Sunday, December 18, 2005

NSA: Domestic communications intercepts

Bush authorized spying multiple times
Senior intelligence officer says president personally gave NSA permission

While there are still details of this development we don't know yet and probably won't know because of the classified nature of the activity, here are some initial observations:

Whether the President acted under proper executive authority will undoubtedly be determined during hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But he did follow requirements for legal review of his orders by consulting with the NSA Legal Counsel and the U.S. Attorney General.

He also followed congressional oversight requirements by notifying the appropriate congressional committees in a timely manner. And it is customary for more sensitive activities to be briefed only to a limited number of senior oversight committee members to avoid leaks of classified national security information. Our current system of checks & balances does not require congressional oversight committees to approve intelligence activities in advance, only that they be notified of significant activities in a timely manner.

Perhaps the most improtant aspect of this debate is whether we, the people, are comfortable with executive powers being invoked in certain circumstances to protect the nation: I would argue that under certain national security related circumstances it is necessary to trust the President of the U.S. to do the right thing - we elected him to conduct the people's business to the best of his ability. While healthy dialog on issues is desirably and an unalienable right of every American citizen, continually hounding the president just because he is disliked personally by some detracts from the business at hand --it is not in the people's best interests and wastes precious resources better applied elsewhere. We often forget the real meaning of representative government: electing the best representatives we can and then letting them do their job without constant second-guessing.

The most serious legal problems are posed by those who leaked this highly classified national security information to the media, an unauthorized recipient of any classified information. Any NSA or intelligence community official concerned over an intelligence activity has an internal oversight system available to address these concerns in a legal and classified environment: NSA's internal Inspector General and/or the Intelligence Community's Inspector General. If the internal oversight process proved insufficient, legislative oversight would have been the next logical place for these officials to take their concerns: congressional oversight committees routinely investigate just those types of concerns in a legal setting designed to preserve classified national security information. Should following this well-established process still not satisfy their concerns, the honorably course of action for any true intelligence professional is to resign from such an untenable position - WITHOUT revealing classified information and potentially damaging national security.

These "concerned" officials have acted extremely unprofessionally: they clearly violated their secrecy oath and the provisions of the 1980 Classified Information Procedures Act by providing classified information to the media. While it may come as a shock to some, the media is NOT entitled to classified information under any circumstances.