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Helping The Terrorists Avoid Detection and Capture, 2013 Edition

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These people could be anywhere.  They use the internet and they make calls. Keep that in mind as you read on.

My column and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial join Andrew McCarthy in what will no doubt be a growing chorus of “wait a minute, we are in a war” reactions to revelations of classified programs concerning NSA data collection and PRISM internet monitoring.

The WSJ’s bottom line:

Amid many real abuses of power, the political temptation will be to tie data-mining into a narrative about a government out of control. Such opportunism can only weaken our counterterror defenses and endanger the country

My conclusions:

The opponents of the war would love nothing more than to turn the conservatives’ distrust of the president into a powerful cudgel with which to cripple the nation’s national security efforts. Conservatives have to resist that temptation while maintaining unrelenting pressure on the executive branch’s genuine assaults on free speech and association.

Mark Steyn correctly noted on yesterday’s program (transcript here) that it is the context of the NSA/PRISM revelations that make them troubling.  What if the NSA is acting as recklessly as the IRS is abusively, and what if the Attorney General is as indifferent to truth and as deceptive as he has been on the snooping of James Rosen?  The answer is that Congress must remain very vigilant vis-a-vis these programs, and those within the government must be prepared to act decisively as whistleblowers if necessary to call abuses to the attention of the Congress.

The Congress also has to push the president to reveal details of the threats which Senator Feinstein alluded to yesterday.  (This seems to be what McCarthy is suggesting this morning, as is Powerline’s John Hinderaker.) The domestic left hates to talk about why we have a Gitmo and how the war on terror is real and ongoing, but now it ought to be obliged to do so.

Read everything by Andy McCarthy that he writes, and add Stewart Baker and John Yoo to that list.  Baker has some important posts on the surveillance programs at The Volokh Conspiracy, and there will be more.  His most recent summary:

In short, there’s less difference between this “collection first” program and the usual law enforcement data search than first meets the eye.  In the standard law enforcement search, the government establishes the relevance of its inquiry and is then allowed to collect the data.  In the new collection-first model, the government collects the data and then must establish the relevance of each inquiry before it’s allowed to conduct a search.

If you trust the government to follow the rules, both models end up in much the same place.  I realize that some folks simply will not trust the government to follow those rules, but it’s hard to imagine a system with more checks and restrictions and doublechecks than one that includes all three branches and both parties looking over NSA’s shoulder.

In theory, you could add the check of exposing the system to the light of day, but that means wrecking much of its intelligence value. Or you could simply prohibit the collection-first model (and lose the ability to spot terrorism patterns by matching disparate bits of data). I doubt that those “solutions” are worth the price.

Ramesh Ponnuru asks “Why the secrecy?”  The answer is simply that while there are very sophisticated terrorists who guess how far flung is the surveillance net, there are many who do not suspect that such a net exists much less how it operates and who routinely swim into it.  Every disclosure of any part of the net that is not commonly known decreases the effectiveness of the net, yielding terrorists just as shocked as the average outraged New York Times editorialist today.  This is why “methods and sources” must be kept secret, why so many of us objected so strenuously when the New York Times and Los Angeles Times gave such a great assist to terrorists seven years ago.  The Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus admitted as much on my show then, and the same thing holds true today: Revelations about secret surveillance programs help terrorists elude detection and capture.

These “big stories” kill innocent people by alerting terrorists to the perils of their methods of communication.  They did so when W was president and they do so now that Obama is president.  Conservatives at least ought to know this, and condemn the “reporters” who are just conveyor belts of classified information.



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