Thursday, May 18, 2006

Tail Continues To Wag Dog

Poster: Micah Wright/Propaganda Remix Project

The GOP believes, as we all well know by now, that the best defense is a good offense, & the fact that they must have been practicing their pitches since Bush first named Hayden his nominee was evident today in his confirmation hearings. We have every reason to suspect that the reason Bush wants Hayden to lead the CIA is his previous stellar performance as the architect of the NSA's secret spying programs, both domestic & international. Which shows, indeed, that he deserves what is really a promotion.

And, sadly, he's likely to get it, as even the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee acknowledged today.

The event did have its amusing highlights. The opening salvo was fired by the ever-helpful Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas (R), who rose to the occasion by histrionically overplaying the fear card & setting the tone, even before the hearings began, by castigating the press for divulging national security secrets, finishing off with that tired old admonishment that civil liberties don't matter if you're dead.

It's an old debating ploy, useful, when it succeeds, for cutting off all truly meaningful debate, if that's your aim. It's a false dichotomy, a simple-minded ploy. Roberts pretends there are only two choices for Americans: civil liberties, or death.

I think y'all will agree that, what with Roberts testifying for Hayden, as below, the need for Hayden to testify for himself was pretty well obviated. Americans have exactly two choices. You're either with us or for the terrorists. Trust us, there is no other option. Democrats have let themselves be persuaded that everyone in the country thinks that way. Life without civil liberties, or death. End of story. Obey! Fait accompli.

One step closer to a totalitarian state. What irks me, especially, is Roberts's assertion that the clandestine spying has prevented further attacks. It's just not this administration's M.O. to be silent about such things. The vaunted "war on terror" is as much about propaganda as actual successes. I'm certain that if that was true, we'd have heard about it by now. After all, they could be as mysterious about the details regarding how they prevented it as they're being now: "It's a state secret."

Hayden, a man famously ignorant, by now, of the requirements of the Fourth Amendment
prohibition against "unreasonable search & seizure" & the fact that the Amendment requires "probable cause" be shown (usually to a court) before a search warrant will issue, said with confidence & certainty that all NSA spying programs carried out under his watch have been legal. Yep, I'm personally convinced.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon may have made the General sweat a bit over skepticism as to his credibility, according to the LA Times: Wyden "accused the four-star general of saying one thing in public and another in private. Wyden said that on six occasions, Hayden had assured Congress that the surveillance program only extended to intercepts of international calls.

"'With all due respect, general, I can't tell now if you've simply said one thing and done another, or whether you have just parsed your words like a lawyer to intentionally mislead the public,' said Wyden. 'Well, senator, you're going to have to make a judgment on my character,' the general responded.'I was as full and open as I possibly could be.'

"Hayden would not deny or confirm recent reports that the NSA has compiled phone record patterns on millions of Americans. He did acknowledge a wider role in deciding to target domestic e-mails and phone traffic than previously known, suggesting that CIA Director George Tenet asked him to explore what more might be done to guard against another terrorist attack and to ensure better intelligence reporting. 'We just took too much for granted," Hayden said of the intelligence failures in the run-up to the Iraq war. 'We didn't challenge our basic assumptions.'

"But he defended the intelligence agencies—and faulted the critics who have made intelligence-gathering 'the football in American political discourse' since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks..."

All in all, it was pretty disappointing. Hayden reliably played the "I can't get into that without divulging state secrets," card, just as Bush taught him, or maybe Bush was the student.

For your reading enjoyment & edification, according to transcripts of today's hearing, this is the full rendering of Roberts's opening maudlin diatribe which has so moved me.

ROBERTS: ..."Hayden is no stranger to this committee and he needs no introduction to our members. In other words, we know him well.

"So, General, the committee welcomes you and your guests and your family. Your nomination comes before the Senate at a crucial and important time, because the Central Intelligence Agency continues to need strong leadership in order to protect our national security.

"Now, the public debate in regard to your nomination has been dominated not by your record as a manager or your qualifications, the needs of the CIA, its strengths and its weaknesses and its future, but rather the debate is focused almost entirely on the presidentially authorized activities of another agency.

"The National Security Agency's terrorist surveillance program became public last December as a result of a grave breach of national security. A leak allowed our enemy to know that the president had authorized the NSA to intercept the international communications of people reasonably believed to be linked to Al Qaida--people who have and who are still trying to kill Americans.

"At that time, largely uninformed critics rushed to judgment, decrying the program as illegal and unconstitutional. I think in the interim that cooler heads have prevailed and there is now a consensus that we should not only be listening to Al Qaida communications, but we must be listening to them.

