the mob.
Egging Congress on, of course, is the mainstream media, especially the Washington Post and the New York Times. These organs are also doing whatever they can on their own to hamper the administration’s anti-terrorism efforts. For example, as John noted yesterday, the Times has reported that the National Security Administration secretly monitored, without warrants, the international telephone calls of people inside the United States who were believed to be communicating with al Qaeda. In a country serious about fighting terrorism, this would be considered good news. It’s absurd to expect the government to wait for a warrant when it has reason to believe that a phone call it needs to hear for vital security reasons will take place any minute. The only sensible approach in such a case is to monitor the call and then advise the special intelligence court of its action. The administration says it did advise the court, and also told members of congressional intelligence committees. Thus, on the facts as they appear so far, the administration should be commended for having the NSA monitor the conversations, just as it should be commeneded for developing the Patriot Act and for using aggressive interrogation techniques against certain terrorists. It is reasonable to believe that these approaches have been instrumental in preventing acts of terrorism in this country over the past four plus years, a feat virtually everyone considered improbable in the aftermath of 9/11.
But the administration is the victim of its own success. In the absence of attacks, the nation is becoming less serious about protecting itself, although I doubt that the public as a whole is as unserious as Congress. It was no coincidence, for example, that none of the Republican Senators who supported the filibuster of the Patriot Act is up for re-election next year, while the two Democrats who opposed the filibuster both will be running at that time.