"Last week, in the wake of another story, those same critics reprised their winter performance, again making denouncements and condemnations on subjects about which they know little or nothing.

"Inevitably, all of the media--all of America, for that matter--looks to us for comment. More often than not, although very frustrating, we are literally unable to say anything.

"Anyone who has ever served on a congressional Intelligence Committee has struggled with the issue of secrecy. How do we as the elected representatives of the people assure the public that we are fully informed and conducting vigorous oversight of our nation's intelligence activities when we can say virtually nothing about what we know, even though we would like to set the record straight?

"The result of this conundrum is that we quite often get accused of simply not doing our job. Such accusations by their very nature are uninformed and therefore are not accurate.

"Unfortunately, I have found that ignorance is no impediment for some critics. I fully understand the desire to know; I'm a former newspaper man. But I also appreciate the absolute necessity of keeping some things secret in the interest of national security.

"In this regard, I am truly concerned. This business of continued leaks, making it possible for terrorists to understand classified information about how we are preventing their attacks, is endangering our country and intelligence sources and methods and lives.

"I believe the great majority of American people understand this. I think they get it. Al Qaida is at war with the United States. Terrorists are planning attacks as we hold this hearing.
"Through very effective and highly classified intelligence efforts, we have stopped attacks.
The fact we have not had another tragedy like 9/11 is no accident. But today
in Congress and throughout Washington, leaks and misinformation are endangering our efforts. Bin Laden, Zarqawi and their followers must be rejoicing.

"We cannot get to the point where we are unilaterally disarming ourselves in the war against terror. If we do, it will be game, set, match Al Qaida. Remember Khobar Towers, Beirut, the USS Cole, embassy attacks, the two attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, 9/11, and attacks worldwide and more to come, if our efforts are compromised.

"I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties. But you have no civil liberties if you are dead.

"I have been to the NSA and seen how the terrorist surveillance works. I have never seen a program more tightly run and closely scrutinized.

"When people asked on September 12th whether we were doing everything in our power to prevent another attack, the answer was no. Now, we are, and we need to keep doing it. I have often said and I will say again, I trust the American people. They do have a right to know. I do not trust our enemies. Unfortunately, there is no way to inform the public without informing our adversaries.

"So how can we ensure that our government is not acting outside the law if we cannot publicly scrutinize its actions? This institution's answer to that question was the creation of this committee.

"We are the people's representatives. We have been entrusted with a solemn responsibility. And each member of this committee takes it very seriously. We may have differences, but we take our obligations and responsibilities very seriously.

"Because intelligence activities are necessarily secret, the conduct of our oversight is also secret. In my humble opinion, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to telegraph to our adversaries how we intend to learn about their capabilities and their intentions.

"Oversight of the terrorist surveillance program is necessarily conducted behind closed doors. The Senate Intelligence Committee has been and will continue to exercise its oversight and responsibilities related to the NSA.

"Yesterday the entire committee joined our continuing oversight of the program. Each member will have the opportunity to reach their own conclusions. I have no doubt that they will. I encourage that.

"As we continue our work, I want to assure the American people and all of my Senate colleagues, we will do our duty. Now, with that said, I want to applaud the brave men and women of the intelligence community who are implementing this program. Their single focus and one and only motivation is preventing the next attack. They are not interested in the private affairs of their fellow Americans. They are interested in one thing, finding and stopping terrorists. America can be proud of them. They deserve our support and our thanks, not our suspicion.

"Since I became chairman of this committee, I have been privy to the details of this effective capability that has stopped, and if allowed to continue will again stop, terrorist attacks.
"Now, while I cannot discuss the program's details, I can say without hesitation, I believe that the NSA terrorist surveillance program is legal, it is necessary, and without it the American people would be less safe. Of this I have no doubt.

"Finally, I want to remind the public that this open hearing is only part of the confirmation process. When this hearing ends, this open hearing, and the cameras are turned off, the members of this committee will continue to meet with General Hayden.
It would be inaccurate to state, as one national news editorial did today, that due to the classified constraints, members will be limited in how much they can say at this confirmation proceeding.

"In the following closed door and secure session, the elected representatives on this committee will have the ability to pursue additional lines of questioning and will be able to fully explore any topic that they wish. It is my hope that during this open hearing we can at least focus to some degree on General Hayden's record as a manager, his qualifications as a leader, and the future of the Central Intelligence Agency; issues that should be equally as important to the public."


